Premenstrual Syndrome(PMS) is something that affects 80 % of women. Even though it is experienced by women, it is also ‘suffered’ by most men (who have a wife or girl-friend).
What is PMS?
It is that set of physical and emotional changes in a woman 2 weeks prior to her menstrual period. PMS symptoms include:
- Muscle pain or cramps
- Anxiety and Depressed mood
- Mood swings and irritability or anger
- Appetite changes and food cravings
- Headache and Fatigue
- Weight gain related to fluid retention
- Abdominal bloating
- Breast tenderness
- Acne flare-ups
- Constipation or diarrhea
Prior to understanding why we get PMS , let us acknowledge a few facts about PMS and painful periods.
- PMS is not normal
- It is not inevitable
- Ladies do not need sick leave or work from home option every month
- It is not a girl thing and we don’t need to put up with for a lifetime
- It is a clear sign of hormonal imbalance
Can a lady menstruate with no PMS, no bloating, no cramping and feel completely normal through out your cycle?
It’s totally possible if we understand our body, lifestyle, habits, environmental toxins and how they affect hormones.
A complex controlled network of hormones are needed to menstruate and ovulate perfectly. Let us understand what happens to the two hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. For the ease of understanding, this article will focus only on these two important hormones (even though they are not the only ones).
During the first and second week of the menstrual cycle (Follicular Phase), Oestrogen levels are higher. This is why ladies look more radiant, pain tolerance is higher and can work-out well and feel very good during this time.
During the second and third week (Luteal Phase), Oestrogen level, should ideally, slowly start falling and progesterone levels should start increasing. However, for those who have PMS, one of this does not happen.
This imbalance is what leads to PMS, breaking out/acne, irritability, depression, mood swings, breast tenderness etc. This also gives rise to Oestrogen dominance if continued and not intervened.
Progesterone – our much-needed saviour hero is also an anti inflammatory hormone and the lack of which obviously increases or doesn’t curb inflammation.
What causes or worsens this imbalance?
There are many factors, that are within our control to avoid PMS.
- Environmental toxins: Certain toxins act as synthetic estrogen and disrupt hormonal balance. These toxins are found in all forms of plastics (including BPA free containers and Styrofoam take away boxes), fertilizers, cosmetics and personal care products.
- Avoiding plastic in all possible ways of your life: GO GREEN. We are all informed about how plastic pollutes the earth around Earth day, but most of us are unaware that plastic pollutes the hormones in our body too, as xenostrogens found in plastic mimics the action of estrogen.
- Identify natural alternatives to cosmetics: Skin is our largest organ and whatever we apply on that gets absorbed. Most people have detox tea and smoothies (say something like to cleanse the body or something), but never think about that Lipcolor, shampoo, serum and conditioner on hair and lotions on our skin. The harsh truth is that they all have hormone disruptors and the skin easily absorbs whatever is applied on it.
- Poor digestive/gut health : Excess estrogen in the body does not get eliminated and is reabsorbed due to gut dysbiosis or poor gut health. gut Bacteria regulates circulating estrogen using an enzyme known as beta-glucuronidase and when your microbiome/bacteria is out of balance, these enzymes can’t properly metabolize estrogens, which leads to estrogen dominance.
- Avoid inflammatory foods such as refined vegetable oils, or those that might cause food intolerance or sensitivity like corn and soy.
- Avoid laxatives , PPI or medicines for acidity and heart burn, pain killers, antibiotics as they are known to have negative impact on gut lining and gut bacteria.
- Supplement with herbs, whole foods or natural sources of probiotics to improve your gut health.
- Nutritional deficiency and Unregulated blood sugar levels : when we don’t get sufficient Protein, good dietary fat, cholesterol( essential to make all hormones) and other micronutrients like Vitamin B6, Vitamin E , Magnesium(read about this miracle mineral here), Potassium , Zinc and Copper , production of most reproductive hormones including progesterone is compromised. Apart from this high insulin levels also interfere with the production of hormones.
- Nourish each and every cell in your body with good food rich in nutrients. Add in supplements to fill in the gaps if needed.
- Avoid Refined sugary food, processed and packeted junk food that harm your digestive health , deplete your mineral and vitamin stores and increase inflammation ( Snack bars are included in this too).
- Good quality Fats , proteins and carbohydrates are needed for producing hormones and maintaining it in our body. Focus on sustainable balanced plates and not on crash diets, which can wreak havoc on your hormonal balance.
- Lack of exercise and excess body fat : Excess body fat especially that stored in the hips, waist, and thighs acts as a source of inflammation and estrogen. Excess body fat is one of the leading causes of estrogen dominance and thus PMS. Not only does fat tissue absorb and store estrogen circulating in your bloodstream, it also synthesizes estrogen from your other hormones.
- Exercise : Workout helps you release mood enhancing chemicals called endorphins which help in combating the physical and emotional effects of PMS. Working out when you get or are about to get your PMS isn’t the way to go with this.
Regular workouts, and yoga have been proved to reduce the effects of PMS. Randomized clinical trials have shown that exercise is very effective in reducing PMS.
- Chronic Stress and anxiety : They both increase inflammation and also come in the way of making progesterone.
- Reduce stress, meditate and find time to indulge in activities that you love. When we feel stressed our bodies release cortisol, and an overabundance of cortisol can increase inflammation, lower our immune function, overwork our adrenal system, and put us at greater risk for depression and mental illness. So it’s no surprise that too much cortisol may also aggravate PMS systems.
In a research conducted by Bertone-Johnson in University of Massachusets on around 3000 women , she found that women who were experiencing PMS displayed higher levels of internal inflammation—and we know that more stress leads to inflammation, and more inflammation can lead to PMS.
- Poor sleep : Only during sound sleep can our glands secrete reproductive hormones like progesterone , testosterone etc.
- There is no alternative for restorative sleep. As per Ayurveda, Sleep is one of the three basic pillars of life. It is crucial for rejuvenation, repair, improving metabolism and also hormonal balance and also one of the most overlooked factors that affect health.
- Consumption of stimulants like Alcohol and caffeine : Alcohol increases the level of natural and synthetic estrogen in body. Studies have proven that Asian women who drink more than 2 cups of coffee a day have increased estrogen levels in their body.
- Reduce consumption or give up on stimulants. If you feel the need for a drink or a fag or cup of coffee or tea to feel good/fresh, it is a clear sign that your body is not getting enough nourishment from the food you eat.
The good news is that lifestyle changes mentioned above does not have any side effects, unlike the numerous over the counter medicines available to reduce PMS and period cramps.
However these lifestyle changes require commitment, consistency and discipline.
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