What causes PMS?
The exact cause of PMS is still largely unknown, but it’s been suggested that levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, may play a part in causing PMS (4) and an increased sensitivity to the hormone progesterone (5). Other studies suggest that the hormone estrogen causes fluid retention, which probably explains the temporary weight gain, breast tenderness, and bloating experienced by many women with PMS (6). Other hormonal and metabolic changes may also be involved, but further research is needed.
A rise in progesterone stimulates sebum secretion (a thick, oily substance that naturally lubricates the skin). In combination with increased testosterone levels, it can lead to pores becoming blocked; making it difficult for the excess oil to escape (21). This results in increased spots, pimples, and white and black heads.
How to manage PMS
With 4 out 5 women experiencing the classic symptoms, and 1 out of 5 meeting the criteria for actual PMS, there’s a pretty solid chance you’ve had some type of premenstrual symptom at some point in your life. If your symptoms are mild to moderate, they can often be relieved by changes in lifestyle, diet, and/or supplements. If your PMS symptoms begin to interfere with your life, you are best to discuss with your healthcare provider as medication can sometimes be necessary. Some factors that can lessen the severity of PMS include:
Improving sleep hygiene. A lack of quality sleep has been linked to depression and anxiety and can make PMS symptoms such as moodiness worse (7). Reducing caffeine intake in the latter half of the day, avoiding overstimulation by using phones/laptops for an hour before bedtime, and working on creating a melatonin-friendly (your sleep hormone) environment by dimming lights and preparing your body for rest, are ways to help improve sleep initiation.
Lower-intensity aerobic exercises, such as jogging, has been shown to decrease levels of prolactin, oestradiol and progesterone, resulting in improvement of fatigue, concentration, confusion, and most premenstrual symptoms (8).
Kick your smoking habit! In one large study, women who smoked reported more and worse PMS symptoms than women who did not smoke (9).
Correcting possible nutrient and mineral deficiencies
Correct any vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may be present. A deficiency in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B and D – all of which are essential for neurotransmitter synthesis and hormonal balance - are potentially involved in the underlying pathogenesis of PMS (10). Blood work will establish such deficiencies and dietary and supplement regimes can then be implemented where deficiencies do present.
Supplementation of up to 1200 mg has been shown to help with anxiety, depression, emotional changes and water retention (7,11). Include a variety of calcium-rich foods such as seeds, dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, almonds, whey protein, as well as canned salmon/sardines, beans and lentils, and leafy greens.
Research has shown that women with high levels of Vitamin D are less likely to develop PMS than those with lower levels (12). A further study found that anxiety and irritability scores, and sadness and crying easily, decreased significantly upon correcting a vitamin D deficiency (13).
The risk of developing PMS is lower in women with a high dietary intake of vitamin B than in those with a low intake (14). As B vitamins help with serotonin metabolism, a deficiency can hinder this process, which can increase mood disorders (15,16). The best sources of B vitamins are meat, eggs and dairy products, legumes, seeds and nuts, dark leafy vegetables and wholegrains such as brown rice.
Supplementation has been shown to help with water retention, migraines, cravings and anxiety (17). There are some mixed outcomes in the literature regarding magnesium and PMS, but overall there seems to be a benefit in rectifying deficiencies. According to the World Health Organisation, almost 75% of people are failing to meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Recommended Daily Intake of 420 mg (18).
Vitex Agnus-Castus (VAC)
Also known as Chaste Tree, VAC can help to reduce prolactin levels (19), which essentially reduced breast tenderness by 97.8% in one study (20). The same study showed a reduction in headaches by 31%, nervousness by 55%, and restlessness by 60%. Any research I have came across supports the use of VAC in the treatment of PMS and was one of my go-to supplements in clinical practice. (Note: women taking hormonal birth control or hormone therapy for menopause symptoms should not take VAC).
Whilst research is available to support the use of VAC to treat PMS symptoms as a whole, further research is required to support it’s use for PMS-related acne. However, the whole fruit extract of VAC helps to increase progesterone levels by acting on the follicle stimulating hormone, as well as helping to reduce oestrogen levels via the dopaminergic mechanism. This combination helps to reduce premenstrual prolactin and could be a mechanistically viable means of minimising breakouts (22). Staying adequately hydrated, minimising excessive stress, eating a nutrient-dense diet with an abundance of minerals and vitamins, and exercising are also of paramount importance for skin health.
Also known as Salvia Officinalis, it has recently been shown promising to be an effective agent to reduce the severity of both psychological and physical symptoms of PMS (23).
Disclaimer: As with the introduction of any supplement, always consult a health-care provider to ensure that the product is right for you, as some may have interactions with certain medications and medical conditions.
PMS can be a real battle to deal each month. By looking at and addressing possible nutritional deficiencies, improving sleep, stress management, implementing an exercise regime to complement your lifestyle, consuming a diet rich in minerals and vitamins, and using supplements when appropriate, can all help to minimise the varying symptoms of PMS.
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With over 10 years experience in the fitness industry and a burning passion for all things health and fitness, Amanda has a BSc in Exercise Science, a BSc in Health Sciences, and a MSc in Biomechanical Analysis. She is also an international IFBB Bikini competitor and a mother to Mya.
From commercial pilot to fitness coach, Daniel changed careers to pursue his passion for health & fitness. He holds a BSc and is a Certified Strength & Conditioner, Certified Fitness Trainer, certified nutritionist, an international men's physique competitor, and a father with a love for helping others become more educated to reach their goals.
David has a MSc in Exercise Physiology and is a Certified Strength & Conditioner and Sports Nutritionist. He has a passion for helping people peak physical performance. He has worked with a diverse range of clients from Olympic athletes who have won National, European and World titles to those just looking to look, feel and perform at their best.
Michelle creates out of this world recipes of everyday foods we love that are more diet-friendly. She is the woman behind the mouth-watering Instagram page, @peachypalate.