One day, everything is sunshine and daisies, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, the clouds roll in and things get dark. Your mood takes a down swing, energy levels run low, everyone in your path wears a bullseye... and the cramps! These symptoms of premenstrual syndrome are common—but PMS is not normal.
“Women are not supposed to suffer for two weeks of the month and call it normal!” says Dr. Libby Weaver, a Nutritional Biochemist who specializes in hormonal disorders. While PMS and everything that comes along with it (namely mood swings) are often the punchline of a joke, these symptoms can be seriously disruptive to ladies' day-to-day lives.
Whenever our bodies aren’t performing optimally, it’s usually a sign that they’re trying to tell us something. According to Dr. Weaver, “PMS is basically feedback from the body, telling us what we need to change in order to get more healthy. Depending on your symptoms and their intensity, there are different [underlying hormonal] causes [of] these symptoms.” In other words, PMS is the super rude way your body tells you it's not happy.
The good news? You can rebalance your hormones naturally by paying attention to what fuels your body. Everything from cramps to hormonal acne can be virtually eliminated without the use of prescription drugs like hormonal birth control. If symptoms are acute—we're talking cramps so bad you're in the fetal position, mood swings that mess with your relationships, migraines, or painful cystic acne—it might indicate a deeper hormonal issue like estrogen dominance or progesterone dominance, and it’s a good idea to head to the doctor to get an official check on hormone levels. We've laid out the most common symptoms of PMS below and how to combat them naturally.
Bloating and puffiness
In the weeks leading up to your cycle, you might feel more bloated than normal, or maybe feel like every part of your body has swelled up. It's uncomfortable, to say the least, and you can blame the lack of the hormone progesterone for any bloating or water retention during your cycle. Sometimes, when too little progesterone is produced by the ovaries, excessive fluid retention can happen—and often this is triggered by anxiety or stress.
Fight the bloat with olive leaf extract: The antimicrobial properties of olive leaf can help balance and maintain healthy gut flora, even during that time of the month. If water retention is the bigger issue, try a natural diuretic like dandelion tea to help eliminate excess water.
Pimples and breakouts
There are lots of causes of acne and blemishes—food allergies, overproduction of oil, even sensitivity to certain products—but the most annoying culprit might be hormones. Even if you diligently wash, moisturize, and treat skin daily, a bothersome pimple can pop up right around that time of the month. Chalk it up to changes in hormones around two weeks into your cycle, when the body releases a little bit of testosterone in addition to estrogen and progesterone. The production of extra testosterone can stimulate oil production, causing acne to rear its ugly head.
If hormonal breakouts are the Katy Perry to your Taylor Swift, fight the bad blood with a hefty dose of zinc and vitamin A. Zinc is a powerful immune system booster and anti-inflammatory mineral, and it's been shown to greatly decrease acne breakouts. Vitamin A, found in nutrient-dense foods like cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, and dried apricots, can heal your skin and even out your skin tone. Plus, it will help fade old acne spots and leave your skin looking fresh and youthful.
The tired old stereotype of a woman who can't be placated until she's had her dose of chocolate is around for a reason. While it might be a bit of a misogynistic caricature, there is an actual scientific reason behind cravings. The production of estrogen promotes a drop in blood sugar levels, which can cause hunger to feel even more persistent and energy levels to drop quickly.
Fight off the stereotype and low blood sugar by upping your intake of healthy fat around this time. Coconut oil, MCT oil, and the naturally occurring dietary fats found in nuts will keep energy levels steady throughout the day while keeping you fuller for longer.
Irritability and mood swings
Mood swings are normal, but when they start to interfere with everyday life, it might be time to examine where they're coming from. For many women with serious PMS, it might be more than just crazy hormones causing moodiness. Adrenal fatigue due to constant high levels of stress can exacerbate the irritability and sadness that seems to come hand in hand with hormonal changes. If you think that you might be suffering from adrenal fatigue, it's important to address that issue first.
If adrenal fatigue isn't your issue, load up your diet with foods that are rich in vitamin B, magnesium, and essential fatty acids in order to boost serotonin levels.
Incorporating all of these foods into a healthy and balanced diet will immediately take the sting out of most PMS symptoms. After about two full cycles on this revamped regimen, most women will notice a boost in their energy, fewer mood swings, and clearer skin.
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast