For many women, there are tell-tale signs that their period is on the way. From sudden mood swings to unexplained fatigue, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a signal that your period is fast approaching. These symptoms tend to develop in the days leading up to the period and disappear within the few days of the onset.
Of the uncomfortable symptoms that come with PMS, PMS cramps are probably the most painful to manage.These cramps can range in intensity: from mild aches that come and go to throbbing and intense pain that keeps you from going about your normal day.
So where do these cramps come from? When you have your period, your uterus contracts to expel the lining that has formed over the month. To encourage the shedding of the lining, a hormone-like substance known as prostaglandin triggers the contraction of the uterine muscles, which can result in painful or uncomfortable cramps (1).
While most cases of menstrual cramps do not cause medical complications, some can be disruptive enough to interfere with everyday life. You might find yourself forced to opt out of physically demanding activities or taking a leave of absence from work while you manage the pain. But know this, there are practical ways to deal with and minimise the impact of PMS cramps.
While it might seem counterintuitive to get moving when you’re struggling with menstrual cramps, gentle exercise can be an effective non-drug way to reduce pain, with research showing that women who exercise regularly tend to have less menstrual pain (1). This is because regular physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, which are known as the body’s natural painkillers.
While you might be tempted to ride out the pain by resting, you can try simple stretches or start with low-impact activities like yoga and walking. It’s super important that you don’t push your body too hard during your period or push through the pain but rather add soem gentle movement into your day, if you feel you can.
Like exercise, good nutrition not only promotes your overall well-being but can also reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. During your period, you may want to switch from processed grains to whole-grain varieties (2). Bran and fibre slow the breakdown of starch into glucose hence regulating blood sugar. Additionally fibre lowers cholesterol and prevents the formation of clots.
Make room for plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet. You want to eat lots of leafy greens, like turnip greens, kale and chard which are rich in vitamins that can reduce fatigue (2). Indole-3-carbinol, a chemical in cruciferous vegetables, helps balance estrogen and is an important part of the hormone detoxification process.
During your period, you may find yourself craving snacks that give a quick burst of energy and make you feel full. But try to avoid these comfort foods. Instead of snacking on sugary and convenient pastries, have a stockpile of healthy alternatives like low sugar dark chocolate or unsalted nuts. Nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which you can add to your salads (2).
Aim to also eat more complex carbs or foods with three or more natural sugars and rich in fibre (2). Complex carbs with their long chains of three or more natural sugar molecules and fibres, take longer to be released in the bloodstream resulting in only a moderate rise in insulin levels. Foods like sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and unprocessed oats are great for pms cramps. These can stabilise your mood and keep your cravings under control.
Refrain from foods high in salt and sugar, as this can cause bloating. Salt can increase blood pressure while sugar tends to increase inflammation in the body which can heighten pms symptoms. Dial down on the alcohol, smoking and caffeine, not just during pms, but through the year as intake of these drinks can not only impair your sleep but affect the levels of your blood sugar. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, at least 64 ounces daily to reduce bloating and support digestion (2).
Stress plays a vital role in whether you have a healthy menstrual cycle. The physical symptoms of PMS, along with the emotional changes, can cause your stress levels to increase dramatically. You may find yourself more irritable than usual or find it harder to concentrate before or during your period.
In turn, stress may increase the severity of PMS symptoms. The stress hormone cortisol can affect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates your period. In some cases, prolonged stress may result in a late period or stop it entirely.
This is a good time to impliment some healthy stress management techniques into your everyday life. It may be impossible to eliminate all stressors from your life, but you can form a healthier response in a way that does not put your health at risk. Look to techniques like meditation or other relaxation techniques, like journaling, breathwork, or yoga. It also helps to form healthy lifestyle habits that can serve as a good foundation for the body to withstand the effects of stress.
Studies suggest that vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and magnesium supplements might help with PMS cramps.
Fish oil, or oil from fish tissues, contains omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat that helps alleviate cramps, headaches, nausea, fatigue and other pms symptoms. Surprisingly, it may also help with gynaecological complaints, like menstrual pain. Fish oil inhibits the synthesis of prostaglandin, the chemical that causes uterine contractions (3). Since our body cannot produce omega 3 on its own, we can obtain it only through food or supplements.
Like fish oil, vitamin B6, popularly found in chickpeas, potatoes, tuna, salmon, beef and liver, is also being studied as a potential treatment for PMS symptoms (7). This key vitamin increases serotonin and dopamine levels that may provide relief from common menstrual symptoms, like cramps and bloating.
Researchers believe that vitamin B6 deficiency may cause dopamine levels in the kidneys to drop, increasing sodium excretion (4). This series of processes cause water to accumulate in the body and induces swelling that may cause abdominal and chest discomfort (4). In addition to muscle cramps, PMS is sometimes marked by breast tenderness, swelling in the legs, and abdominal bloating.
Lastly, magnesium is another supplement used as a supportive treatment for PMS cramps and other related menstrual symptoms. Magnesium can relieve muscle cramps and support muscle relaxation. It’s one of the most plentiful minerals in the body that plays a crucial role in more than 300 biochemical processes.
If you’re not getting enough magnesium from your diet, the neuromuscular system may take a hit. Hypomagnesaemia, the condition of magnesium deficiency, has adverse effects on the neuromuscular system that may include muscle cramps, muscle weakness, tremors, and irregular movements (5).
If you’re looking for supplements to help support you through symptoms of PMS, look no further than Vitable. We offer a monthly vitamin subscription box where you can mix and match our multivitamin packs depending on your needs and health goals. We even take care of vitamin delivery in Australia for your ultimate convenience. Browse through our offerings today and kickstart your wellness journey with your personal vitamins!
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.