7 Tips for Alleviating PMS

Do you ever suffer from PMS symptoms, and wonder WHY you feel so sh*tty, when others don’t? Or maybe you just accept it as “normal” and load up on pain killers and chocolate during that time of the month.

While roughly 75% of women experience headaches, bloating, difficulty sleeping, mood swings and other symptoms of PMS, there is a lucky 25% hardly feel a thing. And the most amazing piece of news that I’ll share with you today is that – YOU DON’T HAVE TO SUFFER FROM PMS. You can even overcome the acne, cravings and fatigue, and without drugs. PMS is not “a given” and you can avoid it through some natural modifications.

First, let me explain WHY you get menstrual cramps and PMS, for you to better understand the natural cures.

Let's start with the basics: Each month, a woman’s ovaries releases follicles with eggs. These follicles burst, releasing eggs, and the leftover follicles develop a “corpus luteum” which produces progesterone. This increased progesterone creates a thick lining in your uterus that prepares your body for pregnancy. If no egg is fertilized, you stop producing progesterone, and the thickened uterine lining is shed -  which is your menstruation (bleeding).

When this lining sheds, the uterus contracts to help release it, and this is where cramps come in. So in large part, menstrual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus. But all the other PMS symptoms - that start a few days before your period and last through the first days of your period - are primarily due to that drop in progesterone right before your period, that, depending on your DIET and LIFESTYLE, can lead to estrogen dominance and other hormonal imbalances.

Essentially, bad eating habits, stress and toxins exasperate these hormonal imbalances, and hence, lead to PMS. 

The key to eliminating your PMS symptoms is to focus on the right diet (and lifestyle) factors that help balance your hormones, in particular, to avoid estrogen dominance, excess cortisol, and insulin resistance.

Because remember, when one hormonal loop is off balance, other hormones (including cortisol and insulin) are also impacted. For example, excess cortisol secretion (from stress) affects progesterone levels and insulin production, which leads to increased mood swings, anxiety, and food cravings.

Diets rich in sugar, refined carbohydrates, conventionally farmed (non-organic) meats and dairy products, caffeine and alcohol, all promote hormone imbalances. Stress, environmental pollutants and hormone-disrupting chemicals further disrupt your hormone. These diet and lifestyle factors contribute to inflammation and increased stress in your body, which get your hormones more out of whack, worsening your PMS symptoms.

So now that you know the key triggers of PMS, lets talk about all the things you can be doing to create more hormonal balance.

Here are 7 effective tips to start implementing now to avoid PMS:

1)      Cut back on inflammatory foods in your diet. Inflammation leads to conversion of testosterone into estrogen, leading to even more estrogen dominance before your period. So lowering inflammation helps keep your estrogen (and testosterone) in balance, and generally, with overall hormonal balance. AVOID inflammatory foods such as: "bad fats" (including trans fats, vegetable oils and margarine, non-organic meat and dairy), all processed foods, and simple/refined carbs, in particular, sugar. It's also worthwhile seeing if you have any food sensitivities, and cutting out these foods that create irritation and inflammation for you specifically (most commonly include gluten, dairy, eggs, and soy).

2)      Add in naturally anti-inflammatory and detoxifying foods into your daily diet, to help your body continually maintain hormonal balance, including:

  • BRASSICA/CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, which help regulate estrogen activity and can ease bloating and menstrual discomfort.
  • WARMING, DIGESTIVE SPICES & HERBS, which assist in warming the abdominal area to ease cramp discomfort – such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, garlic, ginger and pepper.
  • Add TURMERIC which is one of nature’s highest anti-inflammatory agents. I suggest adding ½ tsp of turmeric to your daily diet.
  • Foods rich in OMEGA-3 fatty acids and VITAMIN D. which can help decrease inflammation, cramps and general pain. Eat: Wild-caught fatty fish, flax seeds, walnuts, avocado and omega-3 cage-free eggs. Additionally, I suggest you supplement, taking Omega-3 (EPA/DHA) particularly during first half of your cycle (I use fermented cod liver oil that's also high in Vitamin D), and evening primrose oil for the second half of your cycle.

3)      Increase MAGNESIUM in your diet. Magnesium relieves your muscles and is the number one natural remedy for cramps. Plus it has the added benefit of relaxing your body for better sleep, and drawing more water into your colon to avoid constipation (which is key to eliminate any excess estrogen). Lastly, magnesium is effective for combating chocolate cravings (as chocolate cravings are usually a sign of magnesium deficiency)! I recommend:

  • Eating more magnesium rich foods, such as: dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards, arugula, etc), raw nuts and seeds, grains (like brown rice and quinoa), legumes (including lentils & chickpeas), avocados, and small amounts of raw cacao/dark chocolate.
  • Taking a small dose of magnesium every night (I recommend magnesium glycinate, or magnesium citrate which often works best for constipation). Usually about 300-400mg is great for every day, and you can increase to 600-700mg about 4 days before you menstruate and for first days of your menstruation.

4)      Consume more FIBER. Increasing dietary fiber helps keep the bowels regular, which reduces bloating and helps your body move out excess estrogen. If you aren’t pooping regularly (ideally 1-2/day), then your estrogen sticks around longer than it should, it re-circulates in your body, and can be leading factor creating symptoms of bloating, cramping, heavy periods, and irritability. I suggest:

  • Eating at least 25-30g of fiber per day from foods such as: VEGETABLES (artichokes, sweet potatoes, okra, squash, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peas), FRUITS (pears, all berries, plums, figs, avocado, coconut), small amounts of WHOLE GRAINS (oats, quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat), and LEGUMES (lentils, chickpeas and all beans).
  • Add a tablespoon of ground FLAX SEEDS and CHIA SEEDS to your daily diet. I add them to my morning smoothies or oats, but you can add them to almost anything! Try my chia pudding recipe for an awesome high-fiber snack. 

5)      Eat regular BALANCED MEALS to help regulate both insulin and cortisol, and avoid blood sugar spikes. When insulin goes up, your body starts making estrogen from testosterone (same effect as high inflammation), and this leads to mood swings, heavy periods, low libido and bloating. So its KEY to avoid meals with tons of simple carbs (think foods with white starches – refined white flour, white rice, and of course, sugar). Instead, make sure to ALWAYS INCLUDE LEAN PROTEIN, HEALTHY FATS, and fiber-rich vegetables as mentioned above. Also, eat on a regular schedule - AVOID "grazing" all day, skipping meals, and late-night eating.

6)      Supplement with B-VITAMINS, VITAMIN C and CALCIUM. B and C vitamins help with stress management and to keep progesterone balanced. Vitamin B6 in particular is also involved in estrogen metabolism. Calcium has been proven to help with fatigue, appetite changes and mood swings. I suggest: taking a B-complex supplement with Vitamin C in the morning, and taking 1,200mg of calcium citrate a day if you suffer from PMS.

7)      Add in some ADAPTOGENIC HERBS:

  • Vitex (Chasteberry): Helps balance estrogen/ progesterone ratios, and has shown to reduce some PMS symptoms, especially breast pain or tenderness, constipation, irritability, depressed mood, anger, and headache. You must take daily for several months to see effects, usually 200-250mg, but I suggest reviewing with your medical practitioner.
  • Ashwagandha, Holy Basil and Rhodiola. These adaptogetic herbs have been shown to help with stress management, reduce cortisol, balance hormones, and reduce PMS symptoms. Rhodiola also increases both physical and emotional endurance. However Rhodiola is drying, so if you have dry conditions in your body, or if you have bio-polar tendencies, be careful with rhodiola (again, always check with your medical practitioner).
  • Maca: Commonly used to balance out any menstrual irregularities, enhance fertility, and help with both PMS and menopause symptoms. Try adding 1 teaspoon to your morning smoothie (that’s what I do!).

To sum up – you want to be cutting back on sugar, refined carbs, meat and dairy, and filling up on TONS OF vegetables (especially those that support liver detoxification), fiber, and healthy plant-based fats that help balance hormones (and avoid constipation). Limit your alcohol (which affects your liver's ability to eliminate excess estrogen), and caffeine that affect your cortisol and insulin. Then try adding in helpful herbs and supplements to enhance your hormonal balance. As far as lifestyle tips, regular exercise and stress-relief techniques are essential. 

Lastly, alternative therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy often help a lot, as they focus on bringing your body back into balance. 

Remember to be patient because changes take time. If you follow these 7 tips for 2-3 months you will see your PMS get better and maybe even disappear!