Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PMS - Problems and Solutions

Why do women suffer from PMS?

Some women have problems a few days to two weeks before their periods. The problems differ between women, from mild bloating to mood swings to severe pain. Many readers have sent me questions regarding these problems. These symptoms are known as PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome).

This blog is not only dedicated to these women, but to those around them. This time can be difficult for a woman, her family and friends, as she goes through many changes, causing disruptions at work and in the home.

If you know what is going on with your body, you can better understand the changes.

The Problems

Moodiness includes depression, anxiety and irritability. There are many causes including:
➢ Low endorphins (a brain substance that puts you in a happy mood): Premenstrually, you may have a decrease in endorphins.
➢ Low blood sugar: If your blood sugar drops, it can cause mood swings and irritability. Foods high in sugar can give us an immediate energy boost because they are absorbed into our system quickly. During this time, the pancreas (an organ in your body) reacts by releasing insulin (a hormone) to stabilize your blood glucose. If the sugars are too concentrated, the pancreas overreacts, releasing too much insulin. The result is a reduction in blood sugar and low energy and mood.
➢ Overeating: Eating too much can affect your mood as it makes you feel drowsy. When you overeat, your blood rushes to the digestive areas and away from the brain, leading to fatigue.
➢ Alcohol: A drink makes you feel good initially then turns into a depressant.
➢ Caffeine: For some people, coffee, tea and colas can lead to anxiety, irritability and breast tenderness.

Cravings and Swings in Appetite

These cravings and swings in appetite are real. Here are some of the theories:
➢ Fluctuations in hormone levels affect appetite.
➢ Low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a substance transmitted by nerves - a neurotransmitter, that helps regulate your moods. Studies have shown increases in the frequency and severity of cravings for pleasant-tasting, sweet, high-fat foods (certainly not lettuce) premenstrually, possibly due to low levels of serotonin. When these levels are low, carbohydrate-type foods will increase them.
➢ Individual mineral deficiencies: With poor eating habits, certain nutrients may be low and contribute to these symptoms.

All are good enough reasons to run to high carbohydrate foods, which are often high in fat as well. Between these two macronutrients, you will see a temporary bloating and weight gain.

Bloating and Weight Gain

➢ Carbohydrates: If you eat excess starch, you will feel bloated and gain weight. The distention is caused by the increased intake of starch or sugar in your diet. These nutrients are digested and broken down to form glucose which is stored as glycogen in the muscles. For every molecule of stored glycogen, you need three molecules of stored water. As water is being stored all over your body, and not being excreted, you will notice you urinate less. The immediate effect of the stored water can be felt - your fingers feel puffy and your rings are tight. Once your periods start and your craving for and intake of sweet foods diminish, the stored glucose will be used for energy. The stored water will be released, urination will increase, your bloated feeling will go away and you will feel slimmer. If this is your pattern, the best you can do is to accept a slight bloating for up to two weeks before your periods, wear looser clothes, and get back to your fitted clothes when you feel slim again.

Changing hormones may cause an extra pimple or a flare up of acne a few days before your period starts.

An increase in prostraglandins, a hormone-like substance, causes the uterus to contract. This leads to menstrual cramps and pain. Hormonal changes can also cause pain. There can be more serious reasons for pain, such as endometriosis, which your physician can diagnose.

I am sure many of you can relate.

The Solutions

You can make a few changes, to lower your symptoms. As usual, it’s lifestyle modifications, particularly nutrition and exercise, that can help you lessen or prevent the severity of symptoms.

The Solutions:
➢ Increased Activity: The best way to increase your endorphins (your happy mood brain substances) is with increased activity. Many women have noticed that when they are in a fixed workout routine, their mood swings and bloated feelings are decreased considerably. Even pain and cramps are reduced. Keep up your activity, even if you’re feeling blah.
➢ Diet: The basics of a good diet can help a great deal. Follow these tips:
o Lower refined starches and sugars: To keep blood sugar stable, be sure to limit your intake of white starches and sweets.
o Increase fiber: Whole grains help stabilize blood sugar and also contain B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals which can help relieve symptoms.
o Add crunchy foods: Some studies show crunchy foods immediately reduce anxiety.
o Snack healthily: Try two tablespoons of nuts as a crunchy snack. They contain the minerals, magnesium and calcium.
o To prevent a binge, you may have to give in slightly: If you are going through a desperate craving for starches, increase your mood-regulating serotonin levels with one starchy food such as half a bagel. That way you can relax and enjoy your treat.
o Satisfy your craving: If you are desperately craving chocolate, eat half a chocolate bar slowly. Chocolate in small amounts can act as a mood elevator. Please note – SMALL AMOUNTS, 100 calories at the most. This will be enough to satisfy your craving.
o Relax with a relax-enhancing starch in the evening. Eat a carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor evening meal such as 1 ½ cups pasta to improve depression, tension, anger, confusion, sadness and fatigue.
o Increase omega 3 fatty acid intake for your low mood: Choose foods with a high omega-3 fatty acid content (salmon, tuna, flax seeds, walnuts). Several studies show that two or more servings of these foods per week help to fight depression. In Japan, the rate of depression is low and the diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids.
o Do not go fat-free: Watch your fat, but don’t lower it too much. Diets lower than 25 percent fat are not good for people who suffer from depression. Again the happy mood serotonin levels will decrease with a diet containing less than 25 percent fat. Low serotonin levels have been associated with depression.
o Reduce caffeine intake: If you are anxious or irritable, or if your breasts are tender.
o Avoid alcohol.
o Increase calcium intake: Focus on your dairy foods every day. Calcium can help to regulate brain chemicals that affect mood and reduce pain.
o Increasing iron intake from foods can help with the fatigue that makes you moody.
o Small, frequent meals help to regulate your blood sugar and stop your highs and lows.
o See a dietitian who may recommend a supplement. Don’t self-prescribe. Studies have shown that large doses of vitamin B6 are not effective and overdosing can cause irreversible nerve damage. A client asked about protein powders. I haven’t seen evidence to show that protein powders lower PMS symptoms.
o For pain, relax in a warm bath
o For back pain or cramps, put a warm water bottle on the painful areas.
o Plan events that elevate your mood
o If you have tried all of the above and nothing has helped, see your physician. A thorough checkup and a prescription for painkillers or oral contraceptives may be necessary.

Hope you and your family cope better in the future.