Did you know that PMS, the dreaded bloating, headaches, mood swings, cravings, cramps, etc., affects 75% of women?
It certainly takes a toll on me once a month, which is what inspired me to find out ways to “hack” my own biology in order to stop feeling so miserable during this time of the month (and to save my boyfriend from my crying spells and irritability!). If you’re looking for ways to alleviate symptoms of PMS, keep reading below for my top period hacks derived from science!
What Causes PMS?
Simply put, PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is caused when a woman’s hormones become unbalanced. During a woman’s cycle, the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all fluctuate in response to different changes in the body. Below is a graph of the typical times when these hormones peak during a 28 day cycle.
In addition to cramps and mood swings, these fluctuations in hormones are also what lead to acne breakouts during PMS. Specifically, the rise in progesterone stimulates sebum production, skin swelling, and compressed pores. This is a recipe for blemishes as the excess sebum gets trapped beneath the shut pores. As a skin care lover, this is one symptom that I really would like to avoid!
While many people rely on oral contraceptives and/or anti-inflammatory medications (i.e. Advil, Aleve) to help with PMS symptoms, there are well known risks that come along with both of these types of medications. Therefore, I believe in first making lifestyle changes, such as adjusting your diet or taking supplements, that will support your body (including your hormones!) Below you'll find my top period hacks that I've derived from reading the science and literature on how to better balance hormones and PMS symptoms.
Top Period Hacks
1. Support Your Liver for Better Estrogen Metabolism
When you think of period hacks, supporting your liver probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. But did you know that the liver plays a very important role in estrogen metabolism? The liver converts excess estrogen into compounds that can be excreted by the body.
One way to support your liver is to clean up your diet. Eliminate refined carbohydrates and sugar, which are toxic not just to the liver but to your entire body. Then, add in foods that support the liver, such as:
Sour/bitter foods: According to Dr. Axe, bitter green vegetables, such as mustard greens, arugula, chicory, and dandelion root, aid in liver detoxification. Dandelion root also acts as a diuretic, which can help if water retention is one of your PMS symptoms.
Product recommendation: Try Nature's Way Dandelion Root 525 mg Vegetarian Capsules.
Flax seed: According to Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, flax seed contain plant compounds known as lignans, which help balance hormone metabolism and block the negative effects of excess estrogens.
Product recommendation: Try Viva Naturals Ground Flax Seed
Milk thistle: Milk thistle is an herb that is commonly used to detox the body, especially the liver, due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Product recommendation: Try Pureco Organic Milk Thistle 6,000 mg Capsules.
2. Increase Levels of Serotonin
As you can see from the image at the beginning of this post, there is a drop in estrogen that typically occurs right before your period starts. This drop in estrogen may lead to decreased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter (also referred to as 5-HTP, 5-hydroxytryptophan) that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. Moreover, lower levels of serotonin are also associated with the carb cravings that come with PMS (hello, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!)
One way to increase serotonin levels is to supplement with 5 HTP. Cycle Harmony suggests taking a 5HTP supplement with a small carbohydrate snack at bedtime for optimal absorption. Be sure to take a break from taking 5HTP from time to time to prevent the build-up of tolerance, which will make it much less effective.
Product recommendation: 5HTP 200 mg Capsules
If you don't want to take a 5 HTP supplement, there are natural ways to boost your serotonin production, such as:
Going out in the sun
Eat foods that are high in tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin aka 5-hydroxytryptophan)
3. Supplement Nutrient Deficiencies
My next period hack is to supplement any nutrient deficiencies that you might have. Deficiencies in certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients may contribute to PMS symptoms. Below are some supplements that have been shown in studies to help with PMS symptoms. Of course, please check with your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any supplements.
Magnesium citrate supplements can help to decrease PMS symptoms like cramps, irritability, fatigue, depression, and water retention.
Fabio Facchinetti et al from the Universities of Modena and Pavia, Italy found that low levels of magnesium are prevalent in women who experience menstrual problems. In a two-month trial, 32 women with PMS received 360 mg/day of magnesium or placebo from the 15th day of each menstrual cycle to the beginning of the next menstrual period. Women who were given magnesium supplements had lesser menstrual complaints.
I take a magnesium citrate supplement called Natural Calm and I have definitely noticed an improvement in my PMS symptoms, most notably my cramps are much less severe. Natural Calm also helps to decrease my anxiety and get better sleep at night. I take 325mg every night before bedtime.
Vitamin B6 acts as a cofactor in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, both which affect mood.
A double-blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial compared the effects of supplementing with magnesium vs. magnesium + vitamin B6 vs. placebo for PMS symptoms. While all three groups saw improvements in their symptoms, the magnesium + vitamin B6 group had significantly decreased PMS symptoms.
Researchers believe that the right dose of vitamin B6 for PMS is above 50 mg and not beyond 100 mg.
Product recommendation: NOW Foods Vitamin B6 100 mg Capsules
Studies have found that low dose supplementation with calcium citrate (500 - 600 mg) can reduce PMS symptoms. Note: the body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, so taking a combination of calcium + vitamin D is a good idea!
Product recommendation: Caltrate 600 mg + D3
4. Eat Some Chocolate
My last period hack is probably going to be your favorite because if you're anything like me then you definitely crave chocolate during PMS! Luckily, there is evidence that dark chocolate can alleviate PMS symptoms in several ways. First, dark chocolate is full of beneficial antioxidants that trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation, according to an article by Health. That may be why research has shown that enjoying about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks can reduce stress hormone levels. Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, which, as mentioned above, can relieve PMS symptoms.
Do You Have Any Period Hacks?
Those are all of the period hacks that I have for now. Do you have any period hacks that have helped you to deal with PMS symptoms any better? Leave me a comment below!