Is it possible to eliminate PMS and Cramps?
Image credit: New Love Times
Reader Request: I'm finding my month is ruled by my period - about a week before it I feel so cranky and irritable and bloated. Then when it comes its heavy and crampy and I go through a couple of ibuprofen every four hours just to keep going. I have a good week following then typically get some spotting and then start dreading the next round. I read your blog on 'Just what is normal?' and realized that I've been living like this so long that I finally need to get some help? Any ideas you have would be much appreciated.
Firstly, thank you for reaching out. PMS and unpleasant periods are a very common issue so you are definitely not alone.
According to Marcelle Pick (Women to Women) more than 75% of women deal with PMS symptoms and uncomfortable menstruation (1)
PMS is one of the most common forms of hormonal imbalance in women of childbearing age
If you’ve spent years dealing with PMS symptoms and painful periods it may surprise you that it was a health concern barely recognized by medical doctors before the 1980s. Its interesting to note here just what has happened to the world in general since the 1980's. There's been an steady incline of all modern day ailments (1)
Here's an analogy for you. If I gave you a seed and said "Plant this seed so it will grow into a healthy strong tree'', what would you do?...I'd say most people would take the seed, plant it in the best soil they can, in a position that gets sun; maybe add compost and water daily and add fertilizer every now and then. This has always been the same process for growing a healthy tree. Back in the day and now even in the modern world. It would be an interesting tact and one most would say 'highly inadvisable' to go about planting your seed in the sand or maybe a crack in the concrete and not watering much or doing any of the other things like the first scenario. I'd say 99% of the population would say the seed in the first case has a much better chance to grow into a strong tree that can fruit and flower with greater resistance to any pests that try to attack it. I hope you understand where I'm going with this - We the people are the seed in both scenarios - we are designed to eat wholefood, drink water, get a bit of sun, aid the body in its detoxification process and be nurtured and loved. If we take these things away from ourselves through planting ourselves in sand (feeding ourselves what we are not designed to eat), drink minimal water (because we prefer the taste of juice, coffee or better yet coke) or are planted in a crack (sometimes look after ourselves but live in a stressful situation that we are not dealing with) these things all promote aliments in the body and ultimately we are seeing that all around us in the modern day world.
Hormone balance is the primary factor that will determine the PMS symptoms that someone experiences and hormonal balance is very easy to get back on tract once you accept that you need to embrace a wholefood, ideally organic diet and make lifestyle changes that promote peace and reduce toxin exposure.
Now I could go into all the symptoms of PMS and how they are commonly treated by conventional medicine but chances are you know the 'pill' and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are the most commonly used conventional medicine option for PMS symptoms. These drugs can achieve symptomatic pain relief but frequent use linked to adverse side effects like gut damage (which you really do not want!).
Its widely accepted that PMS appears to be related to fluctuating hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone, that is a normal process in preparation for menstruation (1)
Other causes of PMS symptoms include:
Poor diet, including ultra-processed foods
Low vitamin and mineral levels
Consuming alcohol and caffeine regularly
Stress that is not dealt with
Eating too many processed salty foods increasing fluid retention and bloating
Ongoing emotional problems like dealing with grief, forgiving yourself and others
Depression or anxiety
Environmental toxins over exposure to substances like BPA and herbicides/pesticides
Lack of exercise
Natural PMS Treatments
Typically when working with clients with PMS or any hormonal imbalance I would encourage D.U.T.C.H hormonal testing to find out exactly which hormones are high or low. This is important as hormones are messenger's that are used throughout the body and when one is out it effects the balance and creation of others. Blood tests have typically not picked up the hormonal problem as far as in my experience but it is a cheaper option if you want to request bloods through your doctor. Remember to get them done 6-8 days before your period is due as this is around the time that progesterone should be at its peak. There are some amazing herbal support remedies for PMS and hormonal imbalance but that is beyond the scope of this article and would require a more detailed health history.
Below is a great starting point to help your hormones balance:
Eliminate the below Foods that are common triggers for PMS symptoms for a minimum 3months
Alcohol consumption makes PMS symptoms worse and can increase the chance of prolonged cramping during menstruation.
Trans fats, hydrogenated fats, vegetable oils, seed oils
Overly processed foods commonly contain these ingredients and are associated with a massive amount of ailments. Read ingredients labels and avoid anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated,” even if it says 0% trans fat on the nutritional profile. There are no such things as vegetable oils as oils of seeds are commonly referred too. The massive intact of these polyunsaturated fats (some examples include canola, rice bran, grape seed, safflower, sunflower oil) as they are a cheap alternative and found in pretty much anything processed these days - CHECK THE INGREDIENTS LABELS encourages pro-inflammatory pathways in the body resulting in many inflammation ailments we see today.
Food intolerance's or allergies
Food allergies can make PMS symptoms worse. If you suspect an intolerance eliminate for a minimum of 3months. The most common triggers that I have dealt with that once removed have dramatically reduced PMS symptoms are gluten, refined sugar, soy, coffee and dairy. A Hair test through Allergenic is incredible for pinpointing chronic and acute intolerance's so you know what to eliminate straight away.
Refined sugar and High fructose corn syrup
Both cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate from high to low which can exacerbate mood swings, headaches, or irritability. High fructose corn syrup and sugar depletes the body of critical minerals as it try's to balance the acidity and they encourage inflammation which causes pain.
If you struggle with bloating during your period it may be made worse by consuming a diet high in sodium. Leave the chips and reach for seaweed. Your body may be actually wanting iodine or naturally occurring sodium.
Caffeine is a diuretic and therefore dehydrating. It can worsen irritability, anxiety, and breast tenderness leading into your period. Caffeine also affects adrenaline and cortisol hormones which in turn influence the balance of your sex hormones and insulin. Nothing happens in isolation in the body!
Increase Foods that Decrease PMS Symptoms
Women who experience PMS symptoms typically are not getting enough calcium, B vitamins, (especially B6), magnesium and vitamins K and E, among other nutrients from their diets (2).
A tutor of mine refers to your period as a report card for the month - if your body is in balance and your nourishing it well your period will come and go with no drama or unpleasant side effects. When you don’t consume an ample daily supply of these essential nutrients, your body demands urgent attention by intensifying your PMS symptoms. Its a cry for help!
Here are some important foods to eat regularly to get the vital nutrients which should help decrease PMS symptoms:
Spray-free or Organic Plant foods
Studies show that women with plant-based diets high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs have fewer symptoms of PMS (2).
Eat half or a full avocado rich in healthy fat, fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6 most days. Add into a smoothie or slice up in a salad full of dark, leafy greens. Delicious and the perfect nutrient profile for combating PMS symptoms
Calcium is among the most science-backed nutrients when it comes to effective dietary treatments for PMS. Some good choices include raw milk, sardines, kale, broccoli, raw yogurt and kefir. Notice your standard supermarket milk is not mentioned! (2)
PMS can cause digestive disturbances, which is why it’s important to get at least 30 grams of fiber everyday. Fiber also helps to maintain proper hormone balance by binding to estrogen and carrying it out of the body (2)
Leafy green vegetables
These veggies are a great source of calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamin K, which helps get rid of period cramps.
Ground flaxseed can help promote healthy estrogen metabolism, which is a key component of managing PMS symptoms. Many contributing factors can cause too much estrogen in the body i.e drinking from plastic bottles, cooking in teflon pans, consuming soy. Helping the body get rid of extra estrogen is vitally important to experience an ease in PMS and heavy periods (2)
Wild-caught fish (not farmed so unfortunately in NZ salmon is out)
Foods high in omega-3 fats like trevally, sardines, herrings and anchovies are anti inflammatory so help to reduce pain and inflammation.
Is a anti-inflammatory spice and pain reliever. A great tea to drink in the lead up to your period is grated ginger, turmeric root and lemon in warm water. Or turmeric lattes are delicious if you want a milky number (made with coconut or almond milk).
I sincerely hope this sets you in the right direction. I suffered with terrible periods and PMS symptoms through my teenage years and twenty's so I know exactly how awful it is to deal with every month. I am so stoked to say that it is no longer a remote issue after following the advice I've given above and taking a few herbal supplements. Any more questions feel free to contact me.