Nutrition and Premenstrual Syndrome
Have you heard of premenstrual syndrome? If you want to know how to mitigate symptoms related to your menstrual cycle, this is the article for you.
Premenstrual syndrome is a series of behaviors, emotional, physical and psychological symptoms related to your menstrual cycle. These symptoms begin one or two weeks before menstruation and can vary widely. In this article, we’ll explain how the menstrual cycle works and how your diet influences it.
Hormones are soluble substances produced by specific organs within your body that help regulate your body processes. Not all hormones work the same way; rather, the hormones’ function is to regulate the activity of a given tissue. For example, insulin is a hormone that regulates the concentration of sugar in your blood.
Female hormones have the function of enabling and regulating all the processes related to reproduction and the genitals. During your menstrual cycle, the most important hormones are estrogens and progesterone.
Of course, in addition to these two hormones, there are others involved in the menstrual cycle: gonadotropins. This group includes the follicle stimulating hormone, which regulates the secretion of estrogen, and the luteinizing hormone, which activates the release of progesterone.
Estrogen is produced mainly in the ovaries. Its main function is the growth of the female genitals to make a woman fertile. Still, this hormone is also involved in other bodily processes, such as hair and nail growth.
After a certain age, the decrease in estrogen levels leads to menopause. However, a sudden decrease in this hormone can be related to several diseases such as osteoporosis, cognitive degeneration diseases, and even cancer. According to some studies, the most important estrogen is estradiol.
This hormone is vital for the development of the uterus and breasts. It acts mainly during the second part of the menstrual cycle, slowing the growth of the endometrium and preparing it for embryo implantation. Therefore, progesterone is highly involved in the pregnancy process.
The menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle begins with the first day of your menstruation. This process is characterized by bleeding caused by the rupture of the endometrium as fertilization and implantation fail to occur. Your menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
It covers the first two weeks, from bleeding caused by menstruation to ovulation. Ovulation takes place between day 14 and 16 of the cycle. When ovulation happens, the transition of the mature ovum from the ovary to the uterus occurs.
Simultaneously, the increase in estrogen recomposes the detached endometrium.
During this period, the uterus prepares for possible fertilization. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, progesterone and estradiol levels drop, causing luteolysis and endometrial rupture, which marks the beginning of a new cycle. During the last seven days of this phase, the premenstrual syndrome takes place.
Premenstrual syndrome characteristics
The symptomatology of premenstrual syndrome is quite subjective and it varies from woman to woman. However, the cause of these symptoms is common to all women: hormonal changes are responsible for premenstrual syndrome. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Swollen and sore breasts
- Abdominal distension and weight gain
- Headache or joint pain
- Increased feeling of hunger
- Irritability, mood swings, crying episodes or depression
How does science explain premenstrual syndrome?
The decrease in estrogen and progesterone leads to a fall in serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for safeguarding mood and energy; when serotonin levels decrease, a woman is prone to sad feelings and depression.
Maintaining elevated serotonin levels is very important. In fact, the goal of the most commonly used drugs to treat depression is to increase its concentration in your body.
Hunger increase and weight gain are both related to a sudden drop in estradiol levels. During the luteal phase, insulin and leptin sensitivity –a hormone that regulates the sensation of hunger- decrease, which in turn stimulates an increase in appetite and food cravings.
Premenstrual syndrome: tips for coping with it
As in so many other bodily processes, food can play a key role during premenstrual syndrome. Here, we offer you some measures you can take to handle premenstrual syndrome like a pro:
- Decrease your carbohydrate consumption, especially simple carbohydrates such as sweets, soda, and milk.
- Increase the consumption of foods rich in vitamin B6, such as whole grains, nuts or brewer’s yeast.
- Boost magnesium intake during your luteal phase, as it helps restore serotonin levels. You can find magnesium in green leafy vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
- Reduce the consumption of dairy products, as they prevent the absorption of magnesium and increase its elimination from your body.
- Limiting the intake of ultra-processed foods can help control water retention since these foods usually contain a high amount of salt.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, as these drinks increase your anxiety and nervousness.
- Keep training! However, make sure you adapt your training routine to your menstrual cycle.
In short, beyond these general recommendations, there’s no specific formula to avoid the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. The important thing is to learn to listen to the body and analyze how it responds to different stimuli.