PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is, unfortunately, a common condition that many women suffer from just before their period shows up. Although common, PMS is not normal and is not something you should have to suffer from. PMS can present as; breast tenderness, low mood, acne, bloating, food cravings, headaches, swelling of hands and feet, constipation/diarrhea, and headaches.
What causes PMS?
Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer to this question, and we’re also not quite sure as to why some women suffer from it and some don’t. However, it is generally agreed that the main driving factor is the changing levels of estrogen and progesterone, which in turn affect our levels of neurotransmitters; serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. Serotonin, GABA, and dopamine all play a role in producing feelings of happiness and alertness, as well as states of relaxation and anti-anxiety. So if our hormones are out of balance, these neurotransmitters are too.
What happens during a normal cycle?
Following menstruation, estrogen levels begin to climb. Then at day 14 when we ovulate, estrogen begins to drop and progesterone begins to rise. This rise in progesterone is crucial. Although progesterone plays an important role in fertility, it also plays a major role in reducing anxiety and creating a positive mood. Progesterone also acts on GABA receptors in our brain to promote relaxation and sleep. So if our progesterone levels aren’t optimal, hello symptoms of PMS.
What can lower your progesterone levels?
Stress. Stress. Stress. When we are stressed we produce a hormone called cortisol. A major reason stress reduces progesterone levels is because both hormones share a similar building block, pregnenolone. If our body is stressed, it will prioritise cortisol production, which means there won’t be enough pregnenolone left for progesterone producing. This is called the pregnenolone steal. Other reasons your progesterone may be low include;
- Nutrient deficiencies (Magnesium, vitamins B6 & C , omega-3, zinc, & L-arginine)
- Excessive amounts of exercise
- Low cholesterol (although we don’t want our total cholesterol to be high, we do require a certain amount for processes such as steroid hormone production
Let’s quickly touch on estrogen. Although progesterone is an important player, the relative amount of estrogen is also very important. These days a lot of women show signs of estrogen dominance. Think acne, weight gain, irregular and/or heavy periods, depression, depression, fatigue, and low libido. If our estrogen is too high in relation to our progesterone, the results are similar to that of low progesterone. So having the correct ratio of estrogen to progesterone is just as important. Reasons estrogen may be high include; too much environmental exposure, excessive weight (fat tissue releases estrogen), hormonal contraceptives, certain medications, or a diet high in dairy.
If you suffer from PMS, or cyclical symptoms that you want to be solved, make sure you get to the bottom of them. Don’t let yourself (or the people around you) dread your time of the month.
The delicate balance of progesterone and oestrogen can make or break your cycle, join me in the Happy Hormones course to find out how to get these hormones working for you instead of against you.