Anything You Can Do I Can Do Bleeding
How to finally free yourself of PMS!
Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought it would be fitting to do a month-long series on Women’s Wellness! Today’s post will cover PMS and how to reduce and even eliminate symptoms based on the specific type of PMS you experience (did you even know there were different types of PMS? For a long time, neither did I!)
Next week I’ll continue on with the topic, and introduce you to seed cycling: a monthly nutritional protocol to gently balance hormones naturally. Seed cycling is great if you deal with mild to moderate hormonal imbalance and/or PMS symptoms. It’s also great for you if you’re currently on hormonal birth control, if you’ve been on hormonal birth control in the past, or if you’re hoping to transition off hormonal birth control in the near future.
My next post in the series will cover holistic nutrition for fertility and finally, we’ll end off the month with a fun blog post on my dietary, lifestyle, and supplement recommendations for naturally beautiful hair, skin, and nails!
I hope you’re as excited about this months’ topics as I am! Let’s jump right in.
What exactly is PMS?
If you’ve never dealt with PMS, aka, premenstrual syndrome, or you’re not sure if you have or not, here’s a short definition for you.
Premenstrual syndrome is the name given to a cyclical occurrence of specific physical, emotional, and/or behavioural changes experienced by women, typically one to two weeks prior to your period. PMS can range from mild to severe, and some women have severe enough symptoms that they’re quality of life is greatly affected.
If you suffer from PMS and you’ve asked your doctor about it, they most likely told you it was just a normal side-effect of being a menstruating woman. Thanks, doc. They may have even prescribed you birth control pills to reduce the severity of symptoms.
Although the true cause of PMS may be unknown, there’s a lot of evidence showing that a major contributing factor is estrogen dominance. This is when your delicate balance of hormones, of which there are many, is tipped in the direction of too much estrogen and too little progesterone. These two hormones are key in keeping your menstrual cycle regular and easy breezy. When they’re out of balance, PMS, along with many other reproductive health imbalances, can occur.
PMS has also been found to be higher in women with children and those with a family or personal history of depression or postpartum depression. PMS also seems to increase the closer women get to menopause. (Something to look forward to.)
The 4 (Little-Known) Types of PMS
If you’ve experienced PMS, you know it’s no fun and can sometimes make you feel totally hopeless. It’s so not fair that as women we have to spend, in total, around six years of our lives gushing blood from between our legs. Ruining our favourite underwear. And bathing suits. And white pants. Ugh. Tack on severe PMS symptoms?! Not cool. Sure, it’s kind of amazing that we’re literally divine creators of life on earth, but we’re not talking about that right now.
Anyways, rant aside, I’m sure if you deal with frequent PMS, you’ve been searching long and hard for some form of explanation and relief. Chances are though, if your sources of information have mostly been your doctor, Wikipedia, WebMD, Healthline, etc., then you probably aren’t aware of the different types of PMS.
Yes, there are four types of PMS, and they all correspond to specific nutrient deficiencies that can be corrected to finally get you some relief.
Here are the four types:
The “A” stands for Anxiety. This includes emotional outbursts and mood swings and is often due to a deficiency of zinc and an overabundance of copper. You see, copper and zinc are inversely related, and if you have an overabundance of one, you likely have a deficiency of the other. Although you don’t want to have too much or too little of either, they are both important for specific functions in the body. You should be concerned about your copper levels getting too high.
Zinc is incredibly important for a healthy nervous and hormone system (it’s especially important for the thyroid) so if you have too much copper in your system, your zinc levels are automatically depleted. How does one become over abundant in copper you ask? Sadly, this is one of the side-effects of taking birth control pills.
Now listen, if you’re on hormonal birth control and are realizing that you have PMS-A, please don’t take this as medical advice to stop taking your pills! It’s important that you make the best and most informed decision for you and your body so please talk to your doctor or naturopath first. Luckily, there are changes you can make to your diet to support your body and bring your zinc and copper levels back into balance, whether you’re currently on the pill or have spent a prolonged period of time on it in the past- like A LOT of women have.
If you’re dealing with PMS-A, one of the best things you can do is increase zinc-rich foods like pasture-raised and/or grass-fed beef, bison, and lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp, and chia seeds. Brazil nuts and dark chocolate also contain a good amount of zinc, and happen to be a delicious snack combo. If you’re a seafood person, you’re in luck- oysters are the very highest dietary source of zinc! You can also supplement with zinc tablets, though I wouldn’t recommend going higher than 25mg per day, and it’s wise to talk to a professional (like a holistic nutritionist or naturopath) first before supplementing on your own.
The “D” stands for Depression. Other symptoms of this type of PMS include forgetfulness, withdrawal, fear, paranoia, and suicidal tendency. If this sounds like you one to two weeks before getting your period, it’s likely due to low serotonin levels. Serotonin is often fittingly referred to as the “happy chemical” but is, more precisely, a neurotransmitter. Another obvious symptom that points toward low serotonin levels is poor sleep quality or insomnia, as serotonin is actually a precursor to melatonin, the molecule that signals to our body that it’s time to go to sleep.
Think you’re dealing with PMS-D? Naturally raising serotonin levels is key. Serotonin may be deficient due to B vitamin deficiency and/or low 5-HTP, an amino acid required to produce serotonin. Low 5-HTP is often due to not enough tryptophan, it’s precursor, and another amino acid that helps keep our hormones in balance.
I recommend increasing foods in your diet that include these important serotonin precursors if you think you have PMS-D. B vitamins are found in cooked dark leafy greens, brown rice, shiitake mushrooms, and sunflower seeds. However, my recommendation to increase B vitamin levels is to take a good quality B complex supplement. B vitamins are water soluble, so you don’t have to worry about taking too many- any excess Bs will just be peed out. A B complex is one of my favourite supplements to take to increase energy levels and boost mood naturally, so even if you don’t have PMS-D, you may want to consider getting yourself a bottle of Bs. Foods that contain tryptophan include pasture-raised eggs and poultry, wild caught salmon, spirulina, and whole grains.
The C stands for “Cravings” and this type of PMS is linked to over-secretion of insulin and low serotonin levels. Magnesium deficiency may also play a part in PMS-C. When your pancreas secretes too much insulin, your cells absorb a higher-than-normal amount of glucose, which your liver has to compensate for by pumping even more glucose into your bloodstream. Aside from major cravings for bread, muffins, cookies, donuts, etc., you likely feel anxiety, restlessness, mood swings, heart palpitations, and an overall feeling of “blah” with this type of PMS- due to low serotonin and magnesium.
If you experience this type of PMS, I really feel for you! But there are dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to help decrease the frequency and severity of symptoms. Being really conscious of the foods you eat and making sure you eat a lot of good-quality healthy fats like avocado, olives, olive oil, wild salmon and other fatty fish, walnuts, coconut, etc., quality protein, and lots of high-fiber foods will help to keep your insulin levels in check. To naturally increase serotonin levels, follow the recommendations I outlined above for PMS-D.
Magnesium, my favourite mineral (yes, I have a favourite mineral), also happens to be the top mineral deficiency for people in the western world. I almost always recommend magnesium supplementation and there seems to be a type of magnesium for everyone; magnesium citrate for constipation and indigestion, magnesium bisglycenate for sleep, magnesium sulfate (aka Epsom salts!) for relaxation and muscle pain, and the list goes on! If you’d like to stock up on the good stuff, here are some foods you should be eating regularly: hemp seeds, cooked spinach and swiss chard (so good in an omelette), pumpkin seeds, almonds, and at least 85% dark chocolate.
The “H” stands for Heaviness and/or Headaches and other symptoms include fluid retention, bloating, weight gain. The major contributing factors for this type of PMS are higher-than-average levels of the hormone aldosterone (which helps the body manage sodium and water balance), stress, low magnesium, and poor vitamin B6 metabolism.
My top recommendations for you if you suffer from PMS-H are as follows: make sure you’re drinking lots of filtered water; at least 2L per day but even more if you workout lots or live in a warm climate. Increase consumption of natural diuretic foods like dandelion (you can eat the greens in a salad or drink it in herbal beverage form called Dandy Blend which is a great zero-caffeine coffee alternative), asparagus, parsley, watermelon, cucumber, and grapes.
As both high-levels of stress and magnesium deficiency play a part with PMS-H, I recommend taking a magnesium supplement and treating yourself to frequent- if not nightly- Epsom salt baths. Having an evening routine is key to release the stress of the day and get your body and mind primed for a deep and restorative sleep. Ensuring you have a “power down hour” before bed where you stop using all electronics and instead do some relaxing activity/activities like reading, hatha or yin yoga, and of course taking your Epsom salt bath (perhaps with some relaxing lavender essential oil). Pop 400 mg of magnesium bisglycenate 30 mins before bed and you’re golden. If you experience bad headaches before your period, magnesium can help with that as well.
Finally, increasing vitamin B6 (“the anti-stress vitamin”) is a big one no matter what type of PMS you have. If you really struggle with PMS-H specifically and want to try supplementation, I’d recommend a good-quality B complex AND a B6 supplement together. You can also increase vitamin B6 rich foods like pistachios, sunflower seeds, shiitake mushrooms, chickpeas, and sweet potato.
But what about cramps?
Okay, so maybe you’ve read through this very lengthy post and are feeling like I’m missing something: cramps! Cramps are like the poster child of PMS symptoms. If you experience cramps regularly before your period, my favourite mineral can really help with that. Epsom salt baths are great for pain relief and so is supplementation with your choice of magnesium (if you typically err on the side of constipation choose citrate, and if you have a sensitive digestive system, try bisglycenate.)
One very important thing to note if you get cramps regularly is you likely have prostaglandin imbalances. Since I’m pushing 2000 words here (you deserve a medal if you’ve read this far), I’m not going to explain what prostaglandins are. But here’s what you need to know: the ratio of EFAs (essential fatty acids) you consume is key- and chances are you consume way too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3.
The quick fix for this is to increase omega-3 containing-foods like wild salmon and other fatty fish OR you can take a fish oil supplement. If you’re plant based, there are plant-based alternatives now that are made from algae. It’s also important to watch the amount of omega-6 foods you’re eating, ESPECIALLY oils like corn, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, safflower, sunflower, walnut, peanut, and canola. These are extremely pro-inflammatory and can really throw our prostaglandin levels way off balance. Unfortunately, pretty much any packaged or processed food will contain at least one of these oils, which is why eating a primarily whole-foods diet is so important.
General Recommendations for PMS:
I just wanted to finish off this post with a few general recommendations to consider if you suffer from PMS, no matter the type:
– Stick to low-glycemic foods to keep blood sugar stabilized. This means eating lots of healthy fats and proteins and fibre-rich veggies and low-sugar fruits, and keeping processed foods to the bare minimum.
– Stimulants like coffee and black tea can be really hard on your system, especially if you experience PMS-A, D, or H. I recommend switching to matcha tea, which still contains caffeine but also contains the amino acid l-theanine, which is known as the zen molecule and won’t give you the jitters, heart palpitations, and feelings of anxiety that coffee often does.
– Ensure you’re engaging daily in activities that help you work through stress. This can be whatever connects to you, but I highly recommend daily exercise (even if it’s just a walk outside- don’t underestimate the ability of Mother Nature to dissolve stress) and a daily meditation or mindfulness practice (even if it’s just taking 10 deep belly breaths a few times per day.)
– Finally, and this is probably the most important one: do your best to greatly reduce or eliminate your exposure to toxins in foods, skincare, makeup, and products you use around the house. The chemicals found in these products (and pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides sprayed on non-organic foods) are called endocrine disrupting chemicals and really wreak havoc on your hormonal system. These xenoestrogens stimulate estrogen production, leading to estrogen dominance, the top contributing factor to PMS and many other hormonal issues in women and men alike. High levels of these chemicals are everywhere. They’ve even been found in babies ☹, transmitted through mom’s breast milk- so you really should make an effort to eliminate your exposure as much as possible. This means eating organic (or at least choosing organic for the dirty dozen foods), choosing naturally raised animal protein, natural-source and organic skincare, makeup, and house cleaning products.
I hope you found this post helpful! I know I kind of opened a can of worms with this one, and really just grazed through most of it, but it’s a start at least. If you’re interested in learning more, or working one-on-one to address your personal health concerns- whether PMS-related or otherwise- lets chat! You can contact me by clicking here!