19 Aug Do you know your PMS personality?
PMS Personality Guide
Oh my, it’s that time of the month again, one minute you’re snapping at your partner, the next you’re crying over a video on Facebook, and you could murder a chocolate bar. Yes your mood and your hormones are inextricably linked. Nowadays science knows a fair bit about the intricate hormonal dance that goes on in your body and there is plenty you can do to minimise the unpleasant feelings that come with your period.
Understanding exactly what’s going on is vital to easing your PMS symptoms. With some loving kindness, some gentle lifestyle changes and a few key herbs, you can reduce your miserable PMS moods. I’ve listed some of the most common PMS symptoms below accompanied by a biochemical explanation with tips on how to mend. Dig in!
Carbohydrate Cate: Your estrogen levels rise and fall throughout your menstrual cycle, peaking at ovulation. Estrogen tends to keep your levels of happy juice serotonin up by preventing its breakdown. Serotonin is important for feelings of joy and restful sleep. When levels of estrogen go either up or down, especially if rapidly, serotonin levels drop away accompanied by low mood, tears and sadness.
When your serotonin levels reduce, you crave carbs – why, you ask? Simple sugars allow for a crucial ingredient of serotonin to enter the brain; the amino acid tryptophan (found in foods such as cottage cheese, turkey, almonds and bananas). The quicker we can get that sugar in the sooner we can make some more serotonin. How’s that for Mother Nature answering the call of the wild (wild woman)?
Estrogen also increases lighthearted opioid and feel-good endorphin activity; feelings we’re sure to miss when estrogen levels change. Funnily enough chocolate also boosts opioids and endorphins. One of the many reasons we reach for a chocolate fix at that time of the month.
Constipated Chloe: But only on your cycle? This is another symptom of serotonin deficiency, probably caused by a drop in estrogen.
Bloated Betty: Bloated tummy, swollen breasts and water retention. In theory, this is also attributed to high levels of estrogen raising aldosterone levels, a hormone that manages body water levels. But is also related to poor hydration, too much salt intake, and magnesium deficiency. Be sure to lay off the salty junk foods and get your magnesium rich greens into you.
Acne Ann: Acne around the chin and jaw line is usually progesterone related. If this is you, you can lessen and eventually eradicate symptoms by focusing on enhancing your natural detoxification and elimination pathways. This means looking after your liver and lymphatic system by getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, take a good quality multi vitamin (i.e. not from the supermarket), reduce alcohol and coffee intake and try having 2 tsp of apple cider vinegar in water first thing in the morning. If your spots bother you I highly recommend you see a naturopath or herbalist for some hormonal testing to pinpoint exactly what’s going on and get some herbs and nutritional support to aid detox and get your skin clear.
Dreamless Daisy: No dream recall is another symptom of lower serotonin levels, so if you don’t dream on your cycle, this is quite likely because your estrogen levels have lowered.
Anxious Anna: Do you also tend to pear shape, get sore breasts around menstruation and carry a lot of water? Estrogen increases synthesis of prolactins. In excess, prolactins make you feel insecure and unsafe, anxious, antisocial and parked on your couch.
How’s that for a paradox? Above we learnt that estrogen boosts serotonin and therefore makes you happy. And then we learnt that excess estrogen can make you anxious. It goes to show that the interplay between your hormones and your neurotransmitters like an intricate dance, a little something out of whack over here puts something way out over there.
Indecisive Irene: Do you find it difficult to concentrate and make decisions? This is to do with your sex hormones (progesterone, estrogen) modulating the effect of GABA, another neurotransmitter. Low GABA also means interrupted sleep, anxiety and alcohol cravings.
Depressed Dina: A few years ago, I was having periods where I felt so low I couldn’t get out of bed. The rest of the month I was cruising around happy as Larry. This is usually attributable to progesterone dominance. With a few herbals and lifestyle changes, I never feel like this anymore.
If you have a pre-existing diagnosis for depression or anxiety not related to your period, symptoms are nearly always worse pre-menstrually. If you feel down please make sure you talk to your loved ones, or seek support in some way.
The Pregnancy Princess: Did you feel amazing during pregnancy while your bestie felt terrible? This is due to different hormonal baselines. Pregnancy is accompanied by a sustained boost in progesterone. Progesterone enhances mood, cognition, memory and anxiety and regulates the effects of estrogen. Progesterone is like a love drug. For those who don’t feel awesome while pregnant, you may already tend to higher levels of progesterone, so higher again doesn’t feel any good. Either you’re going to be estrogen dominant or lack normal levels of progesterone.
Snappy Susannah: Progesterone rises naturally during the second half of your cycle, dropping sharply to trigger your period. This sharp drop in mood enhancing progesterone explains a sullen descent into serious crankiness and irritability.
Thrush on your period? This is linked to estrogen excess and is treatable with an anti-candida plan and therapy to balance your hormones naturally. See your naturopath if this is a problem.
Are you overweight? Did you know that fat cells produce estrogen all by themselves? Excess fat tissue leads to estrogen excess putting your hormones out of whack. This is true for men also, heavy set men produce estrogen in their fat cells leading to “man boobs” (aka gynacomastica if you want to get technical) and big hips.
A little word on pain
There are a few theories as to why your uterus will spasm you into a foetal position on menses and have us downing nurofens like it’s no tomorrow. One is that the endometrium, the uterine lining that is shed on menstruation, contains prostaglandins, little chemical messengers that cause inflammation, when they are shed, they react with the uterine tissue causing a reaction. A sharp drop in progesterone is also one of the many hormonal signals that bring on labour, our body is designed to open up and spasm to birth a child, we do so on a smaller scale to shed menses. Painful periods are officially entitled dysmenorrhea and tend to be worse in young women. If this is you, rest assured that most of us grow out of it, especially after we have children. Severe pain that lasts for more then a day needs further investigation so chat to your naturopath about what to do next.
So what can you do about it? There’s plenty you can do to reduce painful and moody periods.
Looking after your liver, eating a healthy nutritionally rich diet, and engaging in stress reduction activities all play a big part in balancing your hormones to happy. This means reducing alcohol to no more then 2 drinks on any one occasion, reducing environmental toxins and indulging in delicious fresh wholefoods with plenty of magnesium rich green salads, green juice and dark chocolate. Also consider magnesium supplementation. This nutrient is involved in over 300 of your body’s enzymatic processes, you should be aiming for 600mg of magnesium a day.
Are you majorly stressed? Works a killer, the kids are screaming, the house is a mess? High levels of cortisol will block estrogen receptors, leaving you prone to severe hormonal symptoms. To get this under check making time to engage in stress reduction activities is absolutely imperative, and getting on some stress managing herbs can help also. Try long romantic walks in nature, yoga, meditation, a hot bath with essential oils, make quiet time to read a favourite book or magazine. Better yet, have a massage, a divinely relaxing way to relieve stress.
Increased levels of exercise are associated with lower incidence of PMS, so get a sweat on 3 to 5 times per week. Your body will love you for it.
Smoking tobacco and high caffeine intake are also related to painful PMS. Cut down on the coffees during your period, and, well, you know what to do with the fags. If you’re a smoker and want to give them the flick, I highly recommend reading or listening to the audiobook version of Allan Carrs “Finally Free: The easy way to stop smoking for women” to put you in the right mindset to succeed.
A normal cycle length is considered to be between 21 and 35 days and should stay consistent. So if you’re a 29 day girl you should stay at around 29 days. Minor variations: give or take a day or so, is considered normal. A widely varying cycle length needs further investigation. Make an appointment with a naturopath for some assistance.
Do you feel like you’re doing all the right things but are still suffering 1 to 2 weeks in four?
Do you fancy sailing through your periods giving loving kindness to your family, feeling footloose and symptom free? This is a real possibility – first though we need to pinpoint what’s going on.
Sure we can look at your symptoms and make assumptions about what’s happening, but the only way to find out exactly what is going on is to test you.
Salivary and serum hormone testing is available through most naturopaths, and is recommended to determine where your hormone levels are at so we can put together the best care plan to get you on the road to joyful and painless balance.
Your thyroid health comes into play also. An under-functioning thyroid will contribute to depression and anxiety, so if these symptoms are common for you, consider getting checked out for thyroid issues also.
There are plenty of amazing plant medicines available to balance female repro and abolish PMS. Addressing underlying nutritional deficiencies is essential for optimal body function, because if the nutrients are missing, it’s not going to work.
Pop any questions in the comments below, and if you’re local and struggling with PMS, book in for an appointment at NatMed Clinic in East Fremantle.
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Cheryl Watson et al. Estrogens of multiple classes and their role in mental health disease mechanisms International Journal of Women’s Health 2010:2 153–16
Hectman, L 2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Saunders Elsevier
Sarris J, Wardle J 2010, Clinical Naturopathy Chuchill Livingstone