Your lifestyle plan to beat PMS

Mood swings, anxiety, sleep problems, bloating…sound familiar? Then you may be suffering from pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

PMS is the name for physical and emotional symptoms that some women experience in the weeks before their period. While some women suffer no or mild symptoms, other women have symptoms that are so severe they interfere with daily life.

Up to 30 per cent of women at some time in their lives are believed to be affected.

The good news is there are things you can do to minimise the impact of PMS, with lifestyle changes such as physical activity and diet some of the most effective steps you can take.

What causes PMS?

It is still not fully understood why some women experience PMS although it is thought to be caused by changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. Experts believe that, during a woman’s cycle, fluctuations in the sex hormones estradiol and progesterone affect brain chemicals such as serotonin which in turn impact on mood.

This theory is supported by the fact that PMS symptoms do not appear before puberty, during pregnancy or after the menopause. Symptoms tend to be worse in older teenage girls and women in their 40s.

How do you know you have PMS?

The timing and severity of symptoms will indicate whether you are suffering from PMS. Symptoms usually appear during the two weeks before your menstrual period and improve during and by the end of your period.

Every woman’s experience of PMS is different. Symptoms include mood swings, aggression, sugar cravings, sleep disorder, weight gain, fatigue, headaches and breast tenderness.

If you think you have PMS, it is essential to keep a diary of your symptoms for two or three cycles. PMS cannot be diagnosed with any specific tests so keeping a diary of symptoms will help your women’s health professional make an accurate diagnosis. Other underlying conditions, such as thyroid problems, can cause similar symptoms so you may have a blood test to rule this out.

What can you do about PMS?

Once you have a diagnosis, what can you do about it? The reassuring news is that, whether you opt for medical intervention with drug treatments or not, there are also other solutions including lifestyle changes which can improve your symptoms.

Here are 10 of the most effective natural ways to beat PMS:

Be active: Research suggests that regular aerobic exercise which gets your heart pumping, such as running, cycling, playing tennis or dance classes, can help improve symptoms of PMS such as tiredness and depression. It is not clear why, although we know that aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain and boosts mood-enhancing endorphins. Being active is also likely to have a positive effect on body image, feelings of being in control and generally having more energy and feeling healthier overall.

For an exercise programme tailored to your health concerns, you can book an appointment with TenClinic.

Eat well: Increase your intake of foods which release energy slowly, such as wholegrains, vegetables, pulses and unrefined carbohydrates as this will minimise spikes in your blood sugar levels. It may be worth seeing a registered dietitian who will give you a structured, personalised eating plan to minimise your PMS symptoms.

Quit smoking: Research shows women who smoked were more likely to develop moderate or severe PMS compared with women who never smoked. Why this is the case is not clear, but quitting smoking will benefit your overall health significantly, not just your PMS symptoms.

Try vitamin B6: Some research has shown a marginal benefit in supplementing your diet with vitamin B6. Deficiency in vitamin B6 is rare so start with just 10mg a day and see if you notice any benefits over time.

Relax with yoga: Practising yoga, deep breathing and meditation can help you relax and reduce anxiety.

It’s good to talk: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a type of talking therapy that focuses on changing negative thinking patterns, has been shown to be helpful with PMS, as well as with other forms of mild depression and menopausal low mood.

Limit alcohol and caffeine: alcohol has a sedative, depressive effect so that regular heavy drinking can lower your mood while caffeine can cause sleep problems and blood sugar highs and lows in some people.

Take calcium and vitamin D: Some studies have found that calcium and vitamin D levels are lower in women with PMS. You may be deficient in vitamin D, especially in winter months, so it may be worth taking a supplement. If you cannot get enough calcium from your food, you may also wish to try a low-dose calcium supplement.

Try red clover: red clover is a plant that contains isoflavones, which are similar to the hormone oestradiol in the body. Some research suggests taking a red clover supplement may be beneficial for certain PMS symptoms although more research is needed. You may wish to try a good quality supplement for your symptoms and keep a diary to see if it helps over time.

Go herbal: Studies, including a paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), have concluded that the herbal remedy agnus castus is an effective treatment for some PMS symptoms. Research found taking the remedy can help to normalise hormonal levels and ease breast tenderness.

As well as making lifestyle changes which can help improve your PMS symptoms, it is important to remember that natural supplements are not regulated and or as well researched as medicines. It is therefore a good idea to seek the advice of a qualified dietitian who can advise you on supplements, as well as changes to your diet.

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