I get killer PMS. It’s like my high-maintenance period is too cool to arrive without its entourage of obnoxious sidekicks: sore, ballooning breasts; at least a few pounds of water weight; and, of course, tears … in response to something that definitely doesn’t warrant them.
This misery manifests itself up to two weeks before my period begins — you know you’ve got problems when bleeding from your vagina is a total relief. For me, it’s a godsend — my period’s arrival is the beginning of the end!
The doctors I’ve complained to all tell me the same thing: birth control can help. But I don’t want to put hormones into my body. It’s a personal choice I’ve made based on bad experiences I’ve had with birth control. (And yes, I’ve tried a few different brands.) It doesn’t help that recent research suggests the pill can increase some women’s risk of blood clots.
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Still, I’m sick of surrendering to awful PMS two weeks out of every month. So I set out to find some doctor-endorsed remedies to treat the symptoms of my cycle without adding more hormones to the mix.
1. Eat Whole Foods
PMS can affect your body’s ability to regulate insulin, which affects your blood sugar and energy levels, explains Wendy Warner, M.D., who is certified by the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. Meaning, you’re more prone to hanger right before your period.
Eating processed foods, which tend to contain more sugar and less fibre than whole foods, will only make things worse. (A study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine even found that women who consumed more sugary foods and drinks were more likely to experience PMS symptoms.)
Instead, reach for whole grains (like brown rice), vegetables, healthy fats (like avocado), and unprocessed proteins (like lean beef as opposed to hot dogs or deli meats). Cleaning up your diet can help steady your insulin levels so your body can turn food into energy at a steady pace — and you can avoid the hanger that makes PMS even worse.
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It’s shit luck that the thing you least want to do when you’re bloated, crampy, and tired is one of the best things you can do to alleviate these symptoms. In the days leading up to your period, any and all exercise is helpful because it can boost your endorphins to improve your mood, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn at Mount Kisco Medical Group in New York. It can also move things along if you suffer from constipation and help you sweat out extra fluids that make you feel XXL. Most doctors recommend pushing yourself — and then some. Increase your intensity and factor in an extra workout, and your symptoms will improve, no questions asked. (Find the best workouts to do throughout your cycle here.)
3. Relax With Meditation or Yoga
Right before your period, your progesterone levels soar. And when you’re super stressed, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol too. The process can accentuate the hormonal imbalance that causes PMS in the first place, making you angrier, weepier, and more anxious and irritable than necessary, Dr. Warner explains. Because you can’t escape your hectic lifestyle every time your period approaches, use yoga, meditation, or any other stress reliever that works for you to compensate. It’ll enable serotonin (the “happy hormones” that can help combat PMS) to do its thing the natural way.
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4. Stop Smoking!
In case you need another reason to give it up: Research suggests that your grossest and least healthy habit makes PMS worse.
5. Drink More Water
When you’re retaining fluids (damn you, tight rings and pants!), it may seem counterintuitive to drink even more water, but do it. The extra water (just a few more glasses on top of whatever you regularly drink) will actually help flush your system so your body holds onto less liquid.
6. Lay Off Salt
A diet that’s high in sodium from salt and processed foods promotes water retention that bloats you up, contributing to weight gain (and the icky feelings that might result from it).
7. Ease Up on Alcohol
A glass of wine might boost your mood for a bit — but only temporarily. When the buzz burns off, you’ll be left dehydrated and in a worse mood.
8. Ease Off Caffeine
Even though caffeinated drinks can serve as a diuretic to reduce bloating and constipation, caffeine can increase your anxiety. One study found that the more caffeine (from coffee, tea, and soda) women drank, the more likely they were to experience serious symptoms of PMS. That doesn’t mean you have to give up coffee altogether — that would be torture. Just maybe downsize from the usual double latte when your period is incoming.
9. Pop an OTC Painkiller
Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are general pain relievers, which means they can alleviate multiple aches and pains all at once. If your cycle works like clockwork, take the lowest recommended dose with food to prevent cramps and breast soreness on the days you typically experience those symptoms. Otherwise, medicate at the onset of symptoms for relief and continue until you’re in the clear, suggests Dr. Dweck.
10. Go Gluten-Free
Gluten-containing grains can affect the liver enzymes that process our hormones to throw your hormone balance even more out of whack, Dr. Warner explains. To see if a gluten-free diet will alleviate your symptoms, try to lay off gluten — found in wheat, rye, barley, malt, farro, durum, and other grains — for a month. (Gluten-free grains like rice, buckwheat, corn, quinoa will be your new best friends.)
Some Controversial Remedies
In addition to the tried-and-true remedies above, some promising natural therapies could also alleviate PMS. But because the proof of their effectiveness is inconclusive or inconsistent, and could be attributed to the placebo effect (when a product appears to work just because you believe in it), some doctors are wary of recommending them.
“People assume that because something is natural or herbal, there’s no downside to taking it — but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Lauren Steicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. If you’re still game to be a guinea pig (and you get your doctor’s approval, based on your medical history and any other drugs you take), you might consider an alternative remedy. “If they’re inexpensive and have low potential for harm, there may be little to lose by trying them,” says Dr. Santoro.
11. Bright Light Therapy
Some research suggests that spending half an hour per night in cool white fluorescent light in the two weeks leading up to your period can reduce depressive PMS symptoms. It’s like catching your uncontrollable tears before they fall — and all you have to do is change the light bulb in your bedside lamp.
12. B6 Supplements
A review of nine studies suggests that 50 to 100 milligrams per day can alleviate depressive PMS symptoms and elevate your mood better than a placebo. (But you should always talk to your doctor about dosage before taking a new supplement.)
13. Chasteberry (aka Chaste Tree Berry) Extract
Dr. Warner says about 500 milligrams per day could help balance out your hormone levels and alleviate symptoms such as breast pain, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
In a 2009 review that compared the effectiveness of 62 herbs, vitamins, and minerals marketed to alleviate PMS symptoms, calcium was the only remedy that had sufficient evidence of effectiveness. Try adding calcium-rich foods (like yogurt, cheese, milk, dark leafy greens, and other foods) or taking a 1,000 milligram dose of calcium daily, depending on your doctor’s orders.
Some research suggests that women who have the worst PMS symptoms also have low levels of magnesium, which is found in nuts and nut butters, cereals, and other foods. Supplements could relieve bloating, weight gain, and breast tenderness, among other symptoms. If your doctor is okay with it, try taking up to 400 milligrams of magnesium per day.
This article first appeared on Cosmopolitan.com
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