Hello Wonder Woman,
You’re exhausted, you’re bloated, your face is greasy, your tummy is cramping, your head is pounding, your back is breaking, you’re sad then mad then super-smiley and all the chocolate and potato chips in the world couldn’t satisfy you. You’re “PMSing.” It’s that lovely period before…your period…when hormones are going haywire and you feel like a completely different version of yourself. A version you might not be fond of.
PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, is common, but confusing: Some women don’t get it at all, some get it full-force; sometimes it lasts 2 days, sometimes it lasts 10. Though the female reproductive system isn’t completely understood, researchers—and women around the world—have made a lot of progress in understanding what makes PMS more tolerable. Below, are some of the top natural remedies (nutrition and lifestyle tips) that will help you lessen your PMS woes—and maybe even eliminate them completely. But before we get to those goodies, let’s cover some PMS basics.
What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?
PMS—which some jokesters say stands for “Perpetual Munching Syndrome” or “Psychotic Mood Shift” or “Puffy Mid-Section”—usually shows up the week before Aunt Flo and can bring with it a laundry list of unpleasant symptoms (see above). A lot of these annoyances can be blamed on dropping estrogen and progesterone levels, which is typical for a woman to experience right before her period. In order to reduce PMS symptoms, we want to keep hormone levels at a moderately low, healthier level all month long (buh-bye dramatic dip!). Keep in mind that we don’t want your levels dipping too low—too little estrogen and progesterone can lead to other health challenges. My tips below are geared toward helping you find the right balance.
Top 5 Natural Remedies for Reducing PMS Symptoms
1. Be smart about dietary fats, and make them count. All dietary fats increase estrogen production (study). And since we’re trying to keep levels lower all month long to reduce the PMS dip, it’s a good idea to keep daily overall fat intake in check. Also try to emphasize Omega-3 fats the most in your diet (sources: flax, chia, hemp and walnuts). Omega-3s are not only anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy, but they have been shown to reduce many physical and psychiatric symptoms of PMS when 2,000 mg were consumed daily (study). Since the saturated fats in meats, fish and dairy products tend to drive estrogen production to a greater degree than vegetable fats (due to greater concentrations), you’ll find that following a more plant-based diet makes it easier to support hormonal balance throughout the month.
2. Get more fiber from whole plant foods. Fiber does the opposite of fat when it comes to female hormones, helping to keep levels in a healthy, lower place throughout the month (study). Eating lots of whole plant foods can ensure you’re getting the fiber your body needs for ideal hormone levels, better digestion, a powerful immune system and lower breast cancer risk (study). Aim for 5+ servings of veggies, 3+ servings of high-fiber, low-sugar fruits, plus a cup of cooked beans or lentils every day. Added bonus: Switching out low-fiber animal proteins for high-fiber plant sources like beans, lentils, tempeh, quinoa and hemp seeds packs a 1-2 punch of reducing saturated fats while bumping up fiber intake. Win!
3. Seek out calcium and vitamin D. Because blood levels of calcium and vitamin D have been shown to be lower in women with PMS, researchers studied these nutrients as potential PMS remedies in a subgroup of the Nurses’ Health Study II (a NIH-funded, Harvard-based research study of over 116,000 nurses, which investigated oral contraceptives, diet and lifestyle). They found that higher intake of both nutrients was associated with reduced chances of experiencing PMS (study).
The best plant sources of calcium include fortified non-dairy milks (e.g., hemp, flax and nut milks), kale, chia seeds, collards and tahini. Sunshine is the richest source of vitamin D, but if your latitude doesn’t allow you to get enough during darker times of the year, you can try food sources like dried shiitake mushrooms, fortified plant milks, orange juice and cereal. When it comes to supplements, Vitamin D2 or lichen-sourced D3 are your vegan options. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a definitive answer as to whether vitamin D2 or lichen-sourced D3 is as usable by the body as animal-based vitamin D3. For more info on plant-based vs. animal-based vitamin D, check out this Vegetarian Resource Group article.
4. Increase your intake of magnesium and vitamin B6. A combination of magnesium (250 mg) and vitamin B6 (40 mg) has been shown to significantly decrease PMS symptoms (study). Supplements (as opposed to foods) were used in most studies, but magnesium-rich grub can easily meet the recommended 250 milligrams that helps diminish PMS. If for some reason you need to supplement, look for magnesium citrate, which is the most easily absorbed. Keep in mind that although magnesium toxicity from foods is incredibly rare (the kidneys eliminate excess in the urine), magnesium supplements may cause toxicity symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramping and diarrhea, or even more serious complications in high doses. The tolerable upper limit has been set at 350 mg per day.
As for vitamin B6, you probably will need to supplement. Food sources (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, sunflower seeds, spinach, bananas) only provide about 30% of the recommended 1.7 mg that can relieve moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness, bloating and anxiety (study). Important: If taking B6 supplements, be sure to not exceed the tolerable upper limit of 100 mg per day. Excessive doses may cause ataxia, which is a sensory neuropathy where you cannot control bodily movements (source). No bueno! If you think there’s any chance you’re nearing that upper limit, you may wanna get your levels checked by your doc, toots.