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I’d faint from agonising cramps – but I’ve learnt how to eat my way out of PMS

PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, describes the many annoying symptoms that a woman may have to endure in the run up to her period. 

In fact, over 150 PMS symptoms have been identified, including physical symptoms (think breast tenderness and headaches), and physiological symptoms (mood swings, fatigue and anger).

Lucy Gornall
PT Lucy Gornall had incredibly painful period cramps that would cause her to faint[/caption]
Lucy Gornall
The Pill helped her PMS symptoms, but when she stopped taking it, they came back, but she’s since learned to use nutrition to ease them[/caption]

According to the National Association for Premenstrual Syndromes (NAPS), up to 30 per cent of women experience moderate to severe PMS. 

Around 800,000 women in the UK suffer from severe PMS. 

If you’ve ever tried to tackle PMS, including very mild PMS, then you may have started taking the contraceptive pill, used hot water bottles, taken paracetamol or even tried to sleep through it. 

But have you ever thought about the role your diet plays?

“From headaches and low energy to cramps and irritability, the symptoms of PMS are long and varied, and affect up to 85 per cent of women,” says Shona Wilkinson, lead nutritionist at ethical nutrition and supplement brand, DR.VEGAN

“While many factors should be considered to manage symptoms, nutritional intake should be high on the list.” 

I started my periods aged 14. During my teens I would faint every month from the pain of PMS cramps. 

The Pill helped eradicate these pains and for 11 years I was PMS free. 

Then, post Pill, as my cycle settled into a rhythm, my PMS symptoms also found their rhythm. 

Excruciating period cramps would kick in for about half a day, the moment I began to bleed, and my head would be throbbing. 

In the days before my period, it felt like I’d been hit by a bus; fatigue was extreme, and to make matters worse, my sleep was practically non-existent for about five days. 

Oh and of course there’s the spots, greasy forehead, sore boobs and random crying outbursts which just became annoying. 

However, various lifestyle tweaks, including some dietary and supplement changes, has meant my PMS has definitely eased. 

It’s not gone, but it’s also not a patch on what it used to be.

These are the changes I’ve made, plus some other expert tips which might just help you take control of your PMS, once and for all…

I take a vitamin B supplement for overall PMS control 

“Simple switches like adding a PMS supplement rich in B vitamins to your daily routine can help relieve common symptoms of PMS,” says Shona.  

“Vitamins B2 and B3 help to regulate the hormonal fluctuations that result in greasy skin and bloating, while Vitamin B6 helps the body transform food into fuel, regulates the nervous system, and helps in the creation of mood-boosting hormones like serotonin and dopamine.” 

I up my iron for energy 

Women tend to be more prone to low iron levels as iron is lost during a period bleed. 

It’s not to everyone’s taste, but chicken liver is chocka with iron. 

So typically in the run-up to my period, I’ll cook up some chicken livers with onion. 

“Iron helps to regulate our mood through its involvement in the creation of serotonin, aka ‘the happy hormone’, so an increase in iron can help to calm some of the less physical signs of PMS like low mood and lethargy,” says Shona.

“It’s also particularly important to eat some iron-rich foods after a particularly heavy flow to help combat the body’s loss of blood.”

Not keen on liver? 

Shona recommends including other iron-rich foods before and during your period such as lentils, quinoa, or dried fruit. Red meat contains high levels of iron too.

I eat oily fish three times a week to help my mood

Sardines, mackerel, salmon… just some of the fish that I eat on the regular. 

Whether it’s coincidence or not, my mood is certainly less erratic than it once was around my period. 

Omega 3 is proven to help with the production and availability of serotonin, and those with an omega 3 deficiency might be at a greater risk of developing mental health issues,” explains Shona.

“Hormones like serotonin and dopamine play a significant role in regulating our mood and helping us to feel positive about the day and what it might have to offer. 

“As levels of the hormone oestrogen levels drop during PMS, serotonin and dopamine levels fall, which might explain why over 50 per cent of women feel depressed in the run up to their period.”

Shona adds: “Omega 3 is classed as an essential nutrient, meaning that it cannot be produced by the body and must come from your diet or from an Omega 3 supplement. 

“Great food sources of omega 3 include oily fish if you’re not plant-based, or nuts, seeds and olive oil if you are.”

I take zinc to maintain calmer skin 

Period spots can be a real pest. But, studies have proven how zinc is essential for the normal function of skin. 

I started taking a zinc supplement a while back and although I do still get little pimples, the horrible, brutally large spots seem to have taken a backseat. 

Shona says zinc is also great for brain health

“Zinc is an essential mineral involved in a number of brain chemistry reactions. 

“We need zinc to regulate the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. 

“Low levels of zinc can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression, among other issues.”

A zinc supplement is useful, as are other zinc-rich foods including shellfish, seeds and nuts.

I don’t go a day without magnesium for constipation 

“Magnesium is required for more than 300 biomechanical reactions in the body, including both the release and uptake of serotonin by the brain,” says Shona.

Which might be another reason my mood isn’t as nuts as before. 

I also find magnesium before bed can help overcome the PMS constipation that makes me feel super uncomfortable pre-period.

A supplement can help. As can food sources.

“Good sources of magnesium include nuts, legumes, seeds, and wholegrains – try sneaking some into your daily diet and give your brain that helping hand it might need when struggling with PMS symptoms,” says Shona. 

Chasteberry can help hormones 

“One of the less well known but effective treatments for the symptoms of PMS is chasteberry, the fruit of the chaste tree,” reveals Shona. 

“Chasteberry has been used as a treatment for PMS symptoms for years and works by rebalancing your hormones to nullify common symptoms such as mood swings and breast discomfort.”

Chasteberry can be found in capsule PMS supplements and can even be drunk as a tea.

Load up on calcium to help bloating 

Research has found that calcium could help relieve water retention, as well as other PMS symptoms such as anxiety.

“Examples of calcium-rich foods include leafy greens like kale, spinach, white beans, chickpeas, lentils, kiwi fruit, almonds, fortified plant-based milks and soy foods including tofu and tempeh,” says Shona.

Don’t be too hard on yourself 

It’s not always easy to eat the right foods as PMS can actually make us want to eat more junk.

“As blood sugar levels fall during PMS, cravings for high-sugar foods tend to increase which, in turn, can exacerbate symptoms of PMS like constipation, gas and fatigue,” says Shona. 

Although managing food choices is important to help ease PMS, try to avoid stressing yourself even more by being too rigid. 

But, if you notice positive PMS changes like me, then you might not even want to eat sugary, unhealthy foods around your period anymore!

Lucy Gornall
Lucy now has her PMS symptoms largely under control thanks to diet and supplements[/caption]
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