PMS No More! Holistic Support
Bloating, mood swings, abdominal pain, the list goes on. All of these unfortunate, monthly symptoms are just part of being a woman, right? Actually, they don’t have to be! Read on to empower yourself by understanding your cycle and discover natural remedies for taking control of your PMS.
As a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in women’s health, I see many patients who struggle with PMS symptoms. About 80% of women experience at least one physical or psychological symptom before their menstrual periods. The underlying causes of these symptoms are not well understood. However, studies have shown that fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels throughout a woman’s cycle can trigger this discomfort.
Once you understand and become comfortable with the inner workings of your cycle, you unlock tremendous insight into the state of your overall health. This knowledge will empower you to make decisions that can positively affect your hormones and improve symptoms related to PMS.
Let’s start with understanding the basics of every woman’s cycle along with the key players – the hormones - and their role in PMS.
Okay Ladies, Now Let’s Get Informed!
Get Cycle Savvy
First and foremost, you need to know the length of your cycle. This is easily calculated by counting the number of days from the first day of your menstrual period - first day of bleeding - to the first day of your next period. Most women have cycles that last between 25 to 30 days.
Day 1 is the first day of a woman’s menstrual period and marks the start of the first half of her cycle – also known as the follicular phase. This phase ends at ovulation, usually midway through her cycle at around day 14. This halfway point marks the beginning of the second phase of a woman’s cycle – also known as the luteal phase. The luteal phase ends when the next menstrual period begins, thereby starting the cycle all over again at day 1.
- Grows the uterine lining
- Enhances mood and libido
- Develops secondary sex characteristics
Estrogen is primarily made in our ovaries and is considered the dominant hormone during the first half – the follicular phase – of our cycle. Estrogen levels begin to rise after the start of the follicular phase and reaches its peak right before ovulation, which happens at around day 14 for women who have a 28-day cycle.
Ongoing stress, inadequate nutrient intake, inflammation and hormone-disrupting molecules like BPA, phthalates and parabens are common causes of estrogen imbalance. This can lead to heavier periods, breast tenderness, weight gain and mood swings.
- Prepares the uterus for pregnancy
- Maintains the uterine lining
- Promotes a sense of calm
Progesterone is considered the dominant hormone during the second half - the luteal phase - of our cycles. Progesterone steadily rises after ovulation, and if pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop and result in the uterus shedding her lining.
Progesterone imbalance is commonly caused by chronic stress, inadequate nutrient intake, overexercise, thyroid disorders and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. This can cause symptoms like pre-period spotting, bloating, anxiety, irritability and irregular periods.
- Promotes the growth and maturation of follicles (eggs) before ovulation
- Stimulates estrogen production
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is made and released by the brain. FSH levels reach their peak at the middle of a woman’s cycle, right before ovulation. Imbalances in FSH can be caused by rapid weight loss, inadequate nutrient intake, thyroid disorders and PCOS. If FSH does not rise appropriately, ovulation will likely not occur and women may experience symptoms that mimic those of a progesterone imbalance.
- Triggers ovulation
- Stimulates progesterone production
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is produced and released by the brain. The rise in estrogen stimulates a surge of LH that occurs just before ovulation. Imbalances in LH are commonly caused by extreme stress, inadequate nutrition or PCOS. Without a rise in LH, a woman will not ovulate, and she can experience symptoms like those of a progesterone imbalance.
Now that you understand the major hormones involved in our cycles, and what happens when they’re out of balance, here are my top 5 tips to bring your hormones back into a healthy balance to help relieve PMS symptoms:
5 Tips for PMS Symptom Relief
1. Track Your Cycle
The first step in balancing your hormones is understanding the rhythm of your cycle. This can be as simple as checking your temperature first thing in the morning to track your basal body temperature (BBT) – your temperature when you’re at rest. Changes in your BBT can signal if and when you ovulate, and can help you pinpoint shifts in your unique patterns.
2. Seed Cycling
Seed cycling is one of my first and favorite ways for cycling women to use food as medicine.
Here’s how you do it:
- During the first half of your cycle – follicular phase (days 1-14) - incorporate 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds and/or pumpkin seeds into your foods.
- During the second half of your cycle – luteal phase (days 15 – 28) - incorporate 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly ground sesame seeds and/or sunflower seeds into your foods.
These seeds provide the necessary vitamins and minerals to promote healthy estrogen and progesterone levels during the appropriate phases of your cycle. Flax seeds have been well-studied and have shown to be helpful in alleviating symptoms related to PMS.
For women who have irregular or absent cycles, I recommend going by the moon’s cycles. This means eat flax and pumpkin seeds from the new moon to the full moon and eat sesame and sunflower seeds from the full moon to the new moon.
3. Balance Your Blood Sugar
Both high blood sugar and low blood sugar put a stress on our system and significantly affect our hormones. Blood sugar dysregulation contributes to chronic inflammation and PCOS, which are common causes of hormone imbalances and PMS symptoms.
Incorporating healthy fats, protein and fiber with every meal is an excellent way to give your body the nourishment it needs for healthy hormone production and stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Additionally, going for a walk after every large meal helps to prevent a spike in blood sugar and optimize metabolism.
4. Support Healthy Detoxification
Hormone-disrupting molecules like BPA, parabens and phthalates that are found in many plastic and beauty products can interfere with our ability to process our hormones. This can lead to symptoms of PMS and other hormone imbalances.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts are rich in fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals like indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Studies have found that I3C can support healthy estrogen metabolism and detoxification. I recommend that my patients eat 1 to 3 servings of cruciferous vegetables every day if they are experiencing PMS symptoms related to an estrogen imbalance.
5. Manage Stress
Stress affects every molecule in our body, especially our hormones. Long-term stress can lead to burnout, prevent ovulation and throw all our hormones out of balance. That’s why it’s so important to develop strategies to deal with stress. I discuss natural ways to prevent and manage long-term stress in my blog 4 Holistic Ways To Beat Burnout.
There are so many factors that influence our hormones. Although this can be frustrating, you can make your menstrual cycle your superpower by using these helpful tips to balance your hormones and improve your PMS symptoms!
Have you tried any of my top 5 tips? Tag us on Instagram @liveTrulyfe and let us know!
- Mirghaforuvand M, et al. Journal of Hayat. 2015: DOI: https://hayat.tums.ac.ir/browse.php?a_id=1037&slc_lang=en&sid=1&printcase=1&hbnr=1&hmb=1
- Higdon J, et al. Pharmacological Research. 2007 March: 55(3):224-36. DOI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17317210/