Hey lovely ladies,
How are your days and weeks going at the moment?
I don’t know about you but the past few weeks have been crazy and I can’t believe we are starting to get into the pointy end of the year.
Tim and I have recently returned from a long weekend away to Adelaide and the Flinders Ranges to celebrate my amazing grandmother turn 80, my mum has been really sick and was recently diagnosed with pneumonia plus we are starting to feel the pinch with renovating. I’ve been trying to get this blog out to you for weeks now but just haven’t had time as you can imagine.
For those that have their own businesses and write their own blogs, there is a lot of work that goes into not only writing but researching and relaying the science in a way that is captivating, interesting and easy to understand. I must admit, I am not the best writer and my grammar isn’t always on point but I’d rather get this out to you then be worried about whether or not it is perfect. However, having said that if this annoys you, please get in touch and you can be my personal editor ;)
Now back to PMS. I am really excited to share with you some of the amazing research that is happening out there on something we women all know too well… Premenstrual syndrome aka PMS.
PMS is something that many women experience. Some women experience really severe symptoms and others hardly get any symptoms at all. Symptom intensity can also differ between cycles. Despite many women considering PMS to be just a fact of life, there are plenty of things we can do to reduce and manage symptoms.
Here I break down some of the science behind what PMS is? How PMDD differs? What causes PMS? and how to manage and reduce symptoms with food and lifestyle changes.
If you’re one to have experienced PMS in the past, currently do, or know someone that does, make sure you read right to the end AND don’t forget to share this information with your girlfriends in need (they will thank you later).
What is PMS?
The shit thing is, that PMS is both emotional and physical. That’s right ladies, that feeling you get when you’re just pissed off at the world for no good reason… is likely to be coupled with a feeling of sadness, craving foods and holding onto excess fluid. Symptoms do vary and there is no saying that every women is the same but do note that all this happens BEFORE your period.
Before reading ahead, take a moment to consider you and your body. Do you experience PMS? Do you find yourself a little snappy, unmotivated, tired only to realise a few days later… ‘Auntflo’ is in the house?!
Is their a difference between PMS and PMDD?
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is like PMS but on steroids affecting approximately 5-8% of women with PMS. It’s impact is so severe that is affects activities like going to work, socialising and doing daily tasks.
PMS and PMDD are similar but not the same. PMS is a range of symptoms from bloating and fluid retention right through to feeling irritated, sad and experiencing food cravings. PMDD can be this but also feeling really really irritated, and experiencing anxiety and depression.
Why do women experience PMS or PMDD?
The verdict is still out on that one but we do know it has to do with hormones. Where ovulation does not occur because of menopause or conditions such as PCOS, PMS is not present.
Scientists explain that PMS has something to do with the hormone associated with pregnancy known as ‘progesterone’ acting on the brain.
Lifestyle factors, such as stress, poor physical heath and social environment also play a role by having an impact on the brains’ chemicals. Other factors that can increase a women’s chance of experiencing PMS include genetics, culture, high BMI and smoking. If we look at inflammation, quite an old study from the 1990’s measured emotional stress and CRP (inflammatory marker) in women who experienced regular symptoms of PMS. They found that those with elevated CRP (>3mg/L) were more likely to experience some the symptoms associated with PMS including: breast pain, abdominal bloating, mood shifts, food cravings and fluid retention. However they were unable to comment on the mechanism at play here (i.e how this actually happens in the body).
Can specific nutrients help to reduce PMS symptoms?
A range of different supplements are thought to help reduce PMS symptoms by correcting deficiencies. Specifically magnesium, B vitamins and calcium. Let’s find out if the evidence really stacks up…
Magnesium and PMS:
What is Mg? Magnesium is a electrolyte that acts as a cofactor in many of the bodies processes including nerve function, blood-glucose control, blood pressure regulation and protein synthesis.
What is the evidence? When it comes to reducing symptoms such as stress and anxiety, supplementing with magnesium is thought to be beneficial however there is not enough good quality studies to recommend every women with PMS to start supplementing.
Again, when we look at supplementing with magnesium to help reduce the symptoms of PMS (not limited to anxiety and stress) there is an association (connection) but scientists cannot say that low magnesium causes PMS.
On the flip side, there is one study that was a clinical trial completed in 2007. It states that there was an improvement in symptoms when supplemented with magnesium for the entire menstrual cycle.
However, on the basis on one clinical trial, the overall verdict still stands. Supplementing with magnesium to reduce symptoms of PMS is inconclusive.
Vitamin B and PMS:
What are B vitamins? Thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, and vitamin B-12 are key vitamins needed to synthesize neurotransmitters. It is thought that these neurotransmitters may be involved in premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
What is the evidence? Studies are limited in this area. One study found that consuming B vitamins through food does help to reduce PMS symptoms compared to taking a B complex vitamin. There also looks to be further research in the mix with a Cochrane Review Protocol detailing the specifics of the study design.
To summarise, consuming a diet high in B vitamins compared to a diet that is not may help to reduce the severity of PM symptoms.
Calcium, Vitamin D and PMS:
What is calcium? Like magnesium, calcium is an electrolyte. It is required for our heart to beat, muscles to contract and for strong bones.
What is Vitamin D? A vitamin we can synthesise from the sun and also obtain from food, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts like a hormone.
What is the evidence? The evidence for the supplementation of calcium to improve PMS might actually be there.
Studies show that an intake of about 600mg twice per day can help reduce symptoms and a 2019 review that pooled the results of 28 studies found that low levels of vitamin D and calcium had an effect on how bad PMS symptoms were.
Also, women with a diet rich in both Vitamin D and calcium experienced less severe PMS symptoms. Better yet, ladies, you can get your calcium and vitamin D from food so prioritising these foods and getting enough sun every day is essential.
Supplementing is okay but there is a risk of consuming much more than you require. Just note that the maximum daily amount of elemental calcium is 2000-2500mg/day.
If you’re supplementing with calcium and also eating a calcium-rich diet, this could become problematic. If you’re considering taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to reduce your PMS symptoms, speak to your dietitian and/or GP to determine if this is the right approach for you.
Finally… here are 5 foods to help reduce PMS
Vegetables. Eats lots of vegetables. Especially green cruciferous ones like broccoli, bok choy, Brussel sprouts. Period.
Chaste Tea. Sip on Chaste Tea instead of alcohol. I didn’t discuss it in this blog but Chaste Tree does have a beneficial effect on reducing PMS. Click the link to read all about key ingredients like Chaste Tra in fertility tea.
Mushrooms. Prioritise Vitamin D rich foods including mushrooms and fortified soy milk (vegetarian sources of vitamin D including milk, yoghurt, eggs and cheese) and get some sun every day. If you feel you’re not getting enough, see your doctor and get your vitamin D levels checked… then consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Almonds. Almonds and other calcium-containing foods including calcium set tofu, calcium-fortified soy, oat or pea milk as well cheese, dairy milk, yoghurt and boney fish (if you’re pescatarian) all contain calcium.
Herbs. Instead of salt which acts like a magnet to water, cook with herbs and spices instead of salt to reduce fluid retention.
Remember if you are going to make changes to your diet, give your body time to adjust. It may take 3-4 months of consistent changes before you notice a reduction in symptoms. Track your symptoms in a food and mood diary to get started.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not designed to provide individual advice. Please seek advice from your Healthcare professional and dietitian when making changes to your diet.