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For most women, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is unnoticeable at best and extremely uncomfortable at worst - all depending on the month. So it's definitely worth knowing which natural PMS remedies really work for the next time it strikes.
PMS is a monthly set of physical, psychological and behavioural changes that women go through during part of their menstrual cycle called the luteal phase (opens in new tab). As this occurs after ovulation (opens in new tab) (when the ovaries release the egg), it's a sure sign that your period (opens in new tab) is one the way.
It's often just brushed off as one of the many phases of the menstrual cycle. But actually, around 90% of women experience some negative symptoms of the condition every month. According to the US Office for Women's Health (opens in new tab), this can be minor bloating, headaches and moodiness or it can be serious period cramps (opens in new tab) that make women miss work or school. And while anyone who goes through a menstrual cycle can experience PMS, it affects women in their 30s the most.
How to reduce PMS symptoms naturally
It's a common misconception that exercising during PMS - or even during your period - is somehow negative. In fact, studies (opens in new tab) have shown that exercise not only helps to alleviate symptoms of PMS but gentle exercise (such as yoga or a walk) is the perfect go-to to cure period pain. You could even try some yoga moves at home (opens in new tab) to ease any discomfort.
This is because, Andrea explains, "exercise is known to help eliminate excess hormones from the body". However, over-exercise can of course lead to increased stress. "So whilst exercise is important to reduce PMS symptoms, it is also important not to over-exert your body at this time. Aim to engage in at least 30 minutes of brisk walking, cycling, swimming or other aerobic activity most days of the week. Regular daily exercise can help improve your overall health and alleviate certain symptoms, such as fatigue (opens in new tab) and a depressed mood."
2. Sit down with a hot water bottle
While the studies (opens in new tab) on using hot water to ease period cramps are few and far between, most people say that a hot water bottle will help ease discomfort and period pain.
This is because muscle cramps of all kinds emerge from muscle tissues that are lacking in oxygen. By increasing the oxygen flow, you're stimulating more blood flow and in turn, this should help ease your symptoms.
One of the best period products (opens in new tab) for those who can't carry a hot water bottle on the go should consider heat patches, which act in the same way to provide relief.
3. Cut down on caffeine and refined sugar
Some foods have been shown to make PMS symptoms worse but as the condition differs from person to person, it can be difficult to identify the foods to cut out.
"Take a look at your diet and ascertain if certain foods make your symptoms worse, often dairy and gluten can cause sensitivities." Andrea says, "Some foods such as refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, refined processed foods and dairy have been linked to the symptoms of PMS. A study (opens in new tab) looking specifically at carbohydrate and fibre intake found that high intake of the sugar maltose (commonly food in beer, milk chocolate bars and cereals) was positively associated with PMS risk. It may therefore be beneficial to remove or reduce these foods in the diet."
She adds, "Reducing caffeine and other stimulants in the diet is often difficult so start by switching one coffee for a herbal tea per day and slowly increase when you find one you like. Try fennel, ginger or nettle."
4. Up your intake of fibre and complex carbs
Anyone who suffers with PMS should look at their diet as the very first step, research would indicate. One study (opens in new tab) found an association between PMS and lower intake of fibre, complex carbohydrates, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6.3. Another study (opens in new tab) of university students came to similar results, linking PMS with nutrition, as they found lower serum levels of calcium and magnesium in those with PMS compared to those not suffering with the condition.
"Eating a diet high in nutrients, cooking from scratch as frequently as possible, and avoiding processed foods that have little nutritional benefit will be the key," Andrea says. "Important food sources of these nutrients are dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, oily fish such as salmon, free-range eggs, legumes, lentils, mushrooms, nuts and seeds, avocados and bananas."
Aim to eat seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This should be from a rainbow of different colours to improve the nutrient content and antioxidant benefits. And or expert advises to go right ahead if you're craving chocolate.
5. Swap milk chocolate for dark
"Chocolate provides magnesium and antioxidants. So in actual fact this craving may not be so bad after all," Andrea says. "That said, it needs to be dark chocolate, of at least 70% cocoa to get the beneficial nutrients."
Dark chocolate is famous for its health benefits (opens in new tab), as cacao-rich dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and helps to boost energy levels naturally - without the caffeine jitters. Researchers believe it's also particularly good for easing the discomfort of PMS, as it contains good amounts of magnesium (opens in new tab) which helps to prevent muscle cramps, provides a good source of iron which improves energy levels naturally, and helps to boost the body's serotonin levels (also known as 'feel good hormones').
Eating regularly throughout the day and ensuring you also complement your diet with healthy proteins and fats including oily fish, organic chicken, nuts and seeds, will also help to balance out your blood sugars, improve your mood and maintain a good energy balance.
6. Make sure you get plenty of sleep
The NHS recommends (opens in new tab) seven to eight hours of sleep per night and even though that's not exclusively to help with PMS, it certainly makes a difference.
"Aim to go to bed at the same time each night. Wake at the same time each morning, get outside as much as possible during daylight hours, eat meals at the same time each day within a feeding window. This allows us to fast overnight and exercise earlier in the day to allow for more relaxation and unwinding at the end of the day. When our bodies are more regulated; sleeping patterns (opens in new tab), digestive function (including hunger, satiety and bowel movements) and energy levels should also become synchronised with the 24 hour light/dark cycle."
7. Drink water
Much like getting enough sleep, drinking more water (opens in new tab) is a catch-all for improving how your body functions.
"Water is required for a variety of actions in the body, such as regulating body temperature and blood pressure, transporting oxygen and nutrients, lubricating joints and removing waste from the body," Andrea says. "Some of the benefits of hydration are: having more energy, maintaining weight, improving digestion, kidney health and mood. So there are plenty of reasons (opens in new tab) to quench our thirst throughout the day."
But don't forget, water intake can come from drinking but also from other beverages as well as food. "In fact the average person’s daily fluid intake is made up of around 50% drinking water, 30% other beverages and the rest being food," our experts tells us. "This is good news because it doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to be drinking endless cups of plain water."
She says, "Try adding some fruit and herbs to your water to enhance the taste. Experiment with different herbal teas. Aim to start the day with a glass of water. Put a large jug or water bottle on your desk, and remember to reach for the water before coffee or snacks if you feel a headache coming on or if you’re struggling to concentrate."
8. Improve your gut health
Research on gut health (opens in new tab) has boomed in the last couple of years and all signs point to the idea that improving your gut health will improve other areas of your body too.
"The gut microbiome can be linked to many of the symptoms of PMS, such as bloating (opens in new tab), migraine (opens in new tab) and mood (opens in new tab)," Andrea says. "The gut microbiome may also play an important role in detoxification (opens in new tab); eliminating excess hormones and toxins from the body. To date however, there are very limited studies and research into how the gut microbiome could affect PMS, but it is likely that dysbiosis (an imbalance of the gut microbiome) will have an impact on the development of PMS symptoms given that digestive issues are common symptoms."
So to make sure this is all in order, start adding fermented foods to your diet. These include delicacies such as sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi - all of which you can buy from the supermarket.
"Alternatively, taking a daily multi-strain live bacteria supplement, such as Bio-Kult Advanced 14 strain (opens in new tab) could help to keep the gut microbiome balanced and reduce some of the symptoms associated with PMS."
9. Lessen the stress
There's no proof that easing stress will help to ease symptoms of PMS, but there's certainly cause to believe (opens in new tab) that stress makes symptoms of PMS worse.
So, Andrea says, "It is important for women to aim to reduce their levels of stress during this period. Women need to take time out for themselves during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. This will help to reduce the severity of their symptoms. Mindfulness, yoga, breathing exercises, taking a bath or getting a massage could all help."
10. Talk to someone you trust
Pre-menstrual syndrome is as much an emotional condition as it is a physical one. With one of the biggest symptoms being moodiness and being prone to more highs and lows, it's important that you talk to a friend or a trusted person about how you're feeling.
"Don't suffer in silence, talking through these symptoms with an understanding and supportive friend, family member or colleague could help. Studies have shown that individuals who conceal their feelings while dealing with unpleasant thoughts were more physically and mentally sensitive, irritable, depressed, and vulnerable, but those who embraced such events and considered them as natural happenings learnt that they needed more rest in such situations."
What are the symptoms of PMS?
Symptoms of PMS differ from person to person but these are some of the common ones, according to the NHS:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Breast tenderness
- Headache and/or migraine
- Low mood and/or mood swings
- Difficult sleeping
- Skin issues
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sex drive
- Joint or muscle pain
- Poor concentration and coordination
Despite the clear range of symptoms associated with the condition, no one quite knows what causes it, says BioKult (opens in new tab)'s technical advisor Andrea Burton, who helps people with a variety of health concerns including hormonal imbalances, pain and inflammation. "The actual cause is still unknown and is likely to involve numerous factors such as genetics, changes in levels of sex hormones and neurotransmitters, environmental factors, depression, migraine and lack of social and emotional support."
"There also appears to be a genetic link with PMS. Often mothers of PMS sufferers were or are sufferers themselves," she says. "Surveys have shown that as many as 70% of daughters of PMS affected mothers were also PMS sufferers, whereas 63% of daughters of unaffected mothers were symptom free."