We Need To Talk About PMS
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), feeling ‘hormonal’, an attack of the crazies. Whatever you call it, we all know that the monthly rollercoaster that is being a menstruating woman has physical and emotional side effects which really suck.
PMS is defined as, ‘distressing physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms not caused by disease which regularly recur between ovulation and menstruation’. It’s widely thought to be related to activity in the ovaries, because it doesn’t occur before puberty, in pregnancy or after menopause.
But if that’s not you, then the likelihood that you experience PMS each month is overwhelming. The experts agree. Dr Hannah Darvill, a GP based in Birmingham, admits, ”It affects around 95% of women and is severe in about 5% of cases.”
Want #lessPMS in your life? Us too. Find out how to manage your PMS like a pro, with these expert tips.
PMS symptom: Bloating
Louise, 27, suffers from bloating each month. “It’s got so bad that I have a separate wardrobe depending on my cycle – I can go up a whole dress size easily. I go for floaty tops and smocks to try and hide it but I still feel self-conscious.”
If this sounds like you, there are a number of steps you can take to banish the bloat. Dr Darvill recommends reducing the amount of foods known to cause bloating. This includes beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
You should also give fizzy drinks a miss and aim for 20 minutes of exercise a day if you are prone to constipation as this improves bowel function.
PMS symptom: Low mood
Corinne, 29, admits her husband finds it difficult to handle her hormonal mood swings. “I have a tendency to fly off the wall for no reason. At the time, I’m so angry I can’t think, but 30 minutes later I realise it was silly.”
Dr Darvill says it’s important to distinguish between PMS-related low mood and an underlying disorder such as anxiety or depression. “Keeping a menstrual diary over a couple of cycles can be useful to establish that low mood is cyclical and not pervasive. It can also be useful in evaluating your response to treatment.”
“Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of counselling that has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in managing low mood associated with PMS.”
There are other options too. A study found that women who took a krill oil supplement reported a significant reduction of up to 69% in their PMS symptoms. The women took part in a 3 month trial and their symptoms returned when the study ended and they stopped taking the supplement.
Krill are small crustaceans found in the sea whose oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. This oil is more easily absorbed into our bodies than fish oil. This was combined into a daily capsule which contained nutrients such as vitamin D3 (which can help mood disorders), rosemary (used for its anti-depressive effects) and soy isoflavones (which can alleviate cramps and headaches).
Participants in the study found that PMS symptoms like bloating were reduced by 32%, low mood by 44%, fatigue by 25% and skin outbreaks by 37%.
PMS symptom: Cramps
Rebecca, 29 has had severe cramps since her periods started. “My mum used to keep me off school because I’d be in so much pain. Then the doctor put me on the pill which helped a lot, but it still affects my concentration at work.”
A warm bath can provide relief from cramps, according to Dr Darvill. “Gentle massage and a hot water bottle can also help. If you can face it, going for a swim can alleviate cramps. Paracetamol and ibuprofen can also be helpful.” If you’ve tried this and your life is still being affected, as with any symptom, you should see your GP.
PMS symptom: Lethargy
Sophie, 33, struggles with low energy levels each month. “By the end of the day I feel like I’m running on empty and evening plans are out of the question. I feel guilty for being flakey with friends but I just can’t face anything other than going home to my PJs and bed.”
Sophie’s not alone – but you don’t have to accept lethargy in your life. Dr Darvill says there are a number of changes you can make starting with your diet, “Try to eat regular small meals containing complex carbohydrates.”
This includes whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, fruit and veg, legumes, nuts and seeds. They’ll release energy slowly into the blood so you don’t crash like you do with a coffee or after a cake.
Staying well hydrated is key to boosting energy according to Dr Darvill, while reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake may help too.