Premenstrual syndrome - what is it?
PMS is characterized by a change in physical or psychological symptoms in the lead up to menstruation. For some menstruating people, this can be a couple days before bleeding, or it can last a whole week. For people who experience PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), severe anxiety, irritability and depression can hit quite strongly in the 1-2 weeks before menstruation.
Some symptoms of PMS include:
In a natural menstrual cycle (no hormonal birth controls or IUD), the hormonal shifts that occur throughout the month can cause differences in how we feel physically and emotionally. In the follicular phase (day one of menses to ovulation), estrogen levels gradually increase, and we feel more social and have more more energy. Testosterone also increases prior to ovulation, increasing our libido. Estrogen causes proliferation of the lining of our uterus, which sheds during menses. It also causes our cervical mucus to change from non-fertile (dry, white, sticky) to fertile (egg white consistency, slippery and stretchy). Tracking cervical mucus, cervical position, and basal body temperature throughout the cycle will tell you when and if you’re ovulating. Our bodies are quite amazing!
After ovulation, progesterone starts to be the dominant hormone for the remaining 12-14 days leading up to menstruation. This hormone is naturally sedating, causing us to feel like we want to withdraw from the world, rest more and sleep better. Progesterone slows our digestion down, meant for our bodies to extract more nutrients for a potential growing fetus. It raises aldosterone levels, causing fluid retention and bloating. Progesterone (pro-gestation) is meant to support a healthy environment for a potential developing embryo, which is why it causes us to slow down, sleep and eat more. If the egg is not fertilized, our progesterone levels will drop and we will get our period.
If you experience increased anxiety, breast tenderness, heavy menses, and sleep issues in the lead up to your bleed, you may have either have estrogen dominance, or progesterone deficiency. If we don't ovulate, progesterone is not produced, leading to increased unopposed estradiol (a form of estrogen). This hormone imbalance causes disturbances in the menstrual cycle and fertility.
Estrogen dominance can also be a result of our diet and lifestyle (high in dairy, refined grains and sugar, and poor-quality meat), environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens), poor liver function, lack of regular excretion, high stress, or excessive alcohol consumption.
If you’re coming off the birth control pill or hormonal IUD, your body may take some time to re-regulate a menstrual cycle again. There are some supplements listed at the bottom we recommend people start on after coming off the pill or hormonal IUD, as these can become deficient during that time (specifically B-vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C).
There are also particular disorders that can be helped immensely with herbal medicine, nutrition and lifestyle changes, including:
Getting some testing done by either a naturopath or medical doctor can help verify if you have one of the above conditions.
Lifestyle and Nutritional Recommendations to Help Reduce PMS:
Our goals as medical herbalists and holistic nutritionists are to always find the root cause of the symptoms you’re experiencing, so booking a full consultation is usually recommended! Below are some tips we usually tell our clients to help support hormone balance and reduce PMS symptoms:
Supplements for PMS:
Magnesium bisglycinate: Helps reduce menstrual cramping and pain, supports sleep and mood!
B-Complex: Taking a good B-complex will help with energy, mood, reduce menstrual pain and support blood sugar balance! B vitamins are decreased in times of physical and psychological stress, and support our livers detoxification pathways.
DIM: Helps normalize estrogen metabolism to support healthy hormone balance.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Anti-inflammatory support to help reduce severe menstrual cramping and pain. Can get in fatty fish (wild salmon, herring, sardines), as well as freshly ground flax or chia, walnuts, hemp, etc. An omega 3 fatty acid supplement can be helpful (higher EPA, AquaOmega is a great affordable brand found at most health food stores).
Zinc: Supports regular ovulation, which we need to produce progesterone to support a healthy menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Vitamin D: Found to reduce menstrual pain in studies, helpful to support mood, immune and bone health.
Holistic Nutritionist & Medical Herbalist
(Focus: Hormonal & Mental Health)
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