Ladies! My apologies.
I have been writing a blog on womanhood and the paleo diet for years now, and I have yet to write a post on PMS.
Better late than never, I say! What follows is the low down on Pre-Menstrual Syndome (for cramps specifically, which is different, see here).
No, you do not have to go crazy every month just because you are a woman. Do not resign yourself to the fates society is trying to give you! Diet and lifestyle can save you. I do not promise perfection — your journey will undoubtedly have bumps, and you may get a bit cranky for the next few dozen years. But you do not have to be a monster. Here’s why it happens, and how to fix it.
In some ways, being a woman is uniquely challenging. Throughout the course of a regular month, we bleed out of our vaginas for a week, we enjoy one week of peace and freedom, and then we ovulate and have two weeks of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, which can lead to breast tenderness, water retention, acne, insomnia, moodiness, depression, anxiety, headaches, cravings, and cramping. Technically, you will only be diagnosed with PMS if you experience the mental symptoms, which include depression, irritability, anxiety, and mood swings. But the physical symptoms that accompany these are often equally unpleasant. What gives? Is menstruation supposed to be this way? Does it have to be this way?
How it works: PMS
Menstruation is not supposed to be this way. It is not supposed to be painful, make you crazy, or make you depressed. Sure, even after you adopt a diet based on whole, natural foods, you may experience echoes of these symptoms. But they can be greatly mitigated by supporting the health of your reproductive and nervous systems. You have the power to turn what may be a truly terrible state into a mere inconvenience.
As far as theorists can tell, PMS is caused primarily by two things: estrogen dominance and neurotransmitter dysfunction.
Estrogen dominance (Read more about estrogen dominance in my post on the topic here)
Estrogen dominance is one of the primary causes of PMS, but PMS is not it’s only drawback. Symptoms associated with estrogen dominance include being overweight, weight gain, mood swings, emotional sensitivity, heavy periods, breast tenderness, headaches, decreased libido, sluggish metabolism, and insomnia. Conditions that are found more often in women with estrogen dominance and that may develop explicitly as a result of it include cystic fibroids, endometriosis, adenomyosis, hypothyroidism, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and ovarian cancer. From the list of symptoms and associated diseases, it’s a no-brainer that estrogen dominance is a problem that deserves attention.
Estrogen dominance plagues millions of women, perhaps more so than any other hormone imbalance discussed in this book. This is largely because estrogen is produced in fat cells, and the majority of American women are overweight. But that’s not the only way to develop estrogen dominance. Causes of estrogen dominance are both powerful and diverse, and include:
Being overweight: Fat cells perform a function called aromatization that converts testosterone to estrogen. The more body fat you have, the more estrogen your body produces. (Read my book Weight Loss Unlocked to help you lose weight in a healthy, supportive, and hormonally balanced way.)
Overburdening the liver: The liver is responsible for clearing the body of old hormones, especially estrogen. If the liver is overburdened by a hyper-caloric, inflammatory diet that includes high volumes of sugar, alcohol, processing chemicals, and toxins, it becomes sluggish in its ability to process hormones.
Being stressed: Stress decreases the production of progesterone in the body. When progesterone levels decline relative to estrogen, symptoms of estrogen dominance emerge.
Consuming phyto- and xenoestrogens: Consuming estrogens from toxic chemicals such as fertilizers and BPA is unquestionably a bad idea. Consuming plant estrogens such as soy and flax may be helpful sometimes, but in the case of estrogen dominance, it probably is not.
Eating a low-fiber diet: Estrogen is processed not only in the liver but also by gut flora, and it is excreted through the digestive track. Many other variables are likely at play here, but the general idea is that estrogen can be reabsorbed through the intestinal walls. If you do not eat any fiber, and you therefore have little added bulk to your stool, your digestive process will slow down. When it takes a long time for your body to excrete waste, estrogen sits too long in the gut and is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Fiber may help push the digestive process along and keep the estrogen moving properly. Fiber supplements are unnecessary, however. The fiber you get from natural fruits and vegetables in the Sexy by Nature diet is plenty.
Poor gut flora: Since having poor gut flora is another way to slow down digestion and impair estrogen processing, it is another means by which estrogen levels rise. (A probiotic, fermented foods, and gelatin can all help the gut to heal)
Taking the pill: Sometimes birth control pills help decrease estrogen levels. Other times, the pill elevates estrogen levels above progesterone significantly enough to cause extreme discomfort. (Read my book Birth Control:Unlocked to learn about how your birth control may be effecting you.)
Living a sedentary lifestyle: Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, liver function, weight loss, and stress reduction.
Estrogen dominance has many causes and may seem too complicated to overcome easily, but by already emphasizing exercise, phytoestrogen moderation, and anti-inflammatory, gut-enriching, liver-supporting foods, the Sexy by Nature approach to health addresses all of them in one fell swoop.
Symptoms of estrogen dominance occur for many women in the two weeks prior to menstruation. In these two weeks, the body is gearing up for menstruation, so deviation from natural health and hormone balance is a fair bit easier than at other times of the month. Elevating estrogen over progesterone causes symptoms of PMS because the brain is full of receptors for these two hormones. When the brain encounters a hormone imbalance during this time, it has trouble achieving the level of stability it attains at other times of the month. Improper hormone balance can cause a decrease in serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin levels, all of which are important for mental health. Anxiety, irritability, depression, and insomnia may ensue. Correcting hormone balance is a primary concern for any woman experiencing trouble with PMS.
Maintaining neurotransmitter health is also crucial for avoiding PMS. Poor diet leads to poor neurotransmitter synthesis. Dietary elements particularly important for neurotransmitter synthesis are complete protein—so make sure to eat sufficient protein throughout the day—vitamin C, and B vitamins, especially B6. These nutrients are easily obtained from a diet rich in vegetables and animal products such as the Sexy by Nature diet, though supplementation might also be appropriate. This book may help you to discover where you are lacking and what supplementation you might benefit from.
In addition to mitigating these two causes of PMS, you can support your mental health throughout the menstrual cycle by reducing inflammation, which can be a great help to your brain. Two of the most important ways to do so are by maintaining a healthy blood sugar metabolism—which helps neurotransmitters function more stably—and focusing on consuming plentiful omega-3 fat.
Omega-3 fat is a great tool for fighting PMS not only because it is anti-inflammatory, but also because the brain is composed largely of fat. The higher-quality fat you have in your diet, the higher-quality brain function you are going to have. Omega-3 fat helps with the flexibility of neuronal structures, which ultimately leads to greater peace and alleviation of PMS symptoms. This fermented cod liver oil can help with inflammation in the body.
What to do for PMS
-Exercise, which increases serotonin and dopamine levels.
-Get adequate sleep to increase serotonin levels.
-Reduce estrogen dominance by the methods listed above: reduce stress, eat an anti-inflammatory diet that eschews the potential gut irritants grains, legumes, and dairy, consume plenty of vegetables and fiber, support liver health by reducing toxin load and focusing on natural foods. Leafy greens are particularly helpful since they have potent liver-supporting effects.
-Consider supplements that may help with estrogen detox, such as milk thistle extract, alpha lipoic acid, and the amino acid N-acetylcysteine (NAC).
-Eliminate phytoestrogens such as soy and flax from your diet, and minimize exposure to xenoestrogens such as BPA (found in plastics) and fertilizers on the skins of fruits and vegetables.
-Consume at least 50 grams of protein each day.
-Eliminate or minimize omega-6 oil consumption and consume at least three servings of fatty fish such as salmon every week to reduce inflammation.
-Consider supplementing with cod liver oil or a high-quality fish oil for omega-3 fat.
-Eat animal products and vegetables for vitamins B and C, respectively, which support neurotransmitter synthesis.
-Consider supplementing with 400 milligrams of magnesium daily to minimize anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
-Expose yourself to the sun for 20 minutes every day or consider supplementing with 2,000-5,000 IUD of vitamin D daily to provide crucial support mental health.
And that’s it! My thoughts on PMS, and ways to overcome it with whole foods and a stress-reduced lifestyle. No monsters. No crazy. No depression. (If depressed, please see a medical professional!)
Just women being women.
And the above blog post on PMS is actually more or less an excerpt from my book on women’s health, Sexy by Nature: The Whole Foods Solution to Radiant Health, Lifelong Sex Appeal, and Soaring Confidence. 99 percent of you know already, but it’s available on Amazon today for a remarkable 27 % off — and if you’ve read it, go give us a review!