Kavya Gowda, 25, a homemaker, had to deal with PMS since the age of 15. “Growing up I hardly had any clue what PMS was, I always felt like something was wrong with me every time I had a sudden outburst of anger or crying spells.”
All the hormonal acne she had to deal with made her life nothing but miserable. She assumed she had breast cancer due to extreme soreness in the breasts and pain just before her periods. Upon further investigations with her gynaecologist, she realised that it was one of the symptoms of PMS.
What is PMS?
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a cyclical disorder of the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, in which mental and physical symptoms have a significantly negative impact on a woman’s daily functioning and quality of life. Mostly all women need emotional support during this phase.
Some women encounter this syndrome from a week to a few days before their period as a collection of symptoms defined by physical, behavioural, and psychological changes.
Symptoms like bloating, acne, mood swings are common in women. And while there are some that we are aware of, some just go unnoticed. Experts believe that changing levels of oestrogen and progesterone are responsible for PMS, however, there aren’t much conclusive evidence to support this.
Before menstruation begins, oestrogen and progesterone levels drop. This leads to a sharp drop in serotonin levels. This neurotransmitter regulates many bodily functions, including mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting, and sexual desires. Serotonin levels that are too low or too high can cause physical and mental health issues.
Researchers have found a close link between dietary habits and PMS. Mona. S. Hashim, explains in his research paper, “PMS, like many other syndromes, is the result of an interaction between various genetic (race/ethnicity) and lifestyle factors, with dietary factors being among the most influential.”
Following a healthy diet throughout the menstrual phase regulates hormonal balance. Almost 90 per cent of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. In other words, serotonin mainly depends on what you eat!
Sonia Velarsan, M.Sc., Registered Dietician, Chennai, tells Happiest Health, “Following a healthy lifestyle is enough to manage your PMS. Balance the macro and micronutrients on your plate each day.” She adds that, keeping a track of your menstrual cycle guides you with your emotions and food cravings. It helps in planning ahead for some extra physical and emotional care during these days.
When you know it is the hormones that are making you crave junk and not a person or the situation, it is easier for you to let the cravings pass. The same applies to the overwhelming mood swings as well.
During PMS, the serotonin level drops leading to cravings for salty and sugary foods (simple carbohydrates) as these are used by the body in the production of serotonin. However, avoid munching on junk and start eating healthy snacks instead.
“Prepare some healthy snacks like dry fruits laddoo, sesame seeds, peanut chikki, sweet potato tikki, steamed delicacies like sundal (steamed and seasoned chana dal), dhokla etc to munch on,” says Velarsan.
Bhavya Ramesh, 20, student, says – “After consulting gynaecologists from the age of 14, I felt as though I could never differentiate between mood swings, cravings, cramps and my mood on the other days. My relationship with friends and family deteriorated. I couldn’t fully concentrate on my studies as well.”
She adds that she decided to focus more on those issues during the lockdown because she was on the verge of slipping into depression. She began tracking her eating habits with the assistance of her therapist and a nutritionist. They developed a simple diet plan that she could easily follow at home, using ingredients she already had in hand. The first week was difficult because her taste buds had become used to the junk she had been eating almost every day.
“I gradually began to enjoy my new diet plan because it made me feel more energetic and healthier from within. Two months later, I was calmer and pain-free throughout my menstrual cycle. I still enjoy my cheat meals, but there is always a healthy balance,” she concludes.
Aashna Chadda, nutritionist, Delhi, tells Happiest Health – “You don’t really crave for a particular food when you aren’t hungry. Thinking that you need to eat a specific food or that your body is craving for a particular food is false fed information through social media. Yes, your body might seem like it is craving chocolate but, it’s craving some magnesium-rich food. It is important to understand the science behind your cravings to deal with PMS effectively.”
Having timely meals regularly will keep you away from all the unhealthy cravings. Never skip your meals. Deal with your trigger foods. Do not keep the food you crave anywhere around you;, it’s is much easier to give in to the temptation when the food you are craving is easily within your reach, adds Chadda.
Some foods to incorporate into your everyday diet that will help you with PMS:
- Calcium-rich food: Calcium is used in the synthesis of tryptophan (an amino acid), which in turn produces serotonin. Adequate levels of calcium in your diet will keep your mood swings away! Drink high-quality milk (that which is acquired from a healthy cow) and have poultry products and green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin-D: Studies have found that vitamin D has improved menstrual problems, dysmenorrhea and premenstrual syndrome. Sunbathe during the early hour of sunrise or during the sunset. Have fishes like sardines and salmon.
- Nuts and seeds: Munch on nuts and seeds. Combine a variety of nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, groundnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and make a chikki. Mix them with jaggery and dry coconut and snack on them whenever your body craves something sweet.
- Iron-rich foods: Lean meat, spinach, beetroot, watermelon, apples, pomegranate, strawberries are all good sources of iron. Studies have proved that more iron is linked to reduced PMS.
- Magnesium-rich foods: Leafy greens, fatty fish, bananas, dark chocolate, tofu, legumes, nuts, avocados are rich in magnesium and help women to manage symptoms of PMS. Studies show a decrease in the severity of PMS symptoms while consuming magnesium.
When women live an overall healthy lifestyle, the term PMS is almost non-existent. Coping is an individual effort to minimise the damage caused by stress in response to something, as well as an individual strategy to meet stressor demands. Coping with PMS refers to the thoughts and actions taken prior to menstruation to reduce the discomfort caused by the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur during the menstrual cycle.
There are various coping methods and types caused by menstruation depending on the person, and premenstrual syndrome symptoms are also reported to appear differently. Aggressive and appropriate PMS treatment can alleviate menstrual symptoms while worsening PMS treatment. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and changing your eating habits may appear difficult. However, simply deciding to make changes is a victory. Baby steps toward better health are all that is required.