By Tara Ghosh
You consider yourself usually quite balanced and nice to be around. Except… the week before your period. It all changes. You feel a dark cloud descend, can’t control your temper and, on bad months, want to quit your job and all your relationships.
PMS is here and it’s definitely no fun.
What is PMS?
Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) is an umbrella term for a host of emotional and physical symptoms people experience in the week before their period and include:
- Sleep problems
- Brain fog
But why do these lovely things come to visit us every month?
Every menstrual cycle our brain and ovaries are in a conversation and it's this dialogue which determines if we ovulate. Every cycle our body recruit follicles (which produces oestrogen) and ovulate (which means we produce progesterone). Around 2 weeks after we ovulate our period arrives. Voilà! Then the whole cycle repeats.
Oestrogen and progesterone are equally brilliant and we need both in the right amount to be healthy and balanced. You can think of them like dance partners, which should ebb and flow in tune with each other.
However, when those key hormones are not in the right proportions PMS symptoms happen, like mood swings, heavy periods and sore boobs. Sometimes this is caused by anovulatory cycles (very common through teenage years and from your late 30s onwards during perimenopause). This is where you have what looks like a totally normal cycle, with your period arriving on cue. But... you haven't actually ovulated so you have zero progesterone to soothe you. That accounts for why some cycles you feel fine and balanced. And others you are thrown by unexpected mood swings.
Other factors affecting mood swings
Perhaps you do ovulate but just didn’t produce enough progesterone. This is most commonly down to stress in our body, whether physical or emotional. Basically, the ingredients our body needs to make cortisol, our stress hormone, are the same that make progesterone. Also, high cortisol levels block progesterone receptors. So it’s a double whammy. Our body produces less progesterone and then what it does produce can’t do the job it wants as cortisol has basically stolen its seat. The reason for this is our body is ALWAYS going to prioritise survival over reproduction.
Another reason for PMS is that perhaps ovulation happened and progesterone levels are ok but actually you have sky high oestrogen levels which causes that hormonal dance partnership to be out of balance. This can be caused by xenoestrogens like BPA and Phthalates in our food, beauty and cleaning products, as well as from alcohol consumption, weight gain and obesity.
Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
One thing to mention when we talk about PMS, is her bigger, badder, big sister PMDD. It involves severe mood changes in second half of cycle with intrusive dark thoughts, fits of rage, panic attacks, brain fog, self harm… it is very, very debilitating. 1 in 20 people with periods suffer with PMDD and it’s important that people get the right support, for example through wonderful organisaitons like IAMPD and LunaHub.
Now we know what can cause PMS, what can we do to ease our horrid symptoms?
The good news is PMS is not a life sentence. Just because you have a period does not mean you have to suffer with PMS every month. Most people find a HUGE improvement in their PMS by making very simple tweaks to their diet and lifestyle. What helps each person will be different and these ideas are a great place to start:
- Nutrition - eating a balanced diet with each meal containing 50% veggies (yes 50%!), protein and healthy fats like ghee, olive oil, seeds or nuts. An often overlooked part of nutrition is eating sloooooowly. Ideally we need to chew each mouthful 10 times, my friends. Last thing on nutrition, some people find cutting out dairy can improve their PMS.
- Prioritising your sleep – we ideally need 8 hours sleep a night. If you’re not bagging that much sleep or don’t wake feeling fully rested, you need to work on your sleep pronto.
- Find ways to soothe your nervous system every single day - take 5 mins daily rest with your eyes closed listening to music, set an alarm on your phone to take 10 deep slow breaths, try Arvigo® self care massage, spend some time in nature
- Supplements - supplements are just that, supplemental to all the other good stuff you're doing for your sleep, nutrition and stress levels. Commonly recommended supplements for PMS are Magnesium, B vitamins, Vit D3/K2, Ashwagandha but remember to use your common senses and always check with your doctor before starting any supplements.
If you try these suggestions consistently for 2-3 months and see no improvement or your symptoms get worse at any time, definitely see your doctor or naturopath to get more support. (But, pretty please, don’t accept hormonal birth control as a fix for your PMS as that doesn’t get to the root cause of period and mood issues!).
Get to know Tara
Tara Ghosh is an Arvigo® Therapist and period wellness expert passionate about empowering people with periods to feel strong whatever season of their life they are in. Tara works with people all over the world through her workshops for tweens and teens, as well as those in their 30s and 40s.