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Dealing with PMS

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one symptom of pre-menstrual syndrome as part of their monthly cycle. What is PMS? It is a series of symptoms experienced usually one to two weeks before menstruation. Symptoms can be physical (e.g. bloating, food cravings, water retention, headaches) and/or psychological (e.g. irritability, fatigue, low self-esteem and depression).

Every woman experiences PMS differently. The frequency and intensity may also vary from month to month. Why some women experience PMS is not entirely understood, but nutritional habits, psychological and genetic makeup and brain chemicals (serotonin, endorphins), as well as hormone fluctuations (ratio of estrogen to progesterone), play important roles.

Let’s take a look at the symptoms and how you can beat them so you can feel like your normal self again.

Weight Gain and Bloating: Estrogen levels rise in the days before your period, which can lead to the production of hormones that promote water and salt retention. Many women report weight gain of several pounds. Don’t worry, it’s just water weight and in only a matter of days the bloating will disappear. Changes in your diet, which will be addressed later, can reduce the bloating and water retention.

Cravings: Estrogen also promotes a drop in your blood sugar level. So, don’t be surprised if your food cravings drive you to make late-night trips to the vending machine for cookies or chocolate. Luckily, an increase in metabolism also occurs seven to 10 days prior to menstruation, which can help offset some of the extra food intake. During this time, your body may burn as many as 100-300 calories more per day.

Irritability and Fatigue: Estrogen has been linked to increased brain activity, which can result in headaches, migraines, moodiness and fatigue. You may also feel more vulnerable and hypersensitive to things you might normally brush off.

The difference between you being a cranky, unbearable roommate or your normal cool self has much to do with what you eat. Here’s how to adapt your diet:

  • Cut out caffeine, which is found in chocolate, coffee, tea and soda. Caffeine can contribute to tension and anxiety. Stick to calming herbal teas and water. Peppermint tea is a great stomach soother and helps rid bloating.
  • Eliminate alcohol and salt as much as possible as they can contribute to water retention, bloating and fatigue.
  • Eat a low sugar diet. Lay off the sweets. Limiting your sugar intake will help you prevent bloating, water retention and that uncomfortable feeling of not being able to button up your pants. Instead, stick to complex carbohydrates. They keep the blood sugar more stable and are a good way to raise serotonin levels, which can elevate your mood.
  • Eliminate saturated and trans fats found in processed and junk foods. They promote inflammatory processes in the body and can worsen PMS symptoms. After all, hormones like estrogen can be derived from fat.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. They contain lots of water, which will help promote elimination of excess water. Sounds counterintuitive? Water is a natural diuretic that cleanses your system, so keep up your fluid intake.
  • Don’t skip meals. Eat six small meals (three meals, three snacks) daily to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and those cravings at bay.
  • Have some protein at every meal to moderate blood sugar imbalances. You’ll eliminate cravings and feel full faster than if you just eat simple carbohydrates, such as desserts or sugary cereals.
  • Keep up your intake of magnesium and calcium to prevent cramping. Brown rice, almonds, peanuts and spinach are excellent sources of magnesium. Get your calcium from salmon, nuts and low-fat dairy products, such as plain yogurt, skim milk or cottage cheese.

Get Moving, Feel Better

Being physically active reduces cramping and helps you manage the psychological impact of feeling out of sorts. Taking a 30-minute walk or participating in a yoga class can relieve tension and stress. Exercise also boosts your mood due to the production of endorphins, your body’s natural antidepressants.

Some women are affected so severely by PMS that they have a difficult time going about their daily tasks. If your symptoms are debilitating, don’t hesitate to contact your campus nurse or primary care physician and get a physical checkup. You want to rule out any medical issues that may contribute to your symptoms.

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