I remember not having ANY premenstrual syndrome symptoms till I passed the 24/25 age threshold. Then all of a sudden, all the things I’d heard my mother and other women complaining about all started hitting me every month. Not only was it bad enough to feel like shit DURING my period, but the fun was starting a whole 7-10 days before the event. I was cursing the gods, my sex and anybody who was in the line of fire.
Migraines, severe bloating, heavy bleeding, oedema-type swelling, fatigue, mind fog, cramps, IBS symptom flare ups, changes in appetite…I mean, let’s be honest. I could go on. And we haven’t even tackled the pre-menstrual bit yet. I’ve definitely experienced ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’ type of depression (temporarily) a few times in the lead up to my period. And let me tell you, it feels very real and scary. Fortunately, I was a nutritional therapy student who was conscious of what factors may be at play here, so I was able to keep a level head.
I will never forget this one time where I had been on two short holiday breaks in 1 month, and had to come back to a bunch of course work and cold weather in London. I’d spent both breaks drinking like a fish, eating subpar quality food, not exercising, and smoking cigarettes with my alcoholic beverages (the queen of ‘I only smoke when I drink’). While this was all fine and good while I was away, the PMS experienced when I was next due was so debilitating, I vowed to figure out what the hell was going on. I was determined not to have this experience in my life every 28 days.
Fast forward several years later, after lots of anecdotal testing (i.e, testing on myself), functional testing (actual health lab tests), research, and feedback from other desperate friends and family members, finally, there was a breakthrough.
Behold, my 5 best tried and tested tips for improving PMS and period related symptoms:
1. Cut out refined carbohydrates, alcohol and sugars entirely from your day-to-day life.
Yes, I said it. I am not tip toeing around this one, or trying to appease you. Sugar causes SEVERAL imbalances which directly affect our hormone function. When hormone function is imbalanced, it is not surprising that PMS is going to be negatively affected.
While having an occasional SMALL portion of your favourite sugary treat or alcoholic beverage on say, your birthday, Christmas, your partner’s birthday, trying out a delicacy in a foreign country, etc is ok. The emphasis is to avoid sugar, alcohol and refined carbs completely in your day to day life. Avoid keeping sugary foods in your car, home, workspace, etc. Any foods which can be broken down into glucose can have an addictive effect on your brain, meaning, the more of it you eat, the more your body will crave.
Alcohol is really the worst offender here, as not only does it contain refined sugars, but it also produces ammonia in your body once metabolised. FYI, ammonia is a very smelly, highly toxic compound which you don’t want anywhere near you. Bear that in mind when you’re next going to the pub!
2. Eat small portions of non-wheat derived, non processed carbs.
Instead of giving in to the traditional PMS ravenous munchie pitfalls and gorging on ice cream, chocolate and french fries, eat clean whole sources of carbohydrates which actually provide you with helpful nutrients.
Carby foods which can be particularly helpful for alleviating PMS like basmati and/or jasmine rice, sweet/regular potato, butternut squash, plantain, yam, quinoa, and bananas contain nutrients which can help boost progesterone, which is the hormone that most women need to increase, particularly from the ovulation stage (about 2 weeks before your next period). Eating a small portion of these in the lead up to your period can help avoid those self sabotaging binge type situations from occurring, as well as alleviating mood swings, energy imbalance, bloating and more of your favourite PMS related symptoms. Just don’t deep fry, use healthier cooking methods like pan frying, steaming, roasting, boiling and baking.
3. Eat a portion of cruciferous vegetables every single day.
Cruciferous vegetables are probably the most powerful functional foods (in my humble opinion) in the plant world. They contain loads of antioxidants and detoxifying compounds which can really support your body in getting rid of stuff your body no longer needs. I’m not just talking about food in your digestive tract, I’m also talking about toxins and metabolised hormones. Not getting rid of these toxins causes recirculation of these nasties, and can re-activate some of these metabolised hormones. This really sucks in the context of PMS because quite often what gets circulated, is the used up oestrogen our body no longer needs. In the age of synthetic oestrogens being present EVERYWHERE (plastics, pollution, clingfilm, beauty and skin products, burnt/charred/grilled/fried foods, non organic foods, air, etc), we are inundated with this shit. The result is that we become oestrogen dominant, which means that your PMS and period symptoms go HAM because not only do you have your own oestrogen and the recirculated old oestrogen, you also have that shitty synthetic oestrogen we just talked about. Now you know why your symptoms get so bad.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, chicory, pak choi, spinach, radish and rocket can help transport the rubbish OUT of your system.
4. Keep your gut happy.
Make sure you have a read of my post on digestion and gut bacteria. You want to keep your gut bacteria population on the helpful side, which means eating foods which encourage the growth of good bacteria, and avoiding foods which encourage bad bacteria. It also means being conscious of food hygiene, in order to avoid getting bad bugs and parasites into your gut.
You also want to tackle constipation and work with your doctor or nutritional therapist, because as I mentioned earlier in this post, detoxification of toxins and deactivated metabolites of hormones etc need to find their way out. If you’re struggling with this and need effective relief immediately, you may find colonic hydrotherapy quite helpful. Just make sure you are liaising with a certified expert, and not some random beauty therapist who is trying to sell you colon cleansing in hopes of achieving fat loss. That ain’t it chief. If you are based in London and would like a recommendation of where to go, contact me here.
5. Move, every day.
A lot of us find ourselves more lethargic in the lead up to our period, and that is relatively fine within reason. This isn’t the best time to push for those new personal records or turn up the intensity of your physical workouts, but that doesn’t mean avoid moving completely. Quite the contrary!! Remember all that talk about eliminating shit your body doesn’t need, and having balanced hormone function? Frequent exercise intake can help you with all of that. Either lighten the intensity of your normal training routine, or opt for more gentle but effective forms of exercise like yoga, pilates, swimming and power walking. This can really help alleviate both your physical as well as your psychological symptoms which are normally associated with PMS and periods.
These are some of the most helpful things almost any woman can do to help themselves, in conjunction with a predominantly nourishing and healthy diet. Of course, not everyone is the same, which is where seeing a nutritional therapist becomes particularly useful. Some states of imbalance such as Candida, bacterial overgrowth, endometriosis, cystic fibrosis, chronic fatigue and insulin resistance will most likely require deeper and more personalised interventions, however you may find your symptoms improving/reducing by following the tips outlined in this post.
PMS isn’t mandatory, menopause wasn’t always a thing…modern living changed that, and through the right health strategy for you, you can very well get to the stage where you forget your period is due, and not even realise you’re hitting menopause. Look after your body, and your body looks after…you!
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