Solving Premenstrual Syndrome

Nearly all women of childbearing age experience some premenstrual symptoms, but women between the ages of 20 and 40 are most likely to experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Gather any group of women together and you’ll be amazed at the range of symptoms they experience each month and even more amazed at how it’s generally accepted that PMS is ‘expected’ and simply ‘lived with’. There’s a generally accepted view that PMS is normal, just part of being a woman. It’s time for that message to change! We need to move towards the fact that PMS isn’t acceptable and that it is possible, with the correct diet and lifestyle changes, to be relatively symptom-free each month.

Symptom check A phenomenal number of symptoms are associated with PMS and they are conveniently categorised into two groups – physical and emotional. Typical symptoms include decreased energy, tension, irritability, depression, headache, altered sex drive, breast pain, backache, abdominal pain, bloating and water retention. But this is just a snapshot of the most commonly experienced symptoms from the list of over 100 possible PMS symptoms.

What causes PMS? At first it was thought that an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone caused PMS. But experts now believe that fluctuating hormone levels across the cycle change the way the brain reacts to the brain neurotransmitters that create your feelings, emotions, reactions and perception of pain. Research reveals that women react differently to these brain chemicals during the premenstrual phase of their cycle and it’s this change in reaction that enables the emotional and physical symptoms of PMS to manifest so strongly.

Nutrition to the rescue A diet that’s high in saturated fat, sugar, salt, starchy carbohydrates, processed and refined foods provides the perfect recipe for PMS. Your level of fitness and toxicity is also relevant – too little exercise and your body will become sluggish and stagnant, which is reflected in your hormonal pattern. Too much body toxicity from caffeine, alcohol, nicotine will also affect your liver function and hormone balance. Time to shape up and clean up!

Freshen your diet with lean protein from chicken, fish and eggs. Make sure you eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, which are full of PMS-busting fibre. Swap your unhealthy sugary and salty snacks for a small handful of nuts and seeds, which are rich in magnesium and calcium, and top up on omega-3s by eating oily fish at least three times a week. All these nutrients help to settle PMS.

Women with PMS tend to have low levels of vitamin B6 and magnesium, and studies have found these nutrients positively affect many symptoms of PMS, particularly those relating to mood. Chromium also helps to balance blood sugar and curb premenstrual cravings. A good number of studies also show that GLA, an omega-6 found in evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil and starflower oil, helps to reduce premenstrual water retention and breast tenderness.

Action plan

  • Cut back on foods containing saturated fat, sugar, dairy products, salt and refined carbohydrates.
  • Achieve your 5-a-day, every day.
  • Limit drinks containing caffeine to one per day and avoid energy drinks.
  • Reduce alcohol to three glasses of wine a week or no more than 14 units a week.
  • Commit to 30-60 minutes of exercise, three times a week.
  • Consider taking some appropriate nutritional supplements – vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium, GLA and vitamin E

However severe or debilitating your level of PMS – don’t for a minute think there is nothing you can do about it! You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how quickly you see results from embracing a few diet and lifestyle changes.

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