PMS affects up to 80% of women before they reach the menopause.  However, with no single known cause or unifying treatment protocol, it is a subject that still raises lots of questions. Read on for our expert opinion on some of the most frequently asked questions about PMS and periods…

How does magnesium affect muscle cramps?
Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of muscles, which work by contracting and relaxing. This essential mineral is needed for the relaxation phase and when levels are low, muscle cramps commonly occur. If you suffer from menstrual cramps, it’s definitely worth getting some extra magnesium into your diet. Increase your intake of leafy greens, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, beans and lentils and choose a supplement that contains 200mg magnesium in a powdered glycinate form for an extra boost.

Can low calcium affect menstrual migraines?
It has been suggested that women with PMS have disturbances in the way their bodies regulate calcium during their menstrual cycles, and low calcium has been implicated in menstrual migraines. Calcium works together with magnesium and is best supplemented in a higher ratio of magnesium: calcium to support PMS symptoms.

Why do cravings increase before my period?
Women with PMS tend to have higher levels of blood sugar imbalances, which causes cravings for sweet, sugary foods. Unfortunately, eating sugary foods further exacerbates the cravings and so a vicious cycle begins. Instead, you can help to reduce cravings by changing your diet to one that supports blood sugar balance. A blood sugar balancing diet can also help to reduce other symptoms of PMS such as mood, energy levels and the ability to cope with stress.

Does chromium help to reduce cravings?
Chromium helps the body to keep blood sugar levels balanced. People who are running low in chromium may start to crave sugary foods so this is a key mineral to get in your diet if you suffer from PMS-related cravings. It is present in lots of foods but only in very small amounts; you need to eat a wide variety of minimally processed and plant-rich meals to consume optimal daily levels. Supplement with chromium in the form of picolinate to get your levels back up to scratch.

I’ve noticed my PMS symptoms worsen when I’m under stress – is this normal?
Stress is a major risk factor for PMS. We frequently see clients with severe PMS either lead very stressful lives or have experienced a highly stressful event at some point before the onset of PMS symptoms. The far-reaching effects of stress impact pretty much every system involved in the underlying causes of PMS so it is no surprise that stress can be such a major risk factor. Stress disrupts blood sugar balance, plays havoc with female hormones, affects the nervous system and is a constant drain on the body’s nutrient reserves, not least those that are often low in PMS – magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C. Dealing with stress involves 1) Identifying major stressors, 2) Taking action to reduce these where possible, and 3) Putting strategies in place to help you to better cope with stress. These strategies may include blood sugar balancing diet, increased intake of key nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C, and incorporating daily relaxation into your routine. Yoga and mindfulness work particularly well as does gentle exercise such as walking and swimming.

I’ve heard vitamin B6 is helpful for PMS – is this true?
There are now many studies that show the effectiveness of vitamin B6 for PMS and the majority of research shows that it makes a substantial difference across the whole range of symptoms too. B vitamins work well together, so it’s best to take them as a complex if you decide to supplement. In addition, B6 needs magnesium to be converted in the body to its active form so make sure you include this in your supplement regime too. 

Is there anything that will help me to feel brighter and less jittery at this time?
Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ for its ability to restore peace and calm, and support restful sleep too. It can also help to boost mood, energy levels and support reduced headaches. It ticks so many boxes for PMS that it’s definitely worth making sure you are getting plenty in your diet. B complex vitamins are also essential for a balanced nervous system.  In addition, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is a useful support.  5-HTP is the natural precursor to serotonin - the body’s feel-good neurotransmitter. 

How about evening primrose oil - can this help?
Evening primrose oil is often recommended for PMS as it is supplies the omega 6 fat GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), which women with PMS are often running low in. However, Borage seed oil (Starflower) is now considered to be a much better source of GLA. Supplement with Starflower oil to up your intake of this important fatty acid. In addition, omega 3 fats EPA & DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid & docosahexaenoic acid) found in rich supply in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, can be helpful.

Why do my bowel habits change before and during my period?
Many women suffer from constipation before their period, which is usually due to a rise in progesterone. When levels fall again, at the start of the period, things usually return to normal.  For others, it’s diarrhoea that’s the problem, and this is down to a higher level of chemicals called prostaglandins circulating round your body. Prostaglandins help the uterus to contract and unfortunately can have the same effect on your bowels too, causing looser stools – it’s as simple as that!

Can I get pregnant whilst on my period?
In theory, the answer is no. The first day of the period is day 1 of the menstrual cycle and the fertile window when a woman can get pregnant is between days 8-19, around ovulation. However, not everyone’s cycle is as predictable as this and it may then be possible to get pregnant outside of this window. As a general rule, it’s best to use birth control during the whole cycle to be fully certain.

Why do I suffer from wind and bloating during my period?
It’s the rise in progesterone in the second half of the cycle that’s to blame again for this annoying symptom. Progesterone slows down digestive tract smooth muscle contractions and this can cause wind and bloating. Again, this usually settles at the start of the period.

How much blood do I actually lose?
You might think you’re losing vast amounts of blood when you’re on your period, however, the average amount lost is actually only 30–40 ml. And if you’re struggling to picture that amount it’s about a third of the amount of liquid you can take on a plane in your hand luggage i.e. not very much! 

What’s the difference between natural / organic sanitary products and more mainstream versions?
Most mainstream sanitary products are made with a combination of plastics, cotton, synthetic fibres and wood pulp. Tampons are usually made from conventionally produced cotton, which is one of the most toxic crops grown. They are then bleached with chlorine and contain synthetic chemicals and pesticide residues, and are not biodegradable. Conventional products have been linked with side effects such as allergic reactions, hormone disruption and fertility problems.

You can now easily source more natural alternatives, which include biodegradable tampons and sanitary towels made from organic materials and free from chlorine and synthetic ingredients. Reusable products such as the menstrual cup, washable cloth sanitary pads & bamboo-based absorbent underpants are becoming more popular too and much kinder to the environment and our plumbing systems!

Why does my libido increase at the same time each month?
Perhaps it’s just a clever evolutionary quirk that has primed women to want more sex at the most fertile time of the month! The most common time for libido to peak is mid cycle around ovulation, when oestrogen and testosterone surge and when you are most likely to get pregnant. Interest in sex often increases just before the start of a period too - once again, it’s oestrogen that’s responsible for this.

Why does my temperature fluctuate during my menstrual cycle?
You may have heard about women monitoring their temperature when trying to get pregnant and wondered what this is all about. This is because body temperature increases by about 4 degrees just after ovulation – the most fertile time.

There’s only blood on one side of the tampon, is this normal?
If this is something you’ve ever worried about, then don’t – there’s likely a very normal reason for this.  Blood usually collects only on one side when there hasn’t been a high enough amount to cover both sides.  Most experts advise switching to a lower absorbency tampon if this is happening to see if it makes a difference.

What exactly is TSS and should I be worried?
TSS, or Toxic Shock Syndrome is a very rare but life-threatening bacterial infection. Common symptoms include a sudden high fever, flu-like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhoea, fainting, dizziness and a widespread sunburn-like skin rash. Anyone can get TSS – men, women and children, yet it’s more common in women on their period and using super absorbent tampons. It is a serious and potentially life threatening condition so it’s important to be aware of it, however it is also extremely rare, so it’s unnecessary to worry about it.

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