A woman’s monthly cycle is a direct barometer of how her body is feeling. Approximately 75 to 80% of women experience the following symptoms on a monthly basis:
- Anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Poor concentration
- Lack of energy
- Change in appetite, overeating, or food cravings
- Hypersomnia or insomnia
- Breast tenderness
- Headache, joint or muscle pain
What are these symptoms trying to tell us? They indicate an imbalance in biochemistry, diet or lifestyle. Addressing the underlying cause of PMS symptoms will improve monthly symptoms, and other conditions as well.
Your thyroid is important for metabolism and energy, and PMS may be a symptom of hypothyroid or low thyroid function. Multiple studies have found that the incidences of hypothyroid are substantially higher in women with PMS. Thyroid assessment may be the first key to improving monthly PMS symptoms.
Excess estrogen is the most common imbalance associated with numerous female disorders, including PMS. External sources of toxins, such as PCBs, mimic estrogens. As a result, estrogen has become one of the most demanding hormones to clear from the body. Estrogen is balanced in the body by its counterpart, progesterone. When progesterone is not sufficient in the body, from stress or lack of nutrients, estrogen is functionally dominant because it’s unopposed. These hormones can be assessed in blood and urine to determine if they are in appropriate ranges. Avoidance of external sources of estrogen and proper nutrition can help bring hormones back into balance.
Excess estrogen can be a byproduct of slow detoxification pathways and a major cause for PMS. The body needs specific B vitamins, proteins and sulfur containing foods like eggs, onions and garlic, as well as other nutrients, to clear this hormone. Studies have shown that sufficient B Vitamins and other nutrients help reduce estrogen levels and improve detoxification pathways.
Nutrition can have a profound impact on our hormones, detoxification pathways and overall health. Women suffering from PMS have been found to have 62% more carbohydrates, 275% more sugar, 79% more dairy products, 78% more salt, 53% less iron, 77% less manganese and 52% less zinc in their diet than women with no PMS symptoms. Nutrient deficiencies may arise from deficiencies in diets, or increased demand due to an increase of caffeine or taking a daily medication.
Excess animal and saturated fats have been found to put more stress on female hormones, and in fact studies have shown that vegetarian women have fewer PMS symptoms. This may be because vegetarians generally have lower estrogen levels than omnivores and are able to clear hormones more effectively. It is speculated that this is because vegetarians have a higher fiber diet and eat more vegetables, which results in better detoxification.
Diets high in sugar are correlated with PMS symptoms, particularly with mood changes and food cravings. Sugar impairs estrogen metabolism and insulin resistance, both of which will exacerbate mood and other symptoms during PMS.
Caffeine can make PMS symptoms worse, especially if you have fibrocystic breasts or depression. Caffeine consumption and PMS symptoms have been directly correlated, meaning, the more caffeine, the worse the symptoms.
Exercise and Stress Management
Cortisol, a major stress hormone, can influence blood sugar levels, mood and other hormones, including thyroid and sex hormones. With chronic stress, cortisol can become elevated and exacerbate premenstrual syndrome symptoms. Research has shown when women have a good outlet for stress, such as biofeedback, exercise or counseling, they have fewer PMS symptoms. Exercise in particular has been well studied to reduce and prevent PMS symptoms. In study after study, athletes report less PMS than non-athletes, however even moderate exercise seems to reduce symptoms.
Suffering for a few days of cramps or drowning negative emotions in chocolate every month may seem unfair but manageable. However, premenstrual syndrome or any PMS symptoms should not be ignored, but rather listened to in order to find the imbalance and start eating better, moving more and replacing depleted nutrients.
Dr. Lauren Gouin is a board certified naturopathic physician with a family practice in Manchester, CT. She is currently accepting new patients and is in network with most insurance companies. To make an appointment, call (860)533-0179 or visit www.ctnaturalhealth.com.