Most women can tell that the menstrual phase of their cycle is fast approaching by the way they feel, and not in a good way.
Nowadays PMS has become normalized and expected for many women who may experience an array of physical, emotional, and mental symptoms.
This is also known as premenstrual syndrome, which describes unwanted symptoms that may arise during the luteal phase of the cycle, which occurs just after ovulation and lasts up until menstruation.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is defined as "a cyclical pattern of symptoms that cause some degree of impairment, occur premenstrually, and decline soon after the beginning of menses" (1).
Commonly reported premenstrual symptoms include fatigue, irritability, acne, cravings, depression, breast pain, insomnia, headaches, fluid retention, and digestive issues.
Over 90% of women of reproductive age report experiencing some form of PMS symptom around that time of the month (2).
But does this mean women just have to put up with it?
Though common, PMS is not normal, periods are not meant to be a burden every single month. Instead they are symptoms indicating internal imbalances which should be investigated.
PMS can be divided into 4 distinct types:
PMS-A : Anxiety
Affecting up to 80% of cycling women, symptoms associated with PMS-A include anxiety, mood swings, tension, and irritability.
Why does this occur? Well it seems to be mainly associated with fluctuating levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. The rise and fall of these hormones can impact our mood by influencing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin (3).
What can you do for PMS-A?
During the luteal and menstrual phase it's important to prioritize your needs and take extra care of yourself as this can be a more sensitive time of the month with an increase need for nutrition, self care, and rest.
Try to avoid over-booking yourself with social activities and leave some open space for time to take care of you!
Allow yourself more rest if you need it and get some daily movement going that you enjoy! Yoga is an excellent physical activity that can help to reduce cortisol levels and leave you feeling less stressed.
A stress management practice will be of utmost importance to help promote feelings of calm and reduce anxiousness.
Aka bloating or water retention, this PMS symptom is associated with period weight gain and may come with the feeling that you can now only fit into yoga pants.
This bloating may occur due to hormonal shifts which impact your body's regulation of fluids, resulting in water accumulation in tissues. This can create swelling in the breasts, belly, and extremities.
A common symptom, hyperhydration has been shown to impact up to 92% of women with PMS (4).
What can you do for PMS-H?
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables! This will increase your intake of important minerals such as magnesium and potassium required to maintain the body's fluid balance.
Avoid processed and packaged foods high in sodium and inflammatory ingredients which can make water retention worse.
Sip on some dandelion tea which is a natural diuretic and plenty of water throughout your day!
Sweet and salty cravings are very familiar to women during that time of the month. The reason behind these heightened cravings is typically due to a drop in serotonin levels and a rise in progesterone.
Progesterone stimulates appetite and nutritional needs during the second half of the cycle (5). This is why it may seem that much harder to resist the entire bag of chips or cookies.
When serotonin drops, your feel good hormone, you may experience an increased desire for sweets and carbohydrate rich foods.
Ensuring you are eating enough will help you to overcome cravings and feel more satisfied.
What can you do for PMS-C?
Adopting a clean diet focused on whole foods is important not just during PMS episodes but throughout the month as your period will reflect your internal health and your ongoing nutritional status. Schedule regular meals balanced with protein, fat, and fiber to help you stay satiated and avoid overeating or indulging.
And don't forget to eat your complex carbs! This will help to support serotonin production, improve mood and reduce cravings for sweets.
If you have a sweet tooth stick to dark chocolate which can induce positive effects on mood and satisfy sweet cravings (6).
It is not uncommon for women to experience moderate to more intense feelings of depression during the second half of the cycle.
The hormonal changes that happen during this time can impact neurotransmitters like serotonin, affecting your mood but also appetite and sleep. Low serotonin is common in the luteal phase as estrogen drops after ovulation and can cause issues such as insomnia, low mood, and cravings.
This typically lasts until your period starts and then disappears a few days later.
However it's important to look further into what may be causing your low moods and hormonal imbalances in order to overcome these symptoms.
What can you do for PMS-D?
Alongside nutrition and lifestyle changes, which may include meditation, exercise, and an anti-inflammatory diet, there are various nutrients that can help to improve mood and cognitive function such as the omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, and calcium (7).
Establishing a trust worthy support system is a vitally important step in managing symptoms such as depression and creating an appropriate treatment plan.
Now this isn't to say that you can't experience multiple symptoms during PMS or fall under more than one type. Most women do experience a combination of physical symptoms as well as mental and emotional symptoms. The good news? This can largely be improved through nutrition and lifestyle changes and getting to the root of your hormonal imbalances which we encourage you to discuss with your healthcare provider.
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.