Put your hand up if you’ve ever suffered from PMS? I’m imagining a lot of hands in the air, as anywhere up to 80% of us experience significant changes in the lead-up to our period.

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome is as a collection of physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms that occur throughout the menstrual cycle, usually appearing 1-2 weeks before the start of your period. The symptoms may last 1-2 days, but for some women it can be much longer.

Hormone balance plays an important role in PMS, particularly progesterone, oestrogen and prolactin. These hormones vary naturally during the course of your menstrual cycle, which is why symptoms appear at different times of the month. There is much more to PMS than just hormones, however, including your stress levels, whether you exercise, what you’re eating , your body fat percentage, whether you’re on medication or supplementation, etc… all of these can have an effect.

What are PMS symptoms?

PMS symptoms can differ greatly from person to person, however some of the most common include:

Abdominal bloating
Fluid retention
Change in bowel function
Sugar cravings
Breast tenderness
Lethargy and fatigue
Depressed mood
Back pain

How can I get rid of my symptoms?

First of all, it’s important to understand the underlying cause of PMS symptoms. For example, is it because of hormonal imbalance or because you’ve been under more stress than usual? By working this out with your healthcare practitioner, you can also work out the best course of treatment, specifically for you.

However, happily there are a number of general health changes you can make that will help with PMS and also improve your overall wellbeing.

1. Eat well

You need to get rid of processed foods, immediately.

Pre-packed and processed foods have very little nutritional value, are often high in sugar and full of preservatives. This is no good for health generally, can mess with your energy, upset your metabolism, and exacerbates PMS symptoms. Cut it out.

Focus on increasing the amount of whole foods and fresh produce in your diet, include plenty of leafy greens! Eat good quality protein with all your main meals, such as grass-fed meats, free-range poultry and eggs, sustainable fish, natural yoghurt, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. Also make sure you’re having plenty of healthy fats in your diet, including nut and seed oils, fatty fish, avocado, coconut oil, yoghurt, grass-fed butter, etc.

Lastly, keep your fluids up. Drink water regularly – throughout the day, every day. Hydration is one of the most important factors in maintaining good health and will also help with PMS.

2. Move your body 

Regular exercise is important for more than just fitness. It also keeps your heart healthy, improves circulation, can help to reduce inflammation and does wonderful things for mood. Incidental exercise (e.g. taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking partway to work, or chasing your toddler) counts too! Aim to move your body every day, doing whatever works for you – that might be running, riding, hiking, swimming, dancing, yoga, Pilates, etc. If you can factor in some relaxation as well – e.g. long bath, meditation, massage – even better.

3. Get some sunshine

Regular doses of delicious sunshine will help to boost your vitamin D levels. This essential nutrient is important for many body processes, including calcium absorption, immune function, cardiovascular health, blood sugar metabolism and hormonal health. Unfortunately, many of us are deficient and, as it’s hard to obtain large amounts from the diet, sunshine is your best natural option.

What’s more, getting a regular dose of sunshine in the early part of the day helps to balance your sleep-wake hormones, which helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle… which can also improve energy, mood and hormonal balance. Plus, it feels nice to sit in the sun!

4. Natural medicines

There are a lot of herbal and nutritional interventions that can help with PMS, you’ve probably tried some of these already. However, it is important to speak with a practitioner before supplementing, as every woman’s needs will be slightly different. That’s the beauty of being an individual!

What’s your best tip for improving PMS?

Kathleen Murphy is a clinical naturopath, practicing out of Sydney’s largest integrated medical centre Uclinic. In practice, Kathleen focuses on optimising day-to-day living through diet, lifestyle and herbal therapy. She loves working with people from all walks of life, helping them institute changes that can become life-long health habits. Kathleen blogs regularly, on health, herbs and nutrition, over at Your Health. Your Life. She also lectures nutrition and herbal medicine, occasionally writes for media publications, and is a contributor to academic health journals and clinical texts.