Written by: Jess Demasi (B.A. in Psych + Eating Psychology Coach. Postgrad specialty in women's health and hormones).
I can vividly remember the day in 5th grade when they separated us from the boys, sat us down on mini blue chairs that now would barely support one of my butt cheeks and showed us the video that taught us EVERYTHING we need to know about being a woman. Pause for hour-long eye roll.
You know what that video failed to mention (besides anything USEFUL)? It failed to tell us a week out of every month you’ll have the honor of going through cramps that feel like an alien is putting down roots in your uterus, heavy bleeding that makes you wonder if this will actually be the period that kills you, and (my personal favorite) the emotional breakdowns that cause you to question all your life decisions up until that point, making you do something so drastic that you spend the OTHER 2 weeks of the month doing damage control for. And around and around we go. Not to mention the bloating, water retention, breakouts, nausea, cravings and (for the EXTRA lucky ones) vomiting.
Many of us look at these fun activities and just say, “Yeah, being a girl can be a real pain sometimes” as if this is our duty or responsibility. Mostly because we were told this was ‘just a part of being a woman’.
Funny thing is, being in excruciating pain around your period is actually NOT NORMAL.
Normal? Absolutely not.
It is NOT normal to have PMS and menses symptoms that are so painful and invasive they intrude on your everyday life. Experience some cramping? Sure, your uterus IS pushing lining out of your body after all. Some light fatigue and maybe some cravings? Yup, totally normal.
Cramps that leave you bedridden and mood swings so bad you feel like you become a different person? NOT NORMAL
You’re probably finding that really hard to believe, considering most women don’t know or haven’t experienced anything different. But that’s exactly why having this conversation is so necessary. Extreme PMS that interferes with your daily life HAS a root cause (and no, it’s not ‘being a woman’)
THE ROOT CAUSE OF PMS: ESTROGEN DOMINANCE
Long story short, PMS is caused by a HORMONE IMBALANCE. Though there are many different combinations of imbalances that can lead to a whole host of problems, there is a specific imbalance that correlates most to PMS symptoms. This imbalance is something referred to as ESTROGEN DOMINANCE. This essentially means there is too much estrogen floating around in your body, causing negative side effects like cramping, bloating, nausea, heavy bleeding, blood clots, weepiness, and anxiety/depression.
When Estrogen is too high, it’s either 1) absolutely high or 2) high IN RELATION to progesterone. This is more common.
*You see, hormones are tricky. You can never consider one without the other. Absolute numbers rarely tell you anything, because it is the RATIOS of one in relation to the other that really matter. So, essentially, you can have normal estrogen numbers but if your progesterone is dipping too low, you automatically enter into an estrogen dominant state. See what I mean when I say hormones are so temperamental?
There are many things that attribute to Estrogen Dominance, and therefore PMS:
1. INSUFFICIENT LIVER FUNCTION
The liver is responsible for detoxing hormones out of your body. If the liver is unable to detox estrogen out swiftly, it gets absorbed back into your bloodstream and contributes to estrogen dominance. Overwhelming the liver with high fructose foods, alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods don’t allow it the breathing room to focus on properly detoxing your hormones, which is why drinking the week leading up to your period can exacerbate PMS symptoms.
2. STRESS IS TOO HIGH
Stress is the NUMBER ONE cause of low progesterone. When you are stressed your body STEALS the materials it uses to make progesterone to instead make Cortisol. This can happen from not sleeping enough, over exercising and undereating, emotional stress, or anxiety/depression. Low progesterone + normal/excess estrogen = Estrogen Dominance.
3. NOT HAVING REGULAR BOWEL MOVEMENTS
The liver and gut are BFFs. Like, sleepovers-everyday-make-up-secret-language-BFFs. The liver sorts through and gets the estrogen ready for removal, and your GUT is responsible for taking out the trash. If you’re not pooping (like MINIMUM once a day) then you are not taking out the trash enough. Estrogen will get reabsorbed back into your body and, well, you know what happens then: Estrogen Dominance.
4. CARRYING TOO MUCH EXCESS BODY FAT FOR YOUR BODY
FUN FACT: Fat cells produce Estrogen. Or, more specifically, fat cells perform aromatization–which is where they convert testosterone INTO estrogen. The more fat cells you have, the more estrogen you produce. This is one of the reasons why when women engage in restrictive dieting and lose too much fat too quickly, their hormones can get all messed up. You NEED body fat to have healthy levels of estrogen. If you have too much for YOUR body, though, you can have too many fat cells producing too much estrogen. This can contribute to Estrogen Dominance. (*note, there is no specific weight where aromatization won’t take place. Everyone’s healthy stable weight is different. Please don’t take this as a reason to go lose all your body fat. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, eat nourishing whole foods, DO NOT under eat, move your body, and allow your weight to settle into its stable natural place. If you do that, I promise this factor won’t need to be on your radar.)
5. CONSUMING PHYTO- AND XENO-ESTROGENS
Phytoestrogens are foods that ACT like estrogen in the body. I normally advise being cautious with these for women with estrogen dominance since they can react to different forms of estrogen in the body in various ways. Foods like soy, legumes, and flaxseeds are not bad but I highly recommend caution if you are actively trying to heal Estrogen Dominance.
Xenoestrogens are estrogenic compounds that are found in, like, EVERYTHING these days. Fertilizer, BPA, cleaning products, skin care, make up, etc. This is the big reason why safe/non-toxic skincare has become such a hot topic. Every day it seems like there is more science coming out about the harmful effects a lot of our personal care products are having on our endocrine system. NOT TO MENTION, toxins in our products have to be detoxed by the liver, which we need to unburden as much as possible so it can focus on ridding our body of excess estrogen!
Switch to non-toxic skin care, makeup, and household products. Use the EWG skin deep database to see the safety ratings of thousands of products!
6. TAKING OR HAVE TAKEN THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL
You had to know this was coming right? What is the NUMBER 1 way to piss off your hormonal balance? Throw some synthetic hormones up in there and let them go crazy. If you’ve been on the pill or are on it, go here to read my in-depth post specifically about how to heal from the pill.
HOW TO GET RID OF PMS FOR GOOD
DETOX EXCESS ESTROGEN
You will do this by supporting your Liver and your Gut. A key recommendation for this is to eat a minimum of 30 grams of fiber from a MIX of soluble sources like root veggies and insoluble sources like leafy greens. Make sure you are pooping AT LEAST once a day. A good, hormone releasing, hey-look-at-you-go poop. Okay? This is important. It is crucial to be supporting your detoxification pathways to facilitate estrogen excretion. Here are my go-to detox supporting tips:
·drink warm water with lemon upon waking on an empty stomach
·sweat and move regularly
·consume potent liver supporting foods like dandelion root, broccoli sprouts, beets, grass-fed liver and bitter herbs
·take magnesium citrate if you struggle with bowel movements
·consume gut enriching foods like probiotics and bone broth
EAT AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
When inflammation is high, it increases the aromatase enzyme, which, as I just mentioned, takes testosterone and converts it to estrogen. This makes estrogen dominance even worse and increases estrogen metabolites, which makes your PMS run wild. When you’re converting and producing more estrogen, with low testosterone, you experience symptoms like weepiness, mood swings, fatigue, inability to build muscle, and (most noticeably) your sex drive will disappear. In order to combat this, we need to focus on increasing our consumption of ANTI inflammatory foods while decreasing our consumption of inflammatory foods:
1. INCREASE consumption of these :
·omega 3 rich fish: salmon, sardines, wild herring
·fiber-rich and nutrient dense dark leafy greens
·turmeric & ginger
·COMPLETE proteins for your neurotransmitter health (aka, making sure you don’t feel like you’re going crazy during that time of the month) from pasture raised organic animal sources
·nourishing fats like avocados, grassfed butter, MCT oil, and olive oil
·starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, winter squash, cassava root, and taro
·bone broth and probiotic foods
2. DECREASE consumption of these PMS irritating foods *PARTICULARLY around menses:
·caffeine (at least while you experience symptoms)
·inflammatory fats: canola oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, etc
·conventional meat and dairy: they are loaded with antibiotics which screw with your natural hormone levels–> choose grass-fed meat and grass-fed raw dairy
·over the counter pain meds like Tylenol or Advil. They mess with your bodies natural ability to regulate inflammation, which will increase it in the long run. Plus, popping them multiple times per day on your period every month can wreak havoc on the lining of your stomach. Try some of my pain-relieving tips at the end of the article!
·any food that YOU have a sensitivity to. Food sensitivities are one of the top unknown causes of chronic inflammation
Do you remember what I said happens when you are chronically stressed? THAT’S RIGHT! Your body steals materials it would use to make progesterone to make cortisol (I knew you’d remember. You guys are the best). This is something that is referred to as the ‘Pregnenolone Steal’. And it jacks your progesterone big time, therefore causing you to be in an estrogen dominant state by default. Estrogen Dominant= horrible PMS. When your progesterone is down and you’re producing extra cortisol, you’ll likely experience breast tenderness, intense sadness, anxiety, disturbed sleep, and excess weight in the midsection. Here are some of my favorite ways to manage emotional stress:
·cut out toxic people
·make boundaries. ALL DAY EVERY DAY MAKE BOUNDARIES
·learn to say no
·pray, journal, meditate
·stop finding your worth in the way you look–easier said than done, but a large source of stress for most women is physical insecurity and the day in-day out negative self-talk has physical consequences on your cortisol output
·prioritize sleep over any task, workout, plans, anything. Sleep is the foundation from which you function and can be your Badass self
·Practice Gratitude: every day, write down three things you’re most grateful for. Gratitude is the source of contentment
MAKE BARBELL YOUR BAE
Exercise, in general, is going to GREATLY improve your detoxification process, help with hormone balance, facilitate blood flow to alleviate PMS cramping and increase serotonin & dopamine production to keep your mental health stable. Resistance training- heavy weight training, in particular- is going to do WONDERS for your hormone health. Here’s why: UNLIKE chronic cardio that raises your cortisol level and can actually slow your metabolism, weight training sensitizes your body to a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is what your pancreas secretes when you eat any kind of sugar. Totally normal and necessary, but for most women that have lived on high amounts of processed foods and refined sugar, they have become insulin resistant. Basically, your body has become inefficient at processing sugar, and it is a precursor to diabetes. It also is HIGHLY correlative for women who have estrogen dominance and intense PMS symptoms to have some sort of insulin resistance (NOT ALL, but many).
The solution? Increase your insulin sensitivity. How? Well, besides the obvious of focusing on more whole foods, you can move your body in ways that feel good. Though I won’t FORCE you to love resistance training, I urge you to give it a shot because it is THAT beneficial for estrogen dominance.
Not only will you increase your insulin sensitivity, you will stimulate your Lymphatic system, improve detoxification, build muscle, speed up your metabolism, and balance your estrogen dominance with healthy testosterone levels which will restore your energy and (best for last) sex drive……
I should’ve led with that last one. Huh?
*note: This is a general recommendation for ALL month long. Listen to your body when you are PMSing and on your menses: if you are tired, sleep. If you want to move, go workout. You are the boss here.
As mentioned, it is very easy to enter into an estrogen dominant state if you’re progesterone dips too low. I mentioned above that this can happen for a number of reasons, mostly centering around things that put too much stress on your mind, body and heart. Learn how to manage those above, and then focus on a few key nutrients that are required for progesterone production.
·Magnesium: which regulates the pituitary gland (which then regulates hormones).
·Vitamin C: found in bell peppers, dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, and broccoli
·Vitamin B6: found in poultry, grass-fed beef, pistachios, and tuna.
·Zinc: found in Oysters, red meat, and some in pumpkin seeds.
·L-arginine: found highest in turkey, chicken, and pumpkin seeds
·Vitamin E: found highest in Almonds and Olive Oil. I recommend supplementing during your luteal phase (2nd half of cycle)
·Vitamin D: this is actually really important for ALL hormones, and considering most citizens work inside and don’t get their 20 minutes of direct sunlight a day, supplementing can be HUGE. I take a liposomal spray every morning with breakfast
MANAGE THE PAIN
I know what you’re probably thinking ‘Jess, I’m in pain NOW. Isn’t there anything I can do?’. GIRL I GOT YOU. I am not going to leave you hanging. While you implement all these long-term strategies, I have a few tried and true PMS pain relief techniques that never fail me or my cramping uterus:
·supplement with Magnesium Glycinate: Around 400mg and then leading up the week before your period until the first couple days of bleeding, boost it up to around 500-700 mg.
·Peppermint and Lavender Essential oil: AMAZING for headaches, nausea, and cramps. I rub peppermint oil in a circular motion on my temples if I ever get nauseous or have a headache.
·Magnesium Oil: it absorbs transdermally for better local absorption. I actually mix it with peppermint and lavender to get a dual pain relieving, calming rub on my tummy for menstrual cramps, stomach aches, and even sore muscles! Find it at any local health food store
·Heating pads: they’re a girl-with-cramps-so-bad-she-thinks-this-is-the-end’s best friend
·Exercise: on the days you know you usually get cramps, go and sweat. The endorphins help with the pain and the blood flow helps relieve cramps
Alright, ladies, that’s the basics of everything you need to know about PMS! Remember that extreme hormonal symptoms are NOT something you have to live with, but are your body’s way of communicating that something is off. Do some digging, and if you still can’t find relief from my suggestions above after a few cycles, get your hormone levels tested to pinpoint exactly what’s happening.