Ahh, PMS. Don’t you love being a woman? It can truly make or break your day (or week).
I was talking to a couple of girlfriends about PMS at the gym I go to, Fitwall, and we were having a good laugh about what happens to us that time of month. From out-of-the-blue crying to snapping at the smallest inconvenience (those tall, sexy boots can cause a lot of heartache to put on if you’re PMSing), it can happen to the best of us. We know it happens, but WHY!!? For heaven’s sake WHY does it have to happen?
There are, of course, many nerdy mechanisms that we could talk about, but I want to focus on just one of them today: Serotonin.
Serotonin is one of my favorite neurotransmitters (yes, I REALLY do have a favorite). It is involved in appetite, sleep, memory, learning, temperature, mood, behavior, depression, cardiovascular function, endocrine regulation, aging, bone metabolism, and wound healing. See why you want to make this guy your friend? Low levels of serotonin have been correlated with higher levels of irritability, impulsivity, aggression, disordered eating, and sleeping problems. Do any of these symptoms sound like you during “your week”?
So how does serotonin influence PMS?
We know that during the menstrual cycle, estrogen rises for two weeks in the first half of the cycle and then it falls, allowing progesterone to rise during the next two weeks. There is a beautiful dance that occurs between estrogen and progesterone, if your cycle is flowing properly (pun intended). The dance between the hormones, unfortunately, alters neurotransmitters, including serotonin.
Serotonin levels fluctuate throughout the cycle. Ever notice that the first half of the cycle is pretty smooth sailing? You feel pretty happy, sleep better, think more clearly, and can concentrate better? Thank estrogen! During the second phase of your cycle, you may have more anxiety or feel off balance. This change could be due to that dance. Estrogen (which is higher during the first half of the cycle) helps calm us down. During the second half of the cycle, estrogen levels fall and since estrogen increases the concentration of serotonin – your mood falls with it.
When serotonin levels drop, this can lead to carbohydrate cravings, depression, irritability, and mood swings. You just don’t feel like yourself. You start wondering what the heck is wrong with you (and so does everyone else around you).
Strangely, PMS doesn’t happen to everyone. It may even switch on and off for you each month. Some women on the birth control pill don’t experience PMS quite as bad because of the effects of the synthetic hormones.
In addition to low serotonin levels, strong PMS can also be a sign of poor-quality or low levels of the hormone progesterone as progesterone also helps us to feel more relaxed. Since adrenal stress, thyroid problems, excess dietary sugar, and environmental toxins can throw progesterone levels off, we can see how this can be a likely problem in our sisterhood.
Now for the good stuff….
How to boost your serotonin to manage your PMS:
- Get some sun!! Serotonin levels increase when we’re exposed to natural sunlight.
- CALM THE HECK DOWN 🙂 Cortisol robs us of serotonin so stop multitasking and do what you need to do to reduce your stress levels! Work on mindfulness by focusing on being present. When your brain starts spinning in circles repeat the mantra, “Be Here.” It’s amazing how destructive multi-tasking can be to our system.
- Supplement with a good quality B6, which is needed for the synthesis of serotonin, vitamin D3 and fish oil to help support your mood and get you through the tough times.
- Eat good quality animal proteins every day to get your dose of tryptophan (which is needed to produce serotonin)
- Take care of your gut! At least 80% of our body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. Eliminate potential food allergens/sensitizing agents, drink bone broth, eat fermented vegetables, focus on your food when eating, slow down when eating, etc. Just eat real food.
- Move! Exercise can be just as effective as traditional drug therapies
- Eat some quality carbohydrates (sweet potato/yam, squash) with one or two of your meals to help trigger the release of serotonin. CAUTION: More does not equal better. Even though you’re craving carbs at this time, in excess they will only put your body on a blood sugar roller coaster.
- Get some loving! Spend time with girlfriends and your loved ones. While it may take awhile to get your serotonin levels boosted, why not give yourself a dose of some vitamin O (oxytocin) in the meantime?
Now it’s your turn!! What are some of the things you do to help manage your PMS?