The week before your period, it’s not unusual for many women to experience an unwanted transformation from Doctor Jekyll to Ms. Hyde. As our hormones shift, some of us will fall apart into sensitive sleep-deprived puddles. Other simmering souls will find themselves raging without warning. Then there are the mopey bloated hermits who will choose to wrap themselves in a blanket and binge-watch Netflix until Aunt Flow takes a hike. Whoever your PMS alter-ego might be, it’s hard not to feel out of control. But it’s just a part of womanhood we all have to accept, right? Wrong.
Sure, hormones will always shuffle, but we don’t have to be held hostage by their fluctuations. You have the power to overcome many common PMS symptoms and maybe even prevent them from happening!
First, let’s take a moment to revisit Sex Ed 101 to understand the different phases of your menstrual cycle. Once you get to know your natural rhythm, you can begin to accommodate a few healthy habits that will help each phase go more smoothly. In a standard 28 day menstrual cycle, our bodies go through four different phases:
This begins the first full day of your period when your womb lining is released. During this phase take time to slow down, keep workouts short and be kind to yourself, your body needs it and deserves it!
Days 8 to 14. As the title suggests, estrogen levels rise during his stage to continue the cascade of hormonal triggers and production of follicles. This is the time of the month ovulation usually happens, and is accompanied by good moods, energy and feeling powerful.
Days 15 to 21. Estrogen stops surging now and is naturally flushed out of the body as your hormone levels begin to shift while Progesterone rises. This is a good time to start supporting your body as it detoxes by drinking plenty of water and eating your veggies.
Days 22 to 28. During this final stage just before the next period (Progesterone is at its highest) some women experience cravings, cramps and irritability. You are still detoxing, and adding a little cardio into your exercise routine here can help your body to cope better.
Seed cycling is just as it sounds. It is a way to optimize your health by ingesting seeds that contain the right hormone-helping oils for each part of your cycle. Because the length of the moon’s lunar cycle perfectly aligns with an ideal monthly menstrual cycle, women with irregular periods, postpartum moms and postmenopausal women can also benefit from the hormone supporting powers of seed cycling to help bring balance and regularity. Simply initiate the practice on the first day of the new moon (day 1), then switch to the second phase on the first day of the full moon (day 15), and repeat.
The first half of your cycle, the Release and Rise phases (Days 1 – 14), fall into what is known as the Follicular phase. This is when your estrogen increases and an egg is prepared for ovulation. During this time, you will want to help boost your estrogen levels by incorporating raw pumpkin and flaxseed into your diet. Rich in fatty acids, 1 – 2 tbsp of freshly ground flaxseed or pumpkin seeds a day can help improve your estrogen to progesterone ratio. Other benefits of these seeds include a healthier metabolism, reduced breast tenderness, and a decreased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
The second half of your cycle, the Plateau and Pause phases (Days 15 - 28), are grouped together into the Luteal phase. During this time of your cycle, progesterone levels rise and peak. Adding 1 – 2 tbsp of freshly ground raw sunflower and sesame seeds to your diet each day can support your progesterone levels and help to ease PMS symptoms that may occur during this time. Full of lignans and essential fatty acids, these seeds are beneficial for helping hormones even beyond our reproductive years.
During the last week of your cycle, assuming no egg was implanted, estrogen dwindles and is flushed out of your body while progesterone goes up. It is possible to explore short-term strategies on top of the long game of seed cycling during this phase to help reduce some of the symptoms that accompany the dramatic hormonal shift. By supporting your hormones with the following natural strategies, you should be able to have a happy – or at least happier - period.
Do you ever feel irritable or anxious after drinking too much coffee? That’s because caffeine raises cortisol levels, which can worsen those types of symptoms. Too much caffeine can also cause sleep issues, inflammation and breast tenderness, as well as lower your progesterone levels. Progesterone is an important feel-good hormone, responsible for your overall sense of well-being. It boosts the metabolism and supports thyroid function. Because you want to raise progesterone the week before your period, not lower it, consider switching your caffeine to green tea.
Instead of increasing irritability, green tea is thought to help reduce anxiety. High in antioxidants, it also reduces inflammation, helps to balance estrogen levels, and reduces bloating and water retention.
Alcohol has a way of quickly increasing estrogen levels which can trigger a storm of PMS symptoms like anxiety, mood problems, headaches, and disrupted sleep patterns. Not to mention, too much estrogen also reduces your ability to burn fat by more than half -- which isn’t something anyone wants!
The week before your period, swap your cocktail for a mocktail. Kombucha is a refreshing alternative that you can make at home or find in an increasing number of restaurants. Made from tea fermented to produce healthy probiotics, kombucha offers many similar health benefits to green tea and is also great for promoting gut bacteria to assist in the estrogen detox.
It may seem like a no-brainer that foods high in salt will increase water retention and bloating, prime PMS symptoms you would likely happily live without. But did you know that sodium can affect breast tenderness as well? Reducing your sodium intake will help to ease these types of annoying symptoms so you can still manage to feel comfortable in your favourite clothes.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps keep your progesterone levels balanced by regulating the master-hormone gland, the pituitary. And magnesium also helps your muscles to relax, easing crampy symptoms. The week before your period, add more high-Magnesium foods to your diet such as spinach, beans, nuts and seeds.
This is also the best time of the month to indulge in some delicious dark chocolate! Not only is dark chocolate rich in Magnesium and Iron, it is also packed with powerful antioxidants. Aim for the highest cacao content available, starting with at least 70%. Explore higher levels of cacao and discover how your taste gradually adjusts. Challenge yourself to see if you can get your buds to brave a pure 100%. Even if you find it to be beyond bitter, your body will reap the rewards of your valiant effort.
It’s easy to get wound tight by life’s demands. The thing is, most of us don’t take the time we need to really effectively wind down. So many of us regularly operate in a hyper mental state, fueled by an unhealthy balance of stress and restless energy. We rush through the day, our minds constantly jumping onto the next thing. When we experience continuous levels of stress, we overwork our adrenal glands’ fight-or-flight response causing our cortisol to elevate and our progesterone to drop. When progesterone is low, it can lead to a variety of problems including PMS, bloating, breast tenderness, sleep issues, and anxiety.
To keep your cortisol and progesterone levels in healthy balance, give yourself more time to rest by going to sleep a little earlier or reducing the intensity of your workout routine. Limiting screen time and cutting down on social media are also good ways to clear your mind from potentially toxic sources. And of course, meditation is one of the most effective ways to slow down and get yourself grounded.
While the above suggestions are helpful for women with healthy hormone levels, there are a number of other factors that can impact hormonal imbalances. Many cosmetics and hygiene products contain a barrage of chemicals that can toxify our systems. Gut health is also connected to a wide number of problems in our body beyond digestive concerns, including hormone imbalance, mental health issues and more.
If you find yourself suffering from PMS-type symptoms all the time, bigger hormonal imbalances might at play. Our hormones naturally shift throughout our lives, so it is a smart decision to have your levels checked by a healthcare professional from time to time. The sooner you can identify any potential issues, the sooner you can get your body back to normal.
Don’t let your hormones ruin your life or even just the week before your period. You have more control than you think!