The Ultimate PMS Survival Guide

PMS Survival Guide

We’ve all been there. The breakouts, mood swings, sugar cravings, crying over nothing...


Wondering what on earth is happening to us.


Sometimes it’s for a few days, sometimes it’s for a whole week.


Then our period hits and it all makes sense.


We were experiencing the dreaded PMS symptoms once again.


Luckily, there are many simple ways to avoid going through this horrific experience each month in the lead up to your period.


Continue reading for my top tips on dealing with PMS.


Use this as your little guide to help get you through the week leading up to your period. 

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS as we all know it, is the term used to describe the symptoms experienced in the luteal phase (second half) of the cycle in the days leading up to the period.


These symptoms will usually ease a few days into the period bleed.

PMS symptoms may start as early as ovulation and carry through until the period bleed.


It is estimated 70-90% of menstruating adult females experience PMS symptoms at some stage of their life.

These symptoms are your body trying to communicate with you that something is not right and it needs to be addressed.


Note: A more severe form of PMS known as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) affects approximately 7% of menstruating women who experience symptoms so debilitating it impacts their ability to go about daily activities.


If you think you are suffering from this, have a chat with your doctor about possible treatment options. 

What causes PMS?

There is no single explanation as to what causes PMS (once again the female body is a rather complex one to understand yet so fascinating).

It is suggested the cause of PMS relates to the abnormal production of or response to neurotransmitters in relation to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

 There Are Various Factors At Play Such As:

  • Hormonal imbalance: An increase in the amount of estrogen can exacerbate many of the symptoms associated with PMS. These two hormones fluctuate during the cycle and PMS likely arises from the imbalances of these two hormones specifically high estrogen and lower amounts of progesterone. When these hormones are not effectively cleared and processed through the liver, PMS symptoms appear.

  • Nutritional deficiency: Because so many nutrients are needed for the production and balance of our hormones, having a deficiency in any of these may lead to a hormonal imbalance causing PMS symptoms to appear.

  • Stress: Stress along with mood disorders including anxiety and depression aren’t to blame for PMS however, they can make the PMS symptoms worse. 

Symptoms of PMS:

  • Sugar cravings - in particular, chocolate

  • Mood swings/irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Breakouts

  • Fatigue

  • Cramps

  • Backaches

  • Bloating/constipation

  • Breast tenderness

  • Dizziness

  • Fluid retention

  • Headaches

  • Salt cravings

  • Sadness 


    The list truly goes on… but what if I told you you didn’t have to deal with these symptoms each month?

    This is something I go over in detail in my Hormone Harmony Academy online course.

    These symptoms are typically considered ‘normal’ when really, they are your body communicating with you saying something is out of balance. 

General solutions for PMS

There are so many ways to support your body to reduce PMS symptoms.

Ultimately, as PMS is your body communicating to you that something is out of balance, the main aim is to correct this hormonal imbalance and have PMS free periods.

For now, keep reading to learn my top tips for reducing PMS.


Note: These tips can be followed throughout the whole cycle not just during PMS as they aim to correct the balance between estrogen and progesterone levels.

Solution #1: Support the detoxification of excess estrogen

A lot of the time, PMS symptoms are caused by an imbalance between your estrogen and progesterone levels specifically, a high amount of estrogen in relation to your progesterone.


High estrogen levels are caused by high exposure to estrogen-mimicking compounds like BPA, as well as excess fat tissue, overconsumption of alcohol, poor liver detoxification, and gut issues (like IBS).

Tips to support estrogen detoxification to reduce PMS symptoms:

Increase cruciferous vegetable intake

These vegetables contain a substance called indole-3- carbinol which helps to support estrogen metabolism which can support the balance between your progesterone and estrogen levels. Cruciferous vegetables to include are: 

  • Broccoli

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Bok choy

  • Cauliflower

  • Cabbage

Ensure you are having adequate water intake

Aim to have approximately 2L of water per day to support detoxification processes.

Increase your fibre intake

By having plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables with the skin on. ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and psyllium husk are also excellent sources of fibre. Remember, fibre is required to bind excess estrogen to be excreted out of your body.


Support optimal gut health

The second part of estrogen metabolism happens in the gut. This requires healthy gut bacteria (the “good” guys in our bowel), as well as regular bowel movements. Having an unhealthy ratio of bacteria in your gut can cause estrogen to be reabsorbed rather than broken down and eliminated. Similarly, if you are suffering from constipation or infrequent bowel movements, there is more time for estrogen to be reabsorbed, contributing to estrogen excess.

Increase chia seed intake

These babies support regular bowel movements that are necessary for clearing estrogen out of our system.


Ensure you are having adequate protein intake

Protein is vital to keep your liver functioning at its best so that it can effectively process estrogen and convert it into less harmful versions. Aim for a palm-sized portion with each main meal.


Solution #2: Increase the production of progesterone

Low progesterone levels are caused by unrelenting stress, over-exercising, or under-eating.


Progesterone rises significantly after ovulation and declines if conception does not occur causing the lining of the uterus to shed and your period to arrive.


Ovulation is how the majority of your progesterone is made so without ovulation, your body is relying solely on progesterone produced by your adrenal glands (which sorry to say it, ladies, if you are stressed, your adrenals will be struggling to do this!).


Many PMS symptoms, especially anxiety, are due to the declining levels of progesterone before your period.

Symptoms Of Low Progesterone Include: 

  • Breakthrough bleeding in the second half of your cycle

  • PMS

  • Heavy periods

  • Difficulty getting pregnant/staying pregnant

  • Breast tenderness and/or pain

  • Irregular cycles

  • Premenstrual headaches and migraines

  • Feeling emotional before your period 

Tips for supporting progesterone production:

Support ovulation

Without ovulation, we cannot make progesterone


Supplement magnesium

This is my number one supplement for period health. It can significantly reduce PMS symptoms.


It also aids in the production of progesterone as well as regulating the stress response to help reduce anxiety experienced during PMS.


Natural sources of magnesium to start including in your diet are dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, silverbeet), cacao (yes, you have my permission to eat dark chocolate for your period!), pumpkin seeds, almonds, and avocados.


Getting adequate daily magnesium intake from diet alone is very difficult so I usually recommend my clients to supplement magnesium for PMS symptoms.


Thinking it’s time to start having magnesium? Ensure you buy magnesium in the form of magnesium bisglycinate as this form is better absorbed than others.


Increase Vitamin C

This is one of the only nutrients shown to help boost progesterone levels in females. So start getting into those high


 vitamin C foods such as:

  • Citrus fruits - lemons, oranges, grapefruit etc.
  • Capsicum
  • Broccoli

Increase Zinc


Zinc is needed to nourish the ovarian follicles and promote healthy ovulation and corpus luteum formation.


Without this, ovulation will not occur meaning no progesterone production.


Zinc-rich foods include pumpkin seeds, oysters, chicken, beans, and legumes.


Support stress reduction


Your body can shut down or delay ovulation until a time that it feels your environment is safe again (i.e an environment without extreme stress).


Remember, no ovulation means no progesterone production so we want to focus on supporting ovulation by reducing stress levels. Continue reading below for some lifestyle tips on managing stress levels.


Socialize


Hanging out with your female friends has been shown to positively support progesterone production. Get a group of girlfriends and spend some time together. 

Solution #3: Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake

I know, coffee gets us through the day. The thought of giving it up is too much for some to deal with.


Trust me, I understand - I love my coffee!


The same goes for alcohol, it can be difficult to even think about having to give this up especially if it’s only that one glass you are having to wind down at the end of the day.


Reducing your intake of the two will significantly help to balance your hormones to reduce PMS symptoms experienced. Caffeine and alcohol have been linked with an increase in PMS symptoms especially anxiety and insomnia.

Coffee Alternatives To Try: 

  • Matcha latte

  • Turmeric latte

  • Green tea

  • Hot cocoa

  • Dandelion tea 

Solution #4: Include healthy fats

Yes okay, you’re probably thinking ‘no way I don’t want to gain weight by having fats’.


Ladies, these types of fats will not make you gain weight.


Healthy fats are essential for healthy hormone production and have been shown to reduce PMS symptoms.


Some PMS symptoms including pain and cramping are due to the increase of prostaglandin production throughout the cycle.


Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that are involved in the contraction of the uterus each month to shed the lining of the uterus when the period bleed occurs.


Prostaglandins are essential in the body and provide protection against inflammation and infection however, a higher level of these substances has been linked with painful menstrual cramps.


Healthy fats will ensure adequate anti-inflammatory actions are provided to help reduce period pain.

Healthy Fats To Opt For Include: 

  • Salmon and other oily fish

  • Avocado

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Homemade nut butters

Solution #5: Avoid Cow’s Dairy

Cow’s dairy contains a protein called A1 casein.


This particular protein causes inflammation in some people because it stimulates your immune system to produce inflammatory compounds.


These inflammatory compounds can lead to an increase in PMS symptoms.


How do you know if you have casein sensitivity?


A common sign is recurrent middle ear, chest or tonsillitis infections during childhood. This is a sign of immune system reactivity.


You likely grew out of these infections but as an adult suffer from hay fever, asthma, eczema or chest infections.

If this is you, try removing cow’s dairy for 3 months and record changes in your level of pain.


The good news is sheep and goat milk products don’t contain high levels of A1 casein, so you can replace your cow’s dairy with almond, coconut, sheep or goat milk cheese, yoghurt and milk.

Specific Symptom Based Solutions

PMS and Period Pain

This is one of the most common symptoms experienced by menstruating females. Refer to my previous blog ‘Why Do I Get Period Pain’ for natural solutions to help reduce period pain experienced.


Backaches/pressure felt in your lower back region is usually related to the cramping happening in your uterus.


The increased release of prostaglandins during your period may also cause inflammation causing backaches.


Try having a hot bath with Epsom salts to help reduce the backache.


 Note: If you are experiencing severe pain, it may be a sign of a more severe condition such as endometriosis. Chat to your doctor if you think you may be suffering from more severe pain. 

PMS and Anxiety

Anxiety is a common symptom experienced by females during PMS and is highly linked with the decline in progesterone levels when your period is arriving.


Progesterone acts as a natural ‘anti-anxiety’ hormone and when your levels of progesterone decline in the lead up to your period, anxious thoughts may begin to creep in in response to this.


Estrogen is also on the decline in the days leading up to your period and as estrogen declines, so does serotonin causing a dip in your mood. 

Tips to reduce anxiety:

  • Follow the tips outlined above for increasing your progesterone levels to help reduce anxiety associated with PMS.

  • Follow the lifestyle tips mentioned below for reducing stress levels to help reduce anxiety experienced during this time.

PMS and Constipation/bloating

Constipation before your period is due to the surge in progesterone levels that happens after ovulation occurs.

It can also be due to the high amounts of prostaglandins circulating causing inflammation meaning your digestive system may struggle to break down food.

Tips to reduce constipation & bloating:

  • Hydrate: drink your water ladies. Hydration is key for digestion and can help to reduce bloating and constipation experienced.

  • Eat smaller more frequent meals to help reduce bloating

  • Have slow-cooked meals: these are easier to digest.

  • Herbal teas: chamomile tea has been shown to calm the digestive system helping to increase the digestion of foods and reduce bloating experienced.

PMS and Breast Tenderness

Sore and painful boobs?


This is a common PMS symptom. This is once again usually due to estrogen dominance and lower levels of progesterone so following the tips I gave above for naturally balancing your estrogen levels will help to reduce breast tenderness.


The number one nutritional deficiency causing cyclical breast pain is iodine deficiency. Iodine is an under-rated nutrient when it comes to your breast health. We mostly think of iodine as being crucial for thyroid function, but it has important roles in keeping our ovaries, uterus, brain, and detoxification systems healthy as well.


One of iodine’s main roles is to make cells less sensitive to estrogen. This is good news for your breasts because iodine helps to lessen the breast swelling and sensitivity associated with increased estrogen.


Read my blog post “Sore Boobs? The Truth Behind Premenstrual Breast Pain” for more information on this. 

PMS and Emotional Disturbances

Suddenly crying over nothing?

Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. All the emotional changes you notice in the lead up to your period are due to the declining levels of estrogen and serotonin.

Tips to improve emotional disturbances:

  • Exercise helps to reduce the stress experienced and it releases endorphins helping to improve your mood by boosting serotonin levels

  • Time in nature helps to stabilise your moods. Aim to have 20 minutes of daily sun exposure to further boost your mood.

  • Increase magnesium-rich foods. These are the ones I mentioned before, the dark leafy greens, cacao, avocado, nuts, and seeds. These will help to support a healthy nervous system functioning. 

PMS and Acne

Ah, the dreaded acne - we’ve all been there.


It’s a week before your period and you start to notice multiple spots appearing on your face and think to yourself why!?


Acne is commonly experienced in the lead up to the period bleed and is usually linked with a fluctuation in hormone levels as well as high androgen levels. 

Tips to reduce acne:

  • Zinc supplementation

  • Stay clear of cow’s dairy as mentioned above

  • Hydration is important to clear toxins out of your body which can help to reduce acne breakouts.

  • Support optimal liver function to improve the detoxification of estrogen. Focus on the tips given above in solution #1 ‘Support the detoxification of excess estrogen’.

  • Avoid refined sugars and alcohol where possible

  • Support optimal gut health by having probiotic-rich foods to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria 

Sugar Cravings during PMS

Having sugar cravings before your period is completely normal and something we all go through.


The sugar cravings experienced during this time in the cycle are due to blood sugar irregularities caused by the decrease in progesterone.


As estrogen declines, so does serotonin, triggering an increase in appetite.


Remember, you require more calories in the first few days of your period as your body is using more energy than usual.


When you are not meeting these energy needs with foods including complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein, your body may start to crave sugar. 

Here are some of my favourite tips for beating these sugar cravings:

  • Opt for a piece of dark (70%) or above cacao chocolate. The bitterness of this chocolate will help satisfy your cravings but not have you indulging in the whole block.

  • Pair a piece of fruit with some peanut butter or other nut butter to stabilise blood sugar levels

  • Make sure to pair every meal with healthy fats and adequate protein. This will help to reduce cravings and ensure you feel fuller for longer.

  • Try my ‘Hormone-Loving Hot Cacao’ recipe.

  • Stay hydrated: most of the time when we crave sugar, it's simply our body saying it's a little dehydrated.  

Lifestyle tips for reducing PMS

This is one of my favorite areas to educate my clients on especially in this day and age where we all get caught up in working non-stop and rushing around trying to do a thousand things at once.


Taking time out during the day for a little self-love can have a huge benefit in reducing PMS.


When you start to notice those PMS symptoms creeping in, think of some lifestyle things that will help to reduce these symptoms and ultimately help you relax.

My favourite lifestyle tips for reducing PMS symptoms include:

Breathe diaphragmatically

Breath-work is one of the quickest ways to reduce stress in your body. Slowly inhale through your nostrils ensuring your breath is reaching your stomach and then slowly exhale. Repeat this as required.

Get your sweat on

Exercise is known to help improve overall mood. 


Sweating is an important way to remove excess toxins (especially estrogen) from your body to help reduce PMS symptoms.


Exercise reduces stress, improves blood flow to your reproductive organs, and reduces inflammation. 


The best kind of exercise is something that you enjoy and will keep doing. 


Be careful with trying to attempt those hardcore HIIT workouts during PMS as this can be super challenging with minimal energy.

Prioritize sleep

Yes, we all NEED sleep. Sleep is one of the most important aspects when trying to balance your hormones. 


When we wind down for sleep a hormone called ‘melatonin’ (otherwise known as our sleepy hormone) is secreted to signal its time to sleep. 


Melatonin signals the body to stop producing cortisol (our ‘stress’ hormone). Focusing on restful and restorative sleep helps to balance our hormones. 


Balanced hormones = happy and healthy periods with few PMS symptoms experienced.

Have a relaxing bath with magnesium salts

These salts are rich in the essential mineral magnesium which helps our bodies combat stress as well as helps our muscles to soften - this could be part of your nightly wind-down routine after you switch off screens.

Enjoy herbal teas

Herbal teas such as licorice help the adrenal glands cope with increased periods of stress. 


Chamomile tea is also an amazing tea to help calm you down.

Enjoy time out in nature

This is one of the best stress management techniques. 


Take a step outside and get into nature. Being in nature reduces feelings of anger, stress, fear, and anxiety and increases feelings of contentment and happiness. 


Try taking a walk without your phone.

Journal

Writing down your thoughts with no judgement attached can be a very freeing feeling. 


Putting thoughts on paper allows them to move out of your mind, helping to detach from them and reduce stress levels.

Supplements for PMS

There are several supplements to incorporate into your daily routine if you are struggling with PMS. 


The following are my top recommendations to help support overall hormonal health to reduce PMS symptoms

experienced. 


Always talk to a qualified healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplements.

Magnesium

This is my number one supplement for period health. It can significantly reduce PMS symptoms. 


It also aids in the production of progesterone as well as regulating the stress response to help reduce anxiety experienced during PMS. 


Thinking it’s time to start having magnesium?


Ensure you buy magnesium in the form of magnesium bisglycinate as this form is better absorbed than others.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)

There is evidence to support the use of these to reduce menstrual pain experienced during the period due to their potent anti-inflammatory benefits.

Vitamin B6

This is essential for the production of progesterone and GABA (a neurotransmitter in our brain). 


B6 also works to support the detoxification of estrogen as well as acting as an anti-inflammatory in the body to help reduce painful periods.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential cofactor for many of the daily reactions that happen in our body. 


Zinc is also a powerful anti-acne agent to help reduce acne experienced during PMS.

Calcium

There have been a large number of studies undertaken showing calcium levels in women with PMS are significantly low.


Supplementation of calcium may be beneficial in reducing PMS symptoms. 

Preparing for the week before your period

You’re days away from your period and you notice all of the sudden PMS symptoms creeping in. 


Now is the time to take action and follow all of the tips you’ve just learnt from this guide. Good luck! Sending hormone loving vibes your way.

Keen to dig your teeth into even more hormone-loving content?

12 comments

Hi Christi,

Vitex can be great for PMS for many women (but not all). Vitex can help improve progesterone production. It is also great for those with high prolactin levels (who are not breastfeeding/lactating) – as vitex suppresses prolactin when levels are too high.

Vitex in PCOS is a bit controversial. The reason being is that vitex can increase Luteinising Hormone (LH) levels. When it comes to PCOS, it is common in many women with PCOS to already have elevated LH levels. So in these women, taking vitex may actually make their symptoms/imbalance worse.

There are however, natural health practitioners who do use vitex in PCOS. However, I recommend working with a Naturopath or Herbalist to determine whether vitex is right for you, no matter your hormonal circumstance.

Tam

Tamika Woods

Hi lovely!

I’m so happy you enjoyed the article. Magnesium oil can be beneficial. Magnesium malate is another easily absorbed form of magnesium. It is recommended for chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia as it helps the body to produce energy. It can however interfere with sleep if taken too late in the day. Magnesium glycinate (or bisglycinate) is better suited for hormone related issues and symptoms.

Tamika Woods

Hey Samantha,
Yayyy that’s an awesome idea! Hope they find it useful :)
Thanks,
Mik

Tamika Woods

Hey Emma,
No worries at all we hope you enjoy it :)
Mik

Tamika Woods

This is so helpful! I am going to point my followers to this post for their PMS relief post-baby. Thank you.

Samantha Newman

Leave a comment

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About The Author - Tamika Woods

Tamika Woods | PCOS Author | Nourished Natural Health
Tamika Woods, Clinical Nutritionist (B.HS; B.Ed), Bestselling Author

For a decade, Tamika battled chronic acne, irregular cycles, mood swings, hair loss, painful periods, severe digestive issues and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). You name it - she's been there!

Tam was finally able to clear her skin, regulate her cycle, be free of period pain and fall pregnant naturally with her daughter in 2020. It took Tam 10 years and tens of thousands of dollars in tertiary education to get the answers she needed to get better.

She didn’t want other women to suffer as long as she did which is why she has dedicated her life to helping women in the same position as she was.

Tam helps women interpret what their bodies are trying to communicate through frustrating symptoms, and then develop a step-by-step roadmap to find balance again. She's here to help you get on track!

Tamika Woods is the author of the Amazon best seller PCOS Repair Protocol. She holds a Bachelor of Health Science degree (Nutritional Medicine) as well as a Bachelor of Education, graduating with Honours in both.

She is a certified Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) Educator and a certified member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA).

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