As a woman, I know firsthand all about the cramping, headaches and bloating that are often associated with menstruation. That dreaded week before getting your period could have you feeling exhausted!
I learned over time that certain foods could have a positive or negative impact on my cycle. The more I paid attention to this and followed through with eating a cleaner, more organic diet, my PMS symptoms subsided and my hormones became balanced.
If you’re like me (and more than 80% of women), you recognize the pre-period physical symptoms and changes that occur in your body.*
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to more than 150 different symptoms that occur after ovulation, for up to 2 weeks prior to your menstrual period. The good news is that these symptoms subside after your period, and the even better news is that you can eliminate or drastically reduce these symptoms with the right diet and nutrients.
Many years ago, in my attempt to heal my own premenstrual issues, I learned about certain vitamins, minerals, herbs and foods that helped to nourish my cycle and body.
But first, it’s important to understand the foods that are causing a detriment to your cycle and potentially worsening your symptoms of premenstrual anxiety, breast tenderness, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, cramps, insomnia, depression, cravings and weight gain. Yes, it’s common to experience all of these unfortunate symptoms.
First up is sugar.
You knew I was going to say that, right?
Not only does sugar cause a host of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as deficiencies in magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin E, it also causes your blood sugar to become irregular. This can impair your liver from detoxifying and eliminating excess estrogen, thereby leading to more breast tenderness and swelling.* Plus, it can cause you to hold onto water, leading to a 5lb weight gain pre-period, and an imbalance in your mood. You know what I’m talking about, ladies!
The second culprit is caffeine.
Unfortunately, as much as we all like to enjoy a good a cup of java, it can cause an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, two hormones that can impair liver detoxification and affect your liver’s ability to manage serotonin and progesterone, leading to more PMS symptoms.* Try limiting or eliminating your intake of caffeine 2 weeks prior to your period. Instead, reach for less caffeinated beverages such as green or white tea, rooibos or any herbal tea.
Third on the list is alcohol. Again, it all comes down to liver detoxification, as your liver helps to metabolize hormones. If you’re impairing your liver’s ability to break down your hormones, this will lead to a host of PMS symptoms and hormonal imbalances. Also, if you’re trying to conceive, ditch this beverage altogether as studies have shown it can lower fertility (4).
The good news is that you can drastically reduce your PMS symptoms by eliminating the foods above, and ease your pesky symptoms with the remedies below:
This tuber is known as Peruvian ginseng. It can help to balance hormones, increase libido and fertility, and nourish the adrenal glands due to its high mineral and fatty acid content. You can find it in capsule, powder or liquid form. It’s a great addition to your morning smoothie. Plus, it will help to give you an energy boost (5).
Red Raspberry Leaf
This amazing herb has been known to increase fertility and help ease PMS cramping. It contains a ton of minerals, such as magnesium, calcium and potassium, which are great for relieving muscle soreness and tightness. In fact, this herb has been known to be helpful for heavy bleeding, uterine trauma, recurring miscarriages and improving egg quality (6). You can find red raspberry leaf in the form of a tea or capsule. I personally prefer drinking the tea with freshly sliced lemon leading up to and during menstruation.
Also known as vitex, this popular herb is strong and definitely one I would use with caution. It truly is a wonder herb and beneficial for many PMS issues, particularly low progesterone and lack of ovulation (7). If these are your concerns, then do use it. However, if you are dealing with more common symptoms such as cramping, bloating and headaches, then this wouldn’t be my first choice of supplement.
Vitex works by stimulating the pituitary gland, which then signals the ovaries to produce hormones. Because of this, if you do decide to use this herb, I would recommend taking it first thing in morning, when your pituitary is most sensitive.
The superfood of all superfoods. Who doesn’t want a little bit of chocolate during their period? Cacao is one of the richest sources of magnesium. This is an important mineral to load up on 2 weeks prior to your period as it can help reduce water retention, ease cramping and help with sleep. Plus, it contains a ton of antioxidants that help prevent free radical damage which can cause premature aging. Bonus!**
(Related: 8 Herbs That Detox Your Body Naturally)
I’m sure we all know and love coconut oil. Due to its incredible fat content (healthy fat, that is!), coconut oil is great for balancing hormones. It also contains antibacterial properties, which make it great for using on your face and body for any period-related breakouts.**
I can’t stress enough how important these are for your health and hormones, mainly because they help to support liver detoxification, provide your body with a ton of minerals, such as zinc, magnesium and calcium, and contain fiber, which helps to support gut health. Choose from kale, spinach, collards, Swiss chard and dandelion.
High in omega-3s that help to promote the formation of compounds that help to combat inflammation, salmon is an ideal choice for women. Plus, the additional fat content is great for combating sugar cravings, easing cramps and supporting balanced moods.*
Start including these herbs and superfoods in your diet to help balance your hormones and ease your menstrual symptoms. It’s amazing what healing benefits we can gain from eating the foods that nature intended and sourcing herbal remedies that have been used for years to help women deal with PMS.
*Sat Dharam Kaur, The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, 2005
**David Wolfe, Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future, 2009