PMS is often joked about or misunderstood. But, the symptoms that many women experience are no laughing matter. Premenstrual symptoms can be a sign that something is out of balance in the body, as well as a call for greater self-care.
For many women, premenstruation and menstruation are times of heightened sensitivity. Your hearing, eyesight, and senses of taste and smell may actually be keener, making ordinary stimuli more overwhelming. It can help to unplug from the world and give yourself a quiet rest break.
If you think of the premenstrual time as an opportunity for a monthly spa break and reward yourself with baths, massages, a good book, or whatever nourishes you, it can even become something to be appreciated. You may find that your intuition and creativity are heightened at this time. I know a writer who sets aside the premenstrual week for writing and brainstorming, thereby taking advantage of the increased flow of ideas.
“It can help to unplug from the world and give yourself a quiet rest break.”
It can be helpful to keep a record of your premenstrual symptoms. This will allow you to recognize and anticipate your cyclical hormonal patterns. Dr. Guy Abraham identified four different types of PMS, each of which points to a different underlying hormonal profile. It’s also possible to have symptoms from more than one PMS type. In all cases, Dr. Abraham identified deficiencies of magnesium and vitamin B6. Read on to see if you recognize yourself in any of these profiles:
PMS A – Anxiety
In the week before her period, Aliyah finds herself dealing with uncontrollable mood swings and compulsive behaviours. She often feels anxious, and the smallest things make her angry or irritated. A few times a year, her nervous tension escalates into full blown panic attacks. She is up at nights with insomnia and sometimes, diarrhea.
According to Dr. Katharina Dalton, Aliyah’s PMS-A is related to progesterone deficiency. She can increase her intake of magnesium and B vitamins to help calm her anxiety and nervous tension. Taking beta-carotene, evening primrose oil, and certain herbs throughout the cycle can support her progesterone production. Self-care is especially important for Aliyah: over time, she has learned to be gentle with herself and get extra rest. When she notices her PMS coming on, she adjusts her schedule to avoid things which may trigger anxiety, irritation or panic attacks.
PMS D – Depression
A few days before her period rolls around, Dominique gets depressed, weepy and very emotional. She becomes very thin-skinned and easily moved to tears. She tends to withdraw into herself and she feels much more tired than usual. She has noticed that she becomes uncoordinated and clumsy at that time, and sometimes her joints ache. On her worst months, she feels fearful and paranoid for a few days.
Dominique’s PMS-D is associated with low levels of serotonin, and may be related to high stress levels putting a strain on her adrenal and thyroid glands. In addition to B vitamins and magnesium, she can support her adrenal health with vitamin C, vitamin B5, licorice tea, and Celtic sea salt, and support her thyroid gland with sea vegetables, iodine, and selenium. She can also support her emotional health by setting up comfort measures for her premenstrual time, confiding in a trusted friend, and looking for ways to lighten her load.
PMS C – Cravings
Chris’s PMS-C is all about the cravings: usually for sweets, sometimes for salty foods, and often for alcohol. She has an increased appetite, and she has noticed that she often winds up eating compulsively or going on binges. At these times, Chris’s heart is pounding and she sometimes feels dizzy or on the verge of fainting. Her bowels are upset, premenstrually, and she usually has either diarrhea or constipation.
Chris’s cravings may mean that her adrenal glands are overworked, since cravings are often associated with adrenal stress. Along with taking B vitamins and magnesium, she can support her adrenal health with vitamin C, vitamin B5, licorice tea, and Celtic sea salt. Chromium can help stabilize her blood sugar and reduce her hypoglycemia. She may need to plan ahead to ensure she’s eating balanced meals with a higher portion of protein and can keep healthy snacks on hand to stave off her cravings. Finally, Chris can work to decrease her alcohol and sugar intake, getting emotional support where necessary.
“Keep a record of your premenstrual symptoms.”
PMS H: Headache/Heaviness
Helen always knows when she’s going to get her period because her pants get tight from abdominal bloating. Her feet swell, her rings get tight, and her breasts are tender. Helen feels wiped out with fatigue and she is prone to menstrual migraines. She becomes constipated, her joints ache, and she feels uncoordinated and unbalanced. After her period, her weight drops noticeably once the fluid retention lets up.
Helen’s PMS-H is related to stress on her adrenals, liver, and gut, as well as to possible thyroid dysfunction. She can get some relief by decreasing her intake of sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol, and eating a balanced whole foods diet. Helen would benefit from comprehensive testing to identify the underlying hormonal imbalances. A skilled health practitioner can assess her for food allergies, gut dysbiosis (imbalance in intestinal bacteria), adrenal insufficiency, and thyroid dysfunction.
PMS Survival Strategies
Your menstrual cycle health is a reflection of your overall health and well-being. Taking care of your body, mind, and spirit can make your cycles more enjoyable.
Emotional self-care is extremely important. Try journalling, dancing, or talking it out with a friend – whatever works for you to express and move your emotions.
A regular exercise routine will improve your circulation, energy, and moods.
Limiting refined and artificial sugars will help improve your moods, reduce water retention, and decrease cravings over time.
Cutting back on caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can reduce bloating, fatigue and depression.
Limit processed foods and refined flours, and choose whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, whole grains and legumes.
Make sure your diet includes healthy fats and oils, like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, flax oil, and fish oils. Avoid highly processed trans-fats.
A daily multivitamin with vitamin B6, a B complex, magnesium, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C may help reduce many PMS symptoms.
Discuss with your physician whether going off the Pill or other birth-control hormones may be an option for you. Some women seem to feel worse on synthetic hormones or feel they contribute to problematic PMS symptoms.
Managing PMS Naturally: A Source Book of Natural Solutions by M. Sara Rosenthal
The Wild Genie: the Healing Power of Menstruation, a Handbook for Self Care by Alexandra Pope
Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon
The Mood Cure by Julia Ross
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Rose Yewchuk is a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner (HRHP) who is passionate about reconnecting women with their body wisdom. Over her 15-year career, she has taught hundreds of women how to get off the Pill and heal their cycles using natural strategies. Her clients feel more in tune with their bodies, more healthy and vibrant, and more empowered to get pregnant at the right time in their lives. Connect with her on Twitter: @RoseYewchuk