This weekend, a Hormonology reader wrote to me describing how bad her premenstrual week is: She breaks up with her boyfriend, gets angry at every little thing, says things she would never ordinarily say and “turns into a different person”. When she’s tried talking to friends and family about the possibility she has premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)–a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)–they don’t seem to believe it’s a real condition.
If this sounds anything like you, first let me assure you that PMDD is a real problem–it’s not in your head. It’s a condition that makes you more sensitive to hormone fluctuations and can adversely impact the quality of your life, relationships and career.
So, what can you do about it?
If you suspect you have PMDD, first see your health care provider. Let your gynecologist, psychiatrist and/or naturopath know what’s going on with you. There are many treatments available for PMDD–some that use prescription medications (such as antidepressants or hormones) and those that don’t use prescription medications (such as supplements and cognitive behavioral therapy).
Also, your problem may be part of an underlying medical issue or be exacerbated by medications you’re currently taking. So, talking it out with whoever is managing your health is key.
Once you consult with your health care practitioner, you can help reduce premenstrual symptoms yourself with a few study-proven at-home remedies. Here’s a round-up of a few I’ve written about before:
> Exercise: In one 2013 study, sedentary women who did 60 minutes of aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking, biking or swimming) three times per week for eight weeks experienced a significant improvement to their mood in their premenstrual week. It may be that exercise helps reduce hormone imbalances that can trigger premenstrual symptoms and/or working out triggers a higher production of brain chemicals that boost positivity. Another 2013 study found that exercise trains the brain to better deal with anxiety so you have a less intense response to people or situations that would stress you out.
> Chromium: Awhile ago, I wrote about researchers who examined this mineral’s effects on PMDD. Even though the study was small, the results were impressive. And Hormonology readers who’ve tried it and reported back to me have had great success. You can read more about it here.
> 8 more PMS-busting nutrients and herbs: I wrote a helpful round-up of vitamins, minerals and herbs that have been shown to reduce moodiness, irritability and other premenstrual symptoms. You can check it out here.
> Curcumin: I recently wrote about a new study that shows taking this common kitchen spice in a low-dose supplement can reduce PMS symptoms by nearly 60%. Learn more about it here.
> Eat. Eat, eat eat: Many women become more sensitive to drops in blood sugar during the second half of their cycle due to progesterone. These blood sugar dips happen when you go a long time between meals. The result can be extreme anger, depression, fatigue and moodiness. So, keep healthy snacks nearby, like sunflower seeds, yogurt, nuts or granola bars, and nibble a little something between meals or when you start to feel hungry. You can read more about this tip here.
> Nap: One reason behind premenstrual snappishness and depression is the lousy sleep we get during this pre-period week because of plunging estrogen. One 2010 study found that napping for 30 minutes reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in premenstrual women, boosting mood and calm.
> Thwart a temper flare with sugar: When you feel anger rise or are about to deal with a stressful situation, quick, eat a Snickers! Or sip lemonade sweetened with sugar, chomp a cookie or ingest another sugary food (made with real sugar, not a sugar substitute). A 2010 study found that sugar supplies the brain with glucose, giving it the energy it needs to control areas that manage emotions, helping you rein in a fiery temper. A follow-up study by the same research team found that you’re also more likely to lash out at your partner when your blood sugar is low, so it could be helpful to get your blood sugar up before discussing hot-button topics, like bills or whose family to visit for the holidays. (Of course, don’t overdo it with this tip. A little sugar can be helpful. A lot of sugar will just land you trips to the dentist, doctor and drugstore for Monistat.)
> Join a yoga or meditation class–and go regularly: A high level of stress has been shown time and again to exacerbate premenstrual anger and the blues. Yoga and meditation not only help you release stress while in class, they help you learn how to breathe and mellow yourself out when you feel anger start to rise when out of class. Bonus: These activities alter brain chemicals that boost mood and relaxation. Read on to learn more.
I hope these suggestions help you reduce your severe PMS or PMDD. Please keep in mind that what works for one woman may not work for another. You may need a certain combination of methods. So consider trying a few–and being patient because some remedies can take at least three full cycles to kick in. Keep a detailed daily journal to track what’s working for you.
Finally, as with any new supplement or herb, before you take it make sure it doesn’t interact with any other supplements, herbs or medications you’re taking or affect any medical conditions you may have by consulting with your doctor, a pharmacist or checking WebMD.