Regulate your hormones and prevent uncomfortable symptoms
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is the is term used to describe the emotional and physical symptoms that can occur one to two weeks before a woman’s period.
Up to 80% of women report having some PMS symptoms prior to menstruation. These symptoms vary from woman to woman and usually ease when their period starts; however, for some women, symptoms can be prolonged. Learn what causes PMS, the common symptoms and how to manage PMS naturally through diet and lifestyle. Regulate your hormones to prevent uncomfortable monthly symptoms.
What causes PMS?
Each month, a woman’s menstrual cycle is controlled by the hormones oestrogen, progesterone, Luteinising Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which work synergistically to prepare the body for ovulation. A woman’s body is designed to develop and release an egg every month and prepare the womb for pregnancy.
The first half of a woman’s menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase. This phase is from day one of the period to ovulation day. During this phase, oestrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are the dominant hormones. Ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary) happens usually in mid-cycle, around day 14 – it can happen earlier or later in some women. So that ovulation can happen, the body increases the production of both the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and the luteinising hormone (LH), which stimulates egg release. Once an egg is released, the woman is in the second half of her cycle; this is called the luteal phase. Progesterone is the dominant hormone in this phase, as its role is to prepare the womb lining for implantation, should conception occur.
The rise and fall of hormones are part of the normal rhythm of the female body; however, for some women, fluctuations in hormone levels and an imbalance in the ratio of hormones can cause hormonal complications and PMS symptoms during their cycle.
Poor blood sugar regulation also contributes to PMS. When your blood sugar levels are erratic or unstable, your body has to work harder to maintain homeostasis. If your blood sugar continually fluctuates, your body makes more cortisol (your stress hormone) in an attempt to maintain a constant supply of glucose (sugar) in the blood. In doing so, the body uses up progesterone in order to make cortisol, instead of using it for reproductive function. There are various causes of PMS which can be efficiently addressed by a Homeopath, Naturopath, Herbalist, Acupuncturist or Nutritionist. There is no need to suffer.
PMS symptoms vary widely, from bloating and abdominal cramping to headaches and low mood. There are different sub-groups of PMS which are characterised by a specific set of symptoms.
Type of PMS:
- PMS-A (Anxiety) is associated with feeling anxious, moody, overwhelmed, tearful, irritable and more sensitive in the lead up to and during your period. Women who experience PMS-A tend to have high oestrogen levels and low progesterone.
- PMS-D (Depression) refers to PMS symptoms such as low mood, weepiness, listlessness and depression. You can also become withdrawn and unsociable, experiencing memory loss and insomnia. PMS-D is usually driven by low oestrogen levels, causing an imbalance in a woman’s oestrogen/ progesterone ratio.
- PMS-H (Hyper-hydration) is when you feel bloated, have tender breasts, swelling in the ankles, hands or face and experience weight gain. Hyper-hydration is associated with excessive water retention due to imbalanced hormones and poor blood sugar regulation.
- PMS-C (Cravings) is when you have an insatiable appetite and constantly crave carbs and sugary foods around the time of your period. An imbalance of blood sugars and insulin levels usually cause PMS-C.
- PMS-P (Pain) occurs when you experience abdominal cramping, back pain, joint and muscle pain and headaches. Pain during menstruation is due to hormonal changes, uterine contractions and the release of prostaglandins which are a type of hormone involved in inflammation and pain control.
Many women experience a combination of symptoms from each of these groups and the severity of symptoms can vary month to month. PMS symptoms can be successfully treated using Homeopathy, Acupuncture or Herbal Medicine. However, a healthy diet is the foundation of becoming free of PMS symptoms.
How to prevent PMS symptoms
- Adapt your diet. Sugar and refined carbohydrates (bread, pastries, cakes, biscuits), processed foods, fast food and high sodium (salty) foods exacerbate PMS symptoms, especially in relation to cravings, skin breakouts, bloating and water retention. Cut out sugar, artificial sweeteners, fizzy drinks, juices (unless freshly squeezed), fast food and junk food. Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced is essential for hormone health and blood sugar control.
- Cut down your meat consumption and eat a more plant-based diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
- Include lots of cruciferous vegetables in your diet such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spring greens and Brussels sprouts as they are rich in the phytochemical Indole-3-Carbinol, which helps the body metabolise excess oestrogen.
- Cut out cow’s dairy products as they are inflammatory and can worsen PMS symptoms, especially hormonal acne. Instead, try milk alternatives such as coconut-based products, oat milk and almond milk.
- Include healthy fats in your diet such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Fats are vital for hormone production, especially your sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Cut out saturated fats, trans fats and hydrogenated oils (margarine, fried foods, butter, cheese, meat, cream, rapeseed and vegetable oils).
- Cut out coffee. Caffeine not only affects sleep; it can also cause irritability, worsen anxiety and rob the body of essential minerals needed to avoid abdominal cramping. Caffeine also impacts insulin levels and is linked to poor blood sugar regulation.
- Avoid Alcohol as it’s very inflammatory and disrupts sleep, which, in turn, affects mood and energy levels. One study suggests that drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day can increase the risk of PMS symptoms by 79% as alcohol disturbs hormone production.
- Optimise your nutrition. B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium play a role in hormone regulation and when these nutrients are in short supply, a woman’s chances of experiencing PMS are increased.  
- Up your intake of Magnesium and B6 via food or supplementation as they are important nutrients for blood sugar regulation and maintaining a healthy mood. This mineral/vitamin combination is helpful for reducing anxiety, stress, moodiness and irritability. Magnesium also helps with muscle relaxation, cramping, headaches and sleep.
- Magnesium-rich foods include leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale), almonds, pumpkin seeds, avocado and kidney beans.
- B6-rich foods include wheatgerm, oats, bananas, sweet potatoes and pistachios.
- If you need additional Magnesium/ B6 supplementation, speak to a naturopath or nutritional therapist who will be able to prescribe the correct dose for you. Visit CNM’s student clinic.
- Use unprocessed salt like sea salt or Himalayan salt instead of table salt (which is also found liberally in processed foods as a preservative and flavour enhancer), or season your dishes with vegetables such as celery.
- Reduce your stress levels by making time to relax, exercise and taking control of stressful situations; whether that be by reducing your workload, freeing up your schedule or asking for help when you need it. Stress can worsen PMS symptoms, especially if you experience considerable stress two weeks prior to your period. This is likely due to the change in hormones when the body’s stress response is activated. When you’re stressed, your body diverts from the production of sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) to make more cortisol (your stress hormone).
- Chaste tree (also known as Vitex agnus-castus) is an excellent herb for balancing hormones and helping with PMS. Chaste tree is what is called an “adaptogen”: a herb which restores and encourages normal functions. One of the reasons a woman can experience PMS is high levels of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It is very important in reproductive health, but high levels can change a woman’s cycle and interfere with ovulation. This imbalance can cause irregular or problematic periods and PMS. Chaste tree can help calm and regulate hormonal levels, including prolactin. You can take Chaste tree as a tablet, capsule or in liquid form. Speak to your naturopath or herbalist to get the correct dose for you.
Balance your hormones
By making the necessary changes to your diet and improving your nutritional status, you can balance your hormones and improve PMS symptoms. Eat a balanced, whole food diet which is rich in cruciferous vegetables and low in sugar, meat and dairy. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, eat plenty of healthy fats and ensure you keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Magnesium, B6 and chaste tree can help alleviate cramping, fatigue, anxiety and mood swings.
 Trickey R 2003, Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle, Allen & Unwin, Crow’s Nest N.S.W