The pre-menstrual phase headlines when we talk about the menstrual cycle, though rarely in a positive light. So many of you, my fabulous readers share with me via email or social media that the pre-menstrual phase is most difficult phase – bloating, pain, acne, constipation, headaches, spotting, stress, anxiety and losing the ability to manage emotions are regularly mentioned. In previous posts, I’ve shared a handful of approaches you can take to address your pms and make that time of the cycle more manageable – today, I’m going to dive deeper into the causes of PMS, so you can identify and treat the cause of your symptoms not just the evidence.
One of the most common contributing factors to PMS I see in my clinic is stress. Stress in the body undermines pretty much every bodily function, and given our reproductive systems are the most sensitive (and we don’t need it to survive in this moment), stress will definitely impact its function. While the mental health symptoms associated with PMS have also recently been proven to be associated with contraceptive pill use, during the luteal phase, it can often be attributed to hormone imbalance. During PMS, that stress can impact our body’s ability to regulate hormones effectively – the additional cortisol and other stress hormones can upset functioning levels of progesterone. Progesterone is our “feel good” hormone, so when it goes too low, too quickly in our luteal phase, it can feel like pms is getting the best of us.
Of course, in our bodies, a state of health can be also described as a state of balance. For a healthy luteal phase, progesterone needs to be in proportion to estradiol (oestrgen). For those suffering from symptoms during the lead up to their period, it has been shown that high estradiol and lutenising hormones can be an underlying factor in why PMS symptoms are severe. As I’ve talked about before on the blog, there’s also a tricky balance between stress levels, ovarian function and adrenal function. When one or all of these aren’t functioning optimally, those PMS symptoms can feel heightened. Stressed adrenals, especially, affect energy levels and sleep patterns, and as we all know, disrupted sleep makes energy levels even lower. Our reproductive and stress hormones have a goldilocks zone for keeping us well, and our delicate bodies will notice if something isn’t right.
Though, our sex hormones aren’t the only chemical messengers in our bodies that can be imbalanced, leading to difficulties during PMS. A deficiency in B vitamins, particularly B6, can make it difficult for the body to make sufficient progesterone during ovulation, leading to those luteal phase blues. On top of that, B6 is also needed to make neurotransmitters, including seretonin and GABA, both of which help keep our emotions and mind happy and healthy. An easily correctable vitamin deficiency can be a cause in a stressful PMS phase.
One of the most stressful beliefs we can hold about our bodies is that they are a problem to be fixed. So many of us are raised believing that our cycles are a burden, that periods are inherently painful, and that we’re doomed to suffer with PMS every cycle as a fact of our hormones. Expecting our bodies to be something they aren’t will only cause us stress as our beliefs and reality fail to match. Finding a way to live in harmony with our bodies isn’t an impossible task, even if it seems like it. All it can take to shift the beliefs in our mind can be finding 5 minutes a day to make time for nourishing and loving your body. Finding that time to take a few minutes to observe our cycles and support our bodies can be incredibly difficult, like creating any new habit. I promise you’ll be rewarded if you can – even if it means taking a guided meditation into the bathroom at work and locking the door for 5 minutes!
There are so many tools available to us to help support our body in managing stress and balancing our hormones. The lovely Lara Briden has a handful of great suggestions in this post, including some great information on B vitamins and hormones. A few years back, I shared my favourite PMS supporting food, Maca, in this post, and a great warm pudding recipe here. If you need some further guidance on learning to live with (or even love) your menstrual cycle, there’s no better resource than Adore Your Cycle by Claire Baker. Claire’s own journey of being on the pill, overcoming her PCOS and learning to love all the phases of her cycle lead her to write her book. I’m such a believer in this approach to body literacy, I contributed the forward! My Masterclass, Debunking Stress is the ultimate go-to for learning how stress impacts your health and how to manage it – I can’t emphasize enough how much of an impact managing your stress can have in lifting the symptoms you may be seeing in your own life. As always, if you feel the need for some more one-on-one support, myself or any of the practitioners at The Pagoda Tree would love to see you in our clinic or over Skype for personalised care.