Most women (thought to be around 85%) are familiar with the monthly drag of PMS, whether it manifests as moodiness, excessive hunger, bloating, anxiety or more serious episodes of depression. The average woman will have around 500 periods in her lifetime and they can be incredibly disruptive to day-to-day life – astonishingly while 1 in 20 of us may see our GP (www.nhs.co.uk) the majority of women simply muddle through.
However we are affected, there is a tendency to assume these symptoms are something to be endured. The good news is that this really need not be the case, and calling a halt to the endless cycle of monthly misery may be as simple as making a few tweaks to your usual dietary regime.
For many unfortunate women PMS symptoms may drag on throughout the entire second half of the menstrual cycle, leaving only one good week free from either menstrual or premenstrual symptoms. Some are afflicted to such an extent that they are forced to take time off work each month, or their personal relationships may be impacted dramatically. In some cases a GP may prescribe antidepressant medication if the symptoms are that pronounced. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who experience symptoms so mildly that they really don’t notice them. However, the majority of us fall into the category where symptoms cause us not to function as optimally as we would like, in such situations our professional or social life may be noticeably impacted.
The most vital element in the battle with the monthly blues is to keep oestrogen levels under control. Spiralling oestrogen is linked to many female afflictions, not least PMS. In order to keep levels under control we must ensure that our liver is processing any excess oestrogen – which is no longer needed by the body – and getting rid of it. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and watercress are your best friends when it comes to ensuring effective processing of oestrogen, so ensure you eat plenty – around two servings a day is optimal. Organic produce is always preferable to ensure you minimise toxin exposure.
Green smoothies are great for breakfast or a snack during the day
Add to a blender –
Two handfuls of green leafy veg (e.g. spinach, kale, watercress) to
a cup of water
a couple of pieces of fruit or some berries
2 tbsps of mixed seeds or protein powder and whizz together.
One of your portions of greens taken care of!
Sugar and refined/processed foods
These promote an imbalance in blood sugar levels causing an initial sharp rise followed by a dip after a couple of hours. When blood sugar takes a plunge our moods tend to become a bit erratic and this may worsen any mood symptoms we’re already experiencing due to PMS. A switch to whole grains such as rye bread, brown rice and quinoa will not only assist in alleviating the dip in blood sugar but are also rich in b-vitamins which help to lift our mood and fire up our energy levels.
Processed food tends to be very high in salt which can aggravate symptoms of bloating. Avoid salt by preparing your own meals from scratch and switching to brands such as Lo-salt, or use unrefined varieties such as ‘Celtic sea’ and ‘Himalayan pink’ which are packed with health-giving minerals and are far preferable to more refined products. Even so, please use sparingly if you want to avoid bloating.
High caffeine and alcohol intake will ensure your symptoms are much worse than they need to be. Replacing a few of your daily cups of tea and coffee with herbal varieties is a good way to minimise caffeine consumption. Calming tea such as chamomile is a great way to counter stress levels, while dandelion coffee is a great substitute for real coffee.
Smoking is also strongly correlated with PMS, so ditching the cigarettes may reward you with more benefits than anticipated.
Protein rich foods
Eat little and often – three main meals per day with two snacks in between is most common. Ensure each meal and snack contains a source of healthy protein – nuts, seeds, chicken, fish, lentils, tofu or eggs, for example. Combining protein with a carbohydrate food (vegetable sticks, fruit, whole grains, oat cakes, for example) will keep you feeling full and reduce any pesky cravings.
Essential fatty acids, especially Omega 3s, are super important in the fight against PMS. Aiming for 2-3 portions of oily fish (for example, mackerel, sardines or salmon) in your diet each week will benefit you enormously, and not just in the PMS battle – the positive effects are too numerous to list here, but trust me, you’ll notice. If you don’t enjoy the taste of fish there are plenty of good quality supplements around.
Adding a salmon fillet to a salad is a great way to ensure you get some intake of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Practices which promote calmness such as walking, meditation and yoga are key to controlling stress and keeping PMS symptoms to a minimum. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, which become elevated frequently in modern life (think: stuck in traffic, late for that meeting, can’t find a parking space, boss on your case, forgot to get the shopping, nothing to cook for dinner) wreak havoc with our other hormones, including ones that control our menstrual cycle. Avoiding stressful situations isn’t usually possible, but learning to control our reactions to stress is. This is where learning to meditate is really useful and there are many, many apps available to assist in this regard.
Magnesium, also known as nature’s tranquiliser, is found in avocados, almonds, seeds and fish so ensuring these foods feature strongly in your diet is key to controlling those stress hormones and keeping PMS at bay.
Many people find that supplementing with a combination of b-vitamins and magnesium is enormously helpful in combating PMS.
A phyto-oestrogen is a type of oestrogen that is found in plants – they are weaker versions of the oestrogens found within the body but act in much the same way. They prevent the stronger oestrogens taking control, therefore minimising their negative effects – these may be especially useful if you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms. Foods such as flax seeds, oats and sesame seeds are great sources of phyto-oestrogens so ensure to include them each day – porridge with ground seeds for breakfast is a great way to include them all in one go.
Oestrogens from the environment
Plastics, such as those used to make mineral water bottles, are made with chemicals which may have an oestrogenic effect on the body. Therefore it’s always best to avoid these if you can, especially in hot weather when the toxic chemicals are more likely to leach into the water.
Invest in a good quality water filter and aim to increase your water intake to 8 glasses a day.
PMS sufferers tend to be low in Vitamin D so ensuring a decent amount of sensible sun exposure during the summer months may be well worth it. In the northern hemisphere it’s wise to supplement vitamin D between the months of October to April. If you want to test your levels make an appointment with your GP as this is freely available on the NHS.
Lastly, many women swear by a good quality, female formula multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to get them through the month. These are available on-line and from good quality health food shops.
So, a healthy diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods and oily fish, combined with an increase in relaxing physical activity, low alcohol and caffeine consumption, and not smoking will be a great start.
Good luck X
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