If you’ve got a period on the horizon, you might be preparing yourself for the signs of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a series of symptoms that occur during the luteal phase (after ovulation). These are variable and individual and as with many conditions, the cause is multifactorial.
Some of us have our own coping mechanisms to manage the various symptoms but Holly Huntley, Nutritional Therapist and our Education Specialist reveals the six plants in nature’s medicine cabinet that could help you feel better when PMS symptoms arise.
Stress and anxiety
Feeling less confident, more irritable and anxious are some of the emotions it is natural to experience with PMS.
Chronic stress leads to a greater production of cortisol, which can decrease progesterone and thyroid hormone production; this in turn plays havoc with the natural rhythm of our monthly hormonal cycle.
There is help at hand in the form of a nourishing Ayurvedic herb – ashwagandha - used commonly in India to counter the effects of stress on the body.
Ashwagandha strengthens our endocrine and nervous system, helping to balance the production of cortisol from the adrenal glands, which can be beneficial in anxiety-related conditions.
Stress, anxiety and hormonal fluctuations can often leave you tossing and turning at night. Poor sleep worsens the emotional symptoms of PMS, leaving you feeling irritable and even more anxious. Ashwagandha, valerian and oat flowering tops are calming herbs which recharge the batteries and help you sleep soundly throughout the night.
You can find yourself reaching for something sweet and comforting during PMS. Increased refined sugar consumption can disrupt your blood sugar balance which will worsen the rollercoaster of emotions associated with PMS. Blood sugar levels can have an impact on energy, mood and concentration levels so it can be helpful to eat a well-balanced diet of colourful fibrous vegetables, protein and healthy fats. Instead of reaching for that biscuit, why not try a cup of herbal tea to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Licoriceis incredibly soothing and balancing herb which is characteristically sweet in flavor. It contains glycyrrhizic acid which is fifty times sweeter than sugar without the calorific value.
A mug of warming licorice tea after dinner doesn’t just hit the sweet tooth spot, it can help relieve the tension you can feel before your period kicks in. Licorice has been found to regulate cortisol, our main stress hormone and nourish our adrenal glands. It can be a wonderful addition to your daily routine when your energy levels are low or you feel ‘wired and tired’.
You can find brain fog and a ‘hormone headache’ appear leading up to your period. This is due to the natural drop in estrogen levels and is often exacerbated by stress.
Rebalancing the nervous system to reduce the negative feelings of stress and anxiety are key during this time. Tulsi (also known as holy basil) is known to help awaken the mind and boost mental clarity which can help us to rationalise what would have otherwise made us feel anxious.
Skin breakout just before or during your period can be a response to hormonal changes. Outbreaks can be caused by a drop in oestrogen levels and a relative rise in androgens levels.
Chronic long-term stress can affect how our skin behaviors too. Stress hormones such as cortisol cause the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce higher than normal levels of oil, blocking the pores which influence skin break-outs.
In India, there is a renowned herb – shatavari – known for thousands of years for supporting the female reproductive system at all stages of life.
Shatavari is an adaptogen – helping women adapt to modern living, whilst also reducing excess stress. Shatavari helps to balance that delicate dance of hormones, in turn, avoiding pre-menstrual and menopausal breakouts.
Pre-menstrual constipation can occur due to the rising levels of progesterone in the body. It’s important to try to maintain regular bowel movement through exercising, drinking plenty of water and eating a diet high in fiber.
Our bodies eliminate excess hormones such as estrogen through the bowel. Constipation or sluggish bowels can lead to hormones being reabsorbed back in the body contributing to hormonal imbalance and aggravating PMS symptoms.
Triphala– an Ayurvedic formula combining three fruits – is especially helpful for supporting regular bowel movements by improving the health of the digestive system and acting as a very gentle laxative.
Some months may be more uncomfortable than others. A number of lifestyle factors, such as stress, alcohol and hormone imbalance play a role in adding to pain during PMS.
What is less obvious is the liver’s role in eliminating a build-up of excess hormones such as oestrogen.
Essentially, our liver removes any unwanted substances – excess of hormones, alcohol, fats and sugars - that could enter our blood stream.
Turmeric is famed for its liver-supporting properties, shown to support the liver’s detoxification pathways, encouraging a healthy liver and blood flow.
Turmeric is also a popular anti-inflammatory, meaning it can also help ease menstrual discomfort caused by painful periods. Combining turmeric with ginger gives its pain-killing properties an extra boost.
Another helpful and nourishing herb is shatavari which has been traditionally used to strengthen for the female reproductive system. It is also is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, helping to reduce any deep-seated inflammation that may be present as a result of muscle contractions associated with painful periods.