Writing about the findings of a new study into PMS was particularly interesting!
- what different types and definitions of PMS there are,
- what the main symptoms of PMS are,
- which nutrients have been proven to be particularly beneficial and
- what the main findings of the study are.
This may come as a surprise to many of you but periods aren’t supposed to be miserable and painful. They shouldn’t involve a whole day of crying and feeling out of sorts, accompanied by buckets full of Ben and Jerry’s… However, this scenario is a reality for many teenage girls and women out there, with an estimated 60% suffering with some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) of varying degree.
There are different types and definitions of PMS. Some common symptoms include feelings of sadness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, food cravings as well as other physical symptoms like headaches, breast tenderness, joint aches or bloating. And, of course, let’s not forget the unpredictable mood swings! Some or most of these can kick in once ovulation has occurred and usually disappear within a few days after menstruation starts. Research into PMS shows that the condition is connected with hormonal imbalances having a knock-on effect on the neurotransmitters that help regulate mood, sleep, appetite, learning and memory.
In a recent pilot study that assessed the effectiveness of krill oil with added supplements, 29 women took a compound with the following ingredients:
- Krill oil: This is a source of omega 3 acids, mainly EPA and DHA, which have been shown to dampen pre-menstrual cravings, help with many PMS symptoms and also be beneficial for brain health.
- B vitamins: Thyiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B6 have been demonstrated to be particularly effective for overall PMS relief. They are also very important for energy production and therefore help with tiredness.
- Soy isoflavones: They are a source of natural phytoestrogens and are particularly beneficial when dealing with headaches and breast tenderness.
- Rosemary extract: This herb has traditionally been used for its anti-depressive effects.
- Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D are associated with a higher incidence of mood disorders and many other pre-menstrual symptoms.
After three months, all of them reported a significant relief of many of the dreaded PMS symptoms: Anxiety, for instance, was reduced by 70%, breast tenderness by 81% and forgetfulness by 77%, which are very promising results! Other unexpected “side effects” of the supplement compound were increased energy levels, healthier hair and nails but also better joints. Another supplement that wasn’t investigated by this study but that I use with great success is GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), a type omega 6 fatty acid that is found in borage seed oil, evening primrose oil or black currant seed oil. It is particularly beneficial when taken in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
The study investigates the benefits of supplements but other nutritonal and lifestyle interventions have been proven to make a tremendous difference for women suffering with PMS, too. Blood sugar balancing is one of them because it’s crucial for hormonal health. The goal is to ensure that blood glucose isn’t on a never ending rollercoaster ride throughout the day and night and therefore disrupt hormonal balance. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t necessarily mean eating frequent meals. Some women who take measures to manage their stress levels and who eat balanced meals containing good fats, high quality protein and some low glycaemic carbohydrates (i.e. that have no significant effect on their blood sugars) find it easier to go through the day without snacking. However, if you are in the process of adjusting your diet or you’re super busy, you might feel better when eating small, frequent meals instead of just 3 square ones. It is also important to avoid refined sugars, alcohol and excessive caffeine intake. There really is no “one size fits all” approach to blood sugar balancing and an experienced practitioner will be able to guide you through this.
Managing stress and optimising relaxation is something I look at in detail with my clients. We all switch off in different ways: Some of us love a good yoga session, go for a brisk walk in the fresh air, do deep belly breathing, have a laugh with our friends or take an Epsom salt bath 2-3 times a week before bedtime. The latter is a very calming ritual that will boost your magnesium levels- “nature’s tranquiliser”- and help with liver detoxification by increasing sulfate in your body.
Other factors I always consider when I see a client in clinic with PMS symtpoms are nutritional deficiencies, heavy metal toxicity, impaired liver function and digestive issues. Changing deeply rooted dietary and lifestyle habits is very challenging and you need good support if you wish to achieve sustainable results. Find a good doctor- ideally trained in Functional Medicine- and an experienced complementary practitioner so that you don’t have to walk the path on your own.