You know the feeling — a week or so before your period begins, you start getting headaches or lower back pain. Then, the bloated sets in. And finally, the cramps. Oh, the cramps.
These unfortunate symptoms are the reality of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. But are they really real? Or are they all in our heads?
According to the Mayo Clinic, 3-out-of-4 women on their period will experience some form of PMS, though the symptoms tend to peak in a woman’s late 20s and early 30s. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, some women may also experience mood changes, food cravings, breast tenderness and constipation or diarrhea, among other issues.
While the medical community contends that these are, indeed, true side effects of PMS — mostly due to hormonal fluctuations and fluctuations of serotonin, a brain chemical that contributes to our mood — symptoms may be compounded by other conditions. For example, those already suffering from depression can experience these feelings even more during PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe form of PMS known as PMDD. Stress and poor eating habits can further aggravate these symptoms, especially eating salty foods or drinking alcohol or caffeine.
So while these symptoms may exist, there are some ways women can naturally feel better during this time of the month. Here are five ways to help you overcome PMS:
You may seem more ravenous just before your period (and, according to WebMD, studies show women can experience low blood sugar levels even just after eating during this time, making them feel hungrier sooner), but eating more complex carbohydrates, less processed sugar and more essential fatty acids can help. Also be sure to avoid salty foods to decrease bloating.
Too much caffeine can add to your feelings of stress and irritability, as well as breast tenderness. Cut back on coffee and colas during this time and drink plenty of water instead.
Besides feeling less bloated, exercising will raise your serotonin levels, making you feel happier, and help fight off cramps. WebMD says that exercise releases beta-endorphins, which produces pain relief to burn off the chemicals released during menstruation that cause muscle contractions. Doctors recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times a week.
Calcium and vitamin D, in particular, seem to reduce the symptoms of PMS, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Some women can experience restlessness before their periods, when levels of estrogen are higher. According to WebMD, regular exercise and avoiding alcohol will help you get more sleep.