Women’s health can be a complicated matter, especially when it comes to hormones.
Every month you have to deal with mood changes, cramping, and a host of other issues that come along with being a woman with a menstrual cycle.
But the good news is, mother nature always has an answer to your problems. Let’s take a look at the nutrients that may be the answer to your PMS woes.
PMS, AKA premenstrual syndrome, is the term used for the collection of symptoms that women experience a week or two before their period. While the symptoms and severity of each can vary widely, most women (about 90%) report some PMS discomfort.
Every month during your menstrual cycle (day one of your period until the first day of your next period), your hormones shift to allow your ovaries to produce an egg. While small shifts are constantly taking place in this delicate dance of fertility in your body, ovulation marks the most significant shift.
During ovulation, your ovaries drop the egg, making it an ideal time for fertilization. At this point, if the egg is not fertilized, your hormones (specifically estrogen and progesterone) start to dip — this dip in hormones is what researchers believe causes premenstrual symptoms[*][*].
For some women, symptoms of PMS are so severe that it can make it difficult to do daily activities. This can cause disruptions at work and lead to further stress. Severe PMS symptoms are sometimes called PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder)[*].
The good news is; a few days after your period starts hormone levels start to normalize, and symptoms of PMS typically resolve.
While the general flow of hormones continues from the onset of menstruation until menopause, women in their 30’s and 40’s tend to be more affected by symptoms of PMS than younger women. Most women begin to notice symptoms of PMS around 25-35 years old[*].
This may be due to hormonal imbalances that can come later in life, although researchers haven’t been able to pin down a solid explanation.
Symptoms of PMS can be either physical or emotional[*].
- Breast tenderness
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Food cravings
- Brain fog
- Low libido
Many women turn to birth control, pain killers, and other over the counter drugs to combat the discomfort that can come with PMS. These options may provide fast-acting relief, but the key to overcoming PMS is to help your body find its natural rhythm and balance.
There are several research-backed nutrients that can help soothe symptoms of PMS, and bring your body back into alignment. You can find these nutrients in everyday foods you eat, but for a more targeted approach, it can be helpful to take them in supplement form as well.
#1 Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is a wonder nutrient for PMS symptoms. In fact, all the B vitamins are crucial for hormonal health — but B6 has a special place when it comes to your cycle. This crucial vitamin can help tackle a range of symptoms, including bloating, breast pain, and even PMS related depression.
Breast pain is another common symptom associated with PMS. When researchers assessed the effect that vitamin B6 had on breast pain in a group of 80 participants, they found that B6 supplementation significantly reduced pain and tenderness.
However, it should be noted that it took a couple of months of supplementation before significant changes occurred. Therefore, if you suffer from breast pain, you may want to give yourself at least eight weeks of supplementation before you decide whether or not B6 if the answer[*].
Vitamin B6 may also help relieve some of the emotional imbalances that come along with PMS. One study revealed that B6 supplementation decreased emotional symptoms of PMS by 69%. This led researchers to conclude that vitamin B6 may be able to alleviate premenstrual depression[*].
#2 Fish Oil
While researchers haven’t been able to identify one unifying cause of PMS symptoms, there is a clear correlation between PMS and increased levels of prostaglandins (inflammatory chemicals) in your body. This is especially significant in the case of menstrual cramps[*][*].
Fish oil is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can compete with inflammatory prostaglandin-forming omega-6 fatty acids for enzymes. Research shows that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower prostaglandin activity, and therefore a reduction in inflammation[*].
Research further confirms that when women experiencing menstrual cramps take fish oil supplementation, they are able to decrease their dose of ibuprofen. And in some cases, fish oil is even more effective than ibuprofen for pain relief*][*].
If you experience PMS, it may be a good idea to check your magnesium levels. Low magnesium is strongly correlated with many symptoms of PMS[*].
Craving chocolate around your period? Believe it or not, that could be your body’s way of asking you for more magnesium.
The interesting thing is, when women replete their magnesium stores, it can reduce their PMS-related cravings. So maybe you should just go ahead and allow yourself to have some chocolate (sugar-free, of course)[*].
Some research also suggests that combining magnesium with B6 may result in an even more effective approach to combating symptoms of PMS, as they both work on different aspects of hormonal imbalance[*].
#4 Calcium and Vitamin D
Your ovarian hormones directly influence the metabolism of calcium and vitamin D (a fat-soluble vitamin) in your body.
Estrogen regulates calcium and accounts for shifting calcium metabolism throughout your menstrual cycle. Some research even suggests that calcium deficiency may be the cause of PMS symptoms — especially emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression.
Similarly, the breakdown of estrogen impacts vitamin D levels, which can further affect the function of calcium as these two nutrients are tightly correlated[*].
Research also shows that during the luteal phase (the second half of your cycle), low levels of vitamin D and calcium worsen symptoms of PMS. However, when the levels of these two nutrients are restored through supplementation or calcium-rich foods, the symptoms lessen or subside altogether[*].
In addition, there’s evidence that PMS may be related to calcium deficiency and bone loss. For this reason, if you experience symptoms of PMS, you may want to check your calcium stores, as low calcium can potentially lead to osteoporosis[*].
#5 Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin that may be beneficial in combating symptoms of PMS.
In fact, one study examined the effects of both vitamin E and vitamin D on symptoms, and found that vitamin E was even more effective than vitamin D alone in treating a range of symptoms including[*]:
- Water retention
While vitamin D may work through its interplay with calcium, the mechanism for vitamin E is not as clear. T should also be noted that when vitamin E alone was compared to vitamin D and calcium together, vitamin D and calcium combination had a greater effect on PMS symptoms[*].
In other research, vitamin E was also shown to be an effective treatment for PMS related breast pain[*].
Zinc is another nutrient that’s been associated with PMS, with low-levels of this mineral often correlating to PMS symptoms.
In one study, researchers gave a group of participants aged 20-35 years old zinc supplementation from the 16th day of their menstrual cycle (right around ovulation) to the 2nd day of their next cycle (2 days after bleeding began).
They repeated this process for three months to determine if zinc supplementation during the 2nd half of the cycle would have any effect on PMS.
The researchers found that throughout the three months, PMS scores continued to decline for the treatment group, while the placebo only noticed changes in the first month. Overall, the zinc treatment was associated with a significant reduction in PMS symptoms — both physical and mental[*].
Nutrition plays an essential role in managing PMS symptoms. However, there are several other lifestyle factors that you should also keep in mind that may ease premenstrual tension and help your hormones find their natural balance.
Research shows that exercise can have a significant effect on your PMS symptoms, especially emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression. Along with many other benefits, exercise can help elevate your serotonin levels, which may account, at least in part, to its mood-elevating effects[*].
Some symptoms of PMS come from imbalanced levels of hormones in your body. If your liver is unable to properly breakdown and excrete hormones, they can build up in your system. Therefore, avoiding beverages that demand the attention of your liver will leave it open to detox more hormones.
Keep Your Blood Sugar Stable
Keeping your blood sugar steady is one of the most crucial things you can do for your health in general. However, due to the tendency for some women to eat higher amounts of sugar before their period it becomes doubly important during this time to keep your blood sugar steady[*].
If you struggle the week or two before your menstrual period, it may be time to take a look at some supplements and dietary changes.
Supplements can supply a potent dose of nutrients, and healthy eating can do a lot more than just mitigate weight gain.
If you’re looking for some nutrient-rich foods, you’ll find good sources of omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon and sardines. And for calcium, dairy products and green leafy vegetables are great sources.
You can find magnesium in dark chocolate, almonds, and green leafy veggies, and vitamin B6 in most meat-based products.
Vitamin D is one nutrient that is best taken in supplement form, and should be taken along with vitamin K2 (most supplements already have k2 included)[*].