How to manage PMS naturally
How to Manage PMS – 10 natural methods
There are lots of methods to try to help alleviate your PMS symptoms and ride out this time. We often get asked how to manage PMS more naturally. We’re all different beings, so what works for some might not work for others – sometimes it just takes a bit of trial and error to find the natural method that works best for you.
Read on as we explore how to manage PMS via natural methods. We may even help you to find some positivity in it.
What is PMS?
PMS….three little letters, one collective groan!
PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) is the name given to the physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms commonly experienced in the build up to and start of your period. For some people this may be a day or two, for others it can start soon after ovulation and last for over a week.
The exact cause of PMS is unknown, but it is linked to the hormonal and physical changes that occur as we approach our period. Much of the evidence suggests that PMS is the result of the altered levels of sex hormones and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), and the way they interact with each other.
Physicians have recognised and treated symptoms related to the menstrual cycle for thousands of years. It was the Ancient Greeks that first described the mood changes linked to the menstrual cycle- so the acknowledgment of PMS has been around for millennia! However, it took until 1931 for the medical community to officially recognise it. The term ‘premenstrual syndrome’ was only coined in 1953. Even following this, like so many things in reproductive health, society has often dismissed or overlooked PMS as a ‘women’s issue’. So, historically, research in the area hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
Most of us who have periods will experience PMS at some point, or throughout, our menstruating years. The intensity, impact and exact way we experience PMS will vary for each of us, but the most common symptoms include:
- mood swings
- feeling upset, anxious, or irritable
- tiredness or trouble sleeping
- bloating or tummy pain
- breast/chest tenderness
- spotty skin
- greasy hair
- changes in appetite and sex drive
There can be many other symptoms too: becoming clumsier and more accident prone, having more vivid dreams, brain fog, forgetfulness, hot flushes and back ache.
Exercise & yoga can help with PMS
I know, I know… exercise may be the last thing on your mind if you are feeling full blown PMSed! However, this doesn’t need to be an intense gym session or a long run (unless you want it to be of course!). Research has shown that regularly doing 20- 30 minutes’ exercise that increases your heart rate can help alleviate PMS symptoms. The endorphins released by exercise can boost your mood and energy levels. They can also reduce stress and pain, and help you get a better nights’ sleep.
What you choose is totally up to you- a brisk walk, a gentle swim, some hula hooping or a yoga session. There are lots of period specific yoga videos available online which focus on postures to help alleviate period pains and cramps. Find something you enjoy and that works for you. To really reap the benefits, it’s best to do some form of exercise regularly throughout your cycle rather than just as you approach your period. It’s also worth bearing in mind that our muscles, tendons and ligaments may be a bit more susceptible to injury around the time of our period. So, you may want to keep the intensity of your workout moderate at this stage of your menstrual cycle. Check out our blog on the do’s and don’ts of exercising during your period for more info on this.
Nourish your Body
If, like me, you are well acquainted with the phrase ‘eating your way through your period’, then this section may be particularly relevant to you! What we eat can affect all of the processes in our body. So, it probably comes as no surprise that it can affect our menstrual cycle, too. On top of this, many of us find we crave different foods in the build up to and start of our period. Hence going to the shop for teabags and coming back with bags full of comfort foods (and possibly forgetting the teabags in the process)!
Please rest assured that if having that chocolate bar is what gets you through, there is no way I’m going to suggest you part ways! Here are some tips on how to manage PMS through your eating routine:
Eat less more often
Try eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day rather than three large meals. This can help to reduce that uncomfortable premenstrual bloating, and also help to stabilise your blood sugar levels. You’ll stay energised and feel calmer throughout the day.
Eat more complex carbs and wholegrains
Ever wondered why you suddenly want to eat three pizzas, a jumbo bag of crisps and a cooking block sized chocolate bar for dinner just before your period arrives? Well part of the reason is thought to be the fluctuations in our hormones causing our blood sugar levels to drop. This leads to those notorious chocolate cravings late at night. On top of this, our serotonin and dopamine hormone levels (the ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brain) also drop. This can make us crave foods that give us a quick boost of these hormones.
Our body uses carbohydrates to make serotonin. So, this natural drop in serotonin around our period can make us crave sweet or salty carb-laden foods. While carbs may give us a short-term lift, unfortunately many foods in this category will have your blood sugar and hormone levels drop off a cliff as the effects rapidly wear off… Try swapping to wholegrain and complex carbohydrate foods, especially those with a lower GI (glycaemic index). These will impact your blood sugar levels more gradually and help to avoid the dramatic peaks and troughs. You could try swapping to wholegrain breads, pasta and rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, porridge, or oatcakes to name but a few.
Reduce your caffeine intake
Many of us reach for the coffee to get through that ‘wading through treacle’ level of tiredness that PMS can bring on. But if you drink a lot of caffeinated drinks- be it tea, coffee or cola, you may want to try cutting down to see if it helps with your PMS. Caffeine can increase your heart rate and adrenalin levels. This can in turn lead to feelings of stress and anxiety, as well as difficulties sleeping. Additionally, some people find that caffeine can upset their digestion. This might worsen any nausea or dodgy tummy feelings that can sometimes occur as your period arrives (check out Tara Costellos ‘period poo’ book extract here for more info on this!).
Cut back on the alcohol
Alcohol is thought to flare up PMS symptoms for a few reasons. Firstly, it can increase the fluctuations in those blood sugar levels, leaving you feeling pretty rubbish and all over the place. It can also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep– a recipe for yet more tension and stress. Alcohol is also dehydrating, and this can intensify menstrual cramps, bloating, tiredness, and difficulties concentrating.
In addition, booze can deplete your body’s stores of certain nutrients, such as Zinc, which help to reduce PMS symptoms. All this being said, made people anecdotally report that a glass of wine can do wonders and help them to relax! As with most things, the key here is moderation. And if you do drink, make sure you boost your water levels to help stave off dehydration.
Less salt, more spice
Try adding less salt to your food. Increase the flavour with herbs and spices instead to help beat the water retention and bloating salty foods can exacerbate.
Natural supplements can improve PMS symptoms
A varied and healthy diet is always going to be best for giving your body the optimal foundation to do its thing. Eating a varied diet, focussed on natural, unprocessed foods is important and can help prevent imbalances in nutrient levels. Some studies have shown that PMS is associated with low levels of certain nutrients in your diet. These include:
Natural calcium levels in the body fall in the week before menstruation. Several studies have identified a link between reduced calcium levels and PMS, and that increasing your calcium intake can help. There are many ways to up the amount of calcium in your diet. Try eating more seeds, almonds, beans and lentils. Rhubarb and leafy greens such as kale also contain calcium, as well as tofu, and the obvious: milk and yogurt (both dairy and plant-based ones which are frequently fortified with calcium).
Alternatively, calcium supplements are also available. It’s important to discuss the suitability of these for you with your doctor if you are taking any medications or are unsure if they’re the right option for you.
Vitamin B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin found in many different foods. Although current research evidence is limited, it has been associated with reducing mood swings and anxiety. Potatoes, peas, cabbage, bananas, and wholegrain cereals are all good sources.
Although research hasn’t firmly established a direct link between low magnesium levels and PMS, some clinical trials have found that raising the magnesium levels has helped to reduce PMS symptoms. These include: water retention, migraines, mood swings and anxiety. Good food sources of magnesium include spinach, nuts, and wholemeal bread.
Herbal remedies such as evening primrose oil, chasteberry (vitex agnus), gingko and ginger have all been associated with easing PMS symptoms. However, there is still a lack of quality research evidence in this area. It’s important to consult your medical professional before using herbal supplements if you have health conditions or are taking any medications. Some herbal remedies can interact with these.
A hot water bottle for premenstrual and period pains
Applying warmth to your abdomen is an ‘old as time’ home remedy for premenstrual and period pains. As well as helping to relax the muscles of the uterus and reduce cramping, the heat can also help to boost circulation. A study from 2004 found that wearing a heat wrap was actually more effective in reducing cramps than taking some over the counter painkillers. It also proved effective in reducing fatigue and mood swings. There are lots of reusable heat wraps on the market that can be worn over or under clothes. Of course, a long soak in a lovely warm bath can work wonders too!
Acupuncture is a treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine. It involves inserting very fine needles at certain points of the body. The aim of this being to alleviate and prevent a variety of health conditions and imbalances, including pain. Acupressure follows a similar principle but involves applying pressure to these points (acupoints) instead of inserting needles. Both practices have been used traditionally for menstrual conditions like PMS. Research has found that acupuncture and acupressure may reduce overall mood and physical PMS symptoms.
Acupuncture can help to reduce migraines and tension headaches which can often be worse at this stage of the menstrual cycle. If you are considering acupuncture, the NHS recommends that you first check that the practitioner is either a regulated healthcare professional (such as a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist) or a member of a national acupuncture organisation. In the UK, you can access a list of accredited professionals via the British Acupuncture Council website.
Good quality sleep can do wonders for PMS
Let’s face it– sleep deprivation and tiredness can put a ghastly filter on everything. Research has found that those with PMS symptoms are twice as likely to experience insomnia before and during their period. Once again, it’s thought that the hormonal changes affect our sleep cycles, body temperature, anxiety levels, and even how vivid our dreams are.
Make sleep a priority at this time and set the scene to get a good night’s rest. Lower the lighting before bedtime, step away from the screen, have a relaxing bath, and listen to some calming music. This will help bring your adrenalin levels down and soothe yourself.
Turn down the heat
If you experience hot, sweaty nights in the build up to your period (and sadly I don’t mean the fun kind here!) then you can once again thank your changing hormone levels for this! Your body can become extra sensitive to even slight temperature changes at this point in your cycle.
Some tips that can help at night are:
- Cooling your bedroom down before bedtime: open a window or use a fan
- Change your bedding to lighter and more breathable covers, ideally made from natural fibres
- Place a reusable ice pack under your pillow. If you wake up in the night you can just flip your pillow round to cool your face
- Keep cold or iced water by your bed- an insulated flask or bottle with ice cubes in can help
- Avoid eating spicy foods and drinking alcohol before bed- both can raise your temperature.
It is well-known that stress levels affect our health and mood – and your menstrual cycle. A study from 2010 identified that those with higher levels of stress in the earlier stages of their menstrual cycle were then more likely to have significant PMS symptoms later on in their cycle.
Some stress in life is unavoidable and it can even be a force for positive action. Ongoing or high levels of stress are always worth paying attention to and taking seriously though. The good news is there are many ways you can reduce stress and help manage PMS. What works best will be completely individual to you and your situation.
Massage can help to reduce many of the symptoms of PMS. These include: bloating and water retention, muscle cramps and tension, stress, irritability and mood swings, and trouble sleeping. It can also reduce headaches, which many people find are triggered around this time in their menstrual cycle. There is also some evidence that certain aromatherapy oils can reduce the symptoms of PMS. You can try self-massage, enlist a friend with a gentle touch, or opt for a qualified professional (some offer specialist massage treatments for PMS). If massaging yourself, try a light, circular massage around your lower abdomen to help reduce pain. Remember massage should feel good, so if you don’t want to be touched that’s totally understandable too!
Whether it’s solo or with company, taking time to feel good is known to be an effective relief from some PMS symptoms. As well as the obvious serotonin boost and tension relief, there is some evidence that having an orgasm can also help relieve premenstrual cramping. For some people orgasm can even help alleviate headaches and migraines. What’s not to like?!
Other great ways to reduce stress and manage PMS are things like: exercise; meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises; having a good chat with a friend, or making a nest and having a duvet day.
Getting to know your cycle
Tracking your menstrual cycle can help you to identify patterns. It can also help to understand what may help or hinder you at different phases, and plan ahead. There are many ways of tracking your cycle: in a written diary or journal, period tracking app or just on your phone calendar- whatever works for you. In terms of PMS, tracking can help you know what to expect at different stages in your cycle- be these physical or mood changes- as well as what you find helps. Check out our guest blog from Period Queen, Lucy Peach, to find out how best to hack your cycle and harness the superpowers that can be hidden within our menstrual cycle.
Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
If you are reading this and thinking “I’m sorry, but none of this even touches the sides of what I experience each cycle”, then we’d recommend discussing things with your doctor or gynaecologist. PMS affects most people to varying degrees over the course of their menstruating years. However, for some, the symptoms associated with their menstrual cycle can be significantly life altering in their severity. This is a condition known as Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
PMDD is a condition that causes an extreme sensitivity to the normal rise and fall of hormones experienced during a menstrual cycle. It can affect your ability to work, maintain relationships, and carry out the activities of daily life. It is important to talk to your doctor if you feel you may have PMDD. This is the first step to accessing appropriate treatment.
So, there you have it – 10 natural ways to manage your PMS symptoms. PMS can sometimes feel like our worst enemy. But, with some trial and error, there are tools and techniques to try and tame the beast a little! You just have to find something that works for you.
The Mooncup menstrual cup respects your natural balance. Switch to a healthier period with the Mooncup®. Find out more and get yours here.
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What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder?
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