Pre menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common and sometimes debilitating condition that affects around one third of women. Typical symptoms range from fatigue, irritability, depression, bloating, nausea, breast pain, mood swings and food cravings. There are four different subgroups of PMS categorized by anxiety, depression, water retention and cravings. Thankfully there are ways to combat these symptoms through food and supplementation. So before you reach for the paracetamol, devour an entire box of Quality Street or roundhouse kick your husband for leaving the toilet seat up, here are a few things for your consideration.
First off get some high quality omega 3 fish oils in your diet…
After ovulation, fatty acids build up in the cell membranes of the uterus. After the onset of progesterone withdrawal before menstruation, these fatty acids are released causing a concurrent release of a cascade of prostaglandins. Menstrual pain is associated with increased contractions of smooth muscles in the uterus caused by the autonomic nervous system, hormones and these locally acting prostaglandins derived from omega 3 essential fatty acids (anti inflammatory) and omega 6 EFA (inflammatory). Generally prostaglandins derived from omega 6 fatty acids increase these smooth muscle contractions, Omega 3 fatty acids cause a far less severe increase. It’s important to note that omega 3 and omega 6 EFA’s compete for the same enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) and are then converted into various eicosonoids (hormone like substances) that are either inflammatory or anti inflammatory. Diets rich in omega 6 will not only increase the body’s inflammatory responses but also inhibit the conversion of omega 3 into anti inflammatory eicosonoids.
Supplementing with omega 3 fish oil has shown time and time again to reduce many of the symptoms of PMS especially pain and cramping. In fact, a study performed on 181 women in 1995, showed that on average women with menstrual pain had an 80% lower intake of omega 3 EFA. Try starting with at least 5-10 grams a day in divided doses.
Put down the processed carbohydrates…
This is a good idea for anyone but especially in those PMS sufferers dealing with bloating and water retention. Refined carbohydrates are dominant in omega 6 fatty acids which increase those troublesome prostaglandins and raise inflammatory responses in the body. It’s been shown that women who suffer from PMS consume diets 62% higher in processed carbohydrates and 275% higher in sugar, which also leads to imbalanced blood sugar levels and excessive insulin production leading to increased mood swings and irritability.
Refined carbohydrates also leach the body of important minerals such as magnesium which work very closely with B6 to metabolise prostaglandins in the liver.
Improve liver function…
In Chinese medicine the liver is the organ most associated with irritability and anger. It is also thought to contribute to other symptoms of PMS because it is the main organ that should break down estrogen and other hormones, especially when levels become excessive. Thus, herbs and supplements that help to improve the livers vital energy an detoxify bad estrogens would be a wise choice
The Reish mushroom is a powerful immune strengthener and regulator of blood sugar. It is used to counteract general fatigue or weakness that may be associated with chronic PMS and is an excellent herb for calming and relaxing women who experience irritability, nervousness, emotional excess, and sleeplessness.
Liquorice root in both western and eastern cultures dates back thousands of years and is particularly useful in treatment of PMS as it has been attributed to an increase in the estrogen to progesterone ratio. It is also a strong anti inflammatory which helps to double the half life of the stress hormone cortisol. The net affect of this being the adrenal glands have to produce less cortisol and therefore do less work. Be careful when supplementing with liquorice if you have high blood pressure as it can raise it slightly and take it earlier on in the day to make sure cortisol levels are allowed to lower in the evening to gain quality sleep.
When you exercise your body produces endorphins, the feel good brain chemical which has mood enhancing effects. As always I recommend anaerobic exercise for its greater metabolic affects and ability to preserve valuable muscle tissue those unfortunate aerobic junkies can kiss goodbye to! Some resistance work can be a great choice for those who find themselves a little irritable and angry. I’m sure friends and loved ones will gladly afford you a little extra time in the gym if they suspect it’s been a rough day at the office.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce bloating and water retention and the increase in oxygen allows nutrients to move to the cells more efficiently making you feel less lethargic.
So here are just a few excellent ways to help reduce the symptoms of PMS and maintain a more natural balance in your life.
Written by Richard Phillipps, Embody Fitness Director and Head of Personal Training