It’s time to talk about Premenstrual syndrome (hereafter known as PMS), the ever-looming event we all wish we could turn our notifications off for. Even in the 21st century, experts don’t have a good understanding of how PMS and menstrual cycles affect the psyche and physical state of women. Female health is marginalised even in its most basic expression (a period is a healthy monthly occurrence).
PMS covers a myriad of symptoms and complexities relating to female reproductive health within the second half of the cycle. It affects both the physical and mental health and disrupts the daily lives of those who suffer with it. Whilst PMS is a subjective experience, and symptoms and bodies vary drastically, let’s identify some of the common PMS symptoms: bloating, digestive issues, headaches, breast tenderness, mood swings, irritability, anxiety and insomnia.
When others struggle to understand the changes in you, explain to them that your symptoms arrive in response to changing levels of estrogen and progesterone in your beautiful female body. Levels of these reproductive hormones rise and fall so dramatically during the luteal phase of menstruation, and all of us women are unfortunately affected by the not so pleasant effects.
This hormonal roller coaster affects neurotransmitters in your brain, most notably serotonin and dopamine, which regulate our mood. This may partly explain the psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings that happen during PMS. But science and society don’t give enough importance to any of these cycles that women go through each month.
Here are some tips that will make PMS and period easier for you:
Eat carbs (treat yourself). Eating a diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy vegetables), iron rich vegetables, nuts, and lots of water, no coffee— can reduce moodiness and anxiety-inducing food cravings during PMS and your period.
There is some evidence which supports taking supplements or eating consciously for female health, we’ve included a little summary below.
Disclaimer: we do ask that you consult your doctor before taking any new supplements as some have side effects which may interact with current medications you are taking or medical conditions you may have. Please also check the correct dosage with your doctor.
One study has found that women with PMS who took a 500 milligram (mg) calcium supplement twice a day for three months noted significantly reduced levels of fatigue, appetite changes, and depression than the women who took a placebo. Out of all the supplements to take to help reduce PMS, calcium has the strongest evidence to back its benefits.
Calcium is naturally occurring in many foods, such as dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese, soybeans, dark green leafy vegetables like curly kale and collard greens, figs and many more.
Chasteberry is one of the most commonly taken supplements when it comes to female health. It is thought to reduce bloating, tenderness and headaches, three of the most common concerns where PMS is concerned.
Vitamin B-6 is imperative for cognitive function. It works to keep the nervous system and immune system healthy. Several small studies have found that vitamin B-6 can assist with some of the psychological symptoms of PMS, including moodiness, irritability, and anxiety.
Whilst there are many supplements on the market to fulfil your B-6 needs, it can also be naturally found in many of the foods we eat:tuna, salmon, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, beef liver and organ meats, or for plant-based options you can find vitamin B-6 in avocados, chickpeas, quinoa, banas, brussel sprouts, sesame seeds and many more.
Linking back to the importance of vitamin B-6, magnesium taken alongside B-6 has been known to ease PMS symptoms including depression, anxiety, insomnia, water retention and breast tenderness.
For this reason, there are some supplements that combine both vitamin B-6 and magnesium, however, you can find magnesium in foods such as almonds, leafy greens and peanuts.
An Iron rich diet may be the missing puzzle piece if PMS is a concern. There’s research that suggests that women who eat diets full of iron from plant-based foods have found that it eases the symptoms of PMS and are a third less likely to develop symptoms.
Although we don’t know why exactly iron plays such an important role in reducing PMS as it has many proven functions throughout the body, some researchers believe that it might reduce the pain and emotional symptoms of PMS by helping to increase Serotonin.
Plant-based iron-rich foods include: lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal.