Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies for PMS Related Symptoms

Publisher: Natural Medicine Magazine, March 2016

Question from reader:
I’m a single dad and my teenage daughter suffers from PMS. Now I don’t know much about it, but I don’t think her pain is normal. She cramps so badly some mornings and I simply I cannot get her into the car and off to school like that. She also has these hectic mood swings before her period. I need some advice as well as remedies to give her every month before her period to help with the mood swings and more importantly, the cramping.

Jeanne’s reply:

The hormone systems in our bodies are delicately balanced and connected to each other. They require adequate nutrient intake and biological balance to function in harmony. Hormones related to PMS symptoms are tightly regulated by blood sugar balance; therefore, reducing foods that disturb blood sugar levels (e.g.: sugar, white bread, pizza and pastries) can make a significant difference in your daughter’s PMS-related symptoms.
A fibre-rich diet is required for blood sugar stabilisation and it will also promote regular bowel movements to ensure that her body gets rid of excess estrogen (too much estrogen is associated with PMS symptoms). At least 25g fibre per day is recommended and some useful sources include: chia seeds, flax seed powder, brown rice, psyllium husk powder, whole fruit and vegetables. 3-5 portions of cruciferous vegetables per week (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) will promote detoxification and excretion of excessive estrogen from the digestive tract.
Vegetables and fruit (preferably organic) will provide high amounts of fibre for oestrogen regulation and also the essential vitamins and minerals required to produce and balance her hormones. Healthy fats are critical to produce hormones and regulate hormone levels, especially the fats in oily fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and coconut oil.

Chronic stress is often a culprit in disrupting sex hormones, so if your daughter seems to be under pressure it might be useful for her to find a relaxing hobby to calm down the stress response. There are also safe herbal teas that are soothing for the nervous system: chamomile tea, lemon balm tea, etc. Adding a few drops of pure lavender essential oil and a handful of Epsom salts to a night-time bath (soaking for at least 15-20 minutes), will calm her nervous system and induce a restful sleep. The magnesium in Epsom salts alongside gentle stretch exercises (e.g.: yoga stretches) may effectively provide relief from menstrual cramps.

We are daily exposed to numerous chemicals, pollutants and toxins from the environment (air, food, water, personal care products, etc.) that can disrupt hormonal regulation. We can’t completely eliminate our exposure to these compounds, but we can significantly minimise exposure by:

  • switching to certified organic fruit /vegetables and personal care products
  • drinking water from glass bottles instead of plastic bottles (plastic contains BPA and other endocrine disrupting compounds)
  • eating organic, grass-fed and free range animal-derived foods (meat, dairy and eggs): animals are often treated with hormones and antibiotics, which can be absorbed into our systems upon ingestion. Toxins from the environment are stored in animal fat, so make sure her meat portions are lean cuts.

The ‘hectic mood swings’ your daughter experiences just before her cycle starts are caused by a rapid decline in her sex hormones, leading to reduced circulating levels of the two primary mood-balancing brain chemicals: serotonin and GABA. There are several foods that can support the production and regulation of these chemicals: chicken, avocado, salmon, eggs, bananas, almonds and raw cacao. Sipping on green tea with lemon juice and mint leaves on her ‘moody’ days may assist in calming her nervous system, increasing energy levels and enhancing concentration.
A suggested mood-enhancing trail mix for her to snack on during the day: Raw cacao nibs, raisins, almonds and cashew nuts. She can mix the ingredients together and eat a handful between meals or when her mood and energy levels decline.

If my suggested changes don’t bring relief within 3-4 months, it may be best to request personalised advice from a natural health practitioner regarding specific supplementation and dosages to support her whilst making these dietary changes.

Reference: article written for Natural Medicine Magazine