Don't miss out on a PMS healthy breakfast

PMS Warrior PMS healthy breakfast We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  We may even have tried to drum it into our children (and in case you need extra ammunition, here’s ten reasons why breakfast is a must). 

Yet many women skip breakfast, often in the belief that it will help them lose weight (when in fact the opposite is true).  A PMS healthy breakfast is really important for women who want balance their hormones, beat stress and have stable energy levels and a good mood throughout the day.  And who doesn’t want that?

Times when eating well are most ESPECIALLY important are:

To give you an example, my PMS healthy breakfast this morning was:

  • Porridge made from millet, amaranth and oatmeal – packed with anti-PMS B-vitamins, minerals, protein and slow-releasing carbohydrates – the whole package
  • Made with water and some coconut milk (could use soya milk or rice or oat milk; I’m not a fan of cow’s milk)
  • Sexed up with a little chocolate or cocoa powder (could also use carob powder or leave it plain)
  • Topped with chopped peach and pear and banana on this occasion, but could use available fruit (as it’s still summer, there’s loads of options)
  • Agnus Castus tablets on the side (a herb supplement for PMS and hormone balance, which I’m going to write about soon)

If you make a big batch of porridge (just put the radio on and keep stirring), you can then re-heat it, share it, and use different topping on other days.

You can also power up your PMS healthy breakfast still further by adding a sprinkle of:

  • Cinnamon powder
  • Maca powder
  • Rice or hemp protein powder
  • Baobab powder
  • Ground flaxseeds

So do yourself a favour.  Have a satisfying PMS healthy breakfast.  And feel better.

5 reasons to love the Mooncup

The Mooncup Means Hassle-Free Periods

mooncup is a long lasting clean and safe alternative to disposable sanitary towels and tampons

Ok, so talking about the Mooncup is not strictly linked to PMS.  But once the trials and tribulations of your PMS phase are over, you still have to deal with the bleeding (and quite possibly the pain of menstrual cramps too – but that’s another story).  And that normally means buying and struggling with tampons or pads and always being preoccupied with not leaking, being able to change your sanitary protection in time, and what to do with it when you’re done. (Who can forget the horrors of juggling all of this as a young inexperienced woman?).

Well, I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was to leave most of that faffing around behind when I changed to the Mooncup.  I wish I’d done it YEARS ago. (Read right to the end to hear the rather, er, ‘unconventional’ place I first came face to face with one!)

If you haven’t heard of it, the Mooncup is a small flexible cup made of silicon with a little ‘tail’ which you get hold of it by.  You only need to buy one, and each time you have a period, you insert inside yourself, empty it yourself, put it back in, and wash it between uses.  It’s comfortable, clean and safe, leak-proof, cheap and environmentally friendly.  What’s not to like?

Yet hardly anyone uses it.  Could it because there’s a hugely lucrative industry with enormous advertising budgets promoting disposable sanitary protection to women?  The fact that menstruation is seen as embarrassing or ‘private’ and not talked about openly can’t help either.

mooncup is a long lasting clean and safe alternative to disposable sanitary towels and tamponsThe Mooncup has been around for a few years now and is growing slowly by word of mouth more than anything else and I want to do my bit. And before I go on, I’m not paid to promote it.  I just believe in the product and have been using it myself for years.  However, if you click on the sidebar and buy one via this site, I get a small contribution which helps with the costs of this site, but Mooncup don’t pay to advertise here.  I blog with integrity and will always be impartial and independent about products and will tell you if anything is sponsored.

I was spurred on to write about the Mooncup by this spectacularly ill-informed piece by Julie Burchill in the Independent recently and I wasn’t alone in being incensed – seeing the comments that poured in afterwards was heartening.  (A rather better informed and more balanced view – plus literally dozens of illuminating comments from women – is here in this slightly older piece by Jill Tunstall in the Guardian).  I realise that Julie Burchill is a professional ‘stirrer’ but the danger is that her ignorance and prejudices may put other women off from trying something that, while it may not be for everyone, does have lots of advantages.  So here’s my take on it:

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Does the Mirena coil work for PMS?

The Mirena Coil Worked For This Woman With PMS

Some women with PMS have a positive experience with the Mirena Coil.  Here’s a very honest interview with one woman who suffered terrible PMS but found relief when she had a Mirena Coil fitted.

She also mentions how useful it is to keep a PMS diary to prove to doctors that your symptoms are caused by your monthly cycle and not anything else – making it less likely that you’ll be fobbed off.

Also in the video is Professor John Studdwho has done a lot to get the medical professional to recognise PMS and has worked with countless women with extreme and enduring PMS or PMDD.  I’m not sure how comforting it is when he says that at least PMS problems finish once you hit the menopause though – that’s a long time to wait, and most of us have a lot of living to do till then! 

How Does The Mirena Coil Work?

You may already have heard of the IUD (inter-uterine device) which is a contraceptive coil made of plastic and copper which stops pregnancy without stopping periods, although it’s generally not as popular these days as the contraceptive pill.

The Mirena coil (Mirena being the brand name) is different form an IUD contraceptive coil in that it also releases a type of progesterone (levonorgestrel).  It’s therefore called an IUS (inter-uterine system).  Whereas IUDs prevent pregnancy but often leads to longer, heavier periods, the Mirena coil (or IUS) makes periods shorter, lighter and less painful – although it still acts as a contraceptive too. 

In some women, the hormone released by the Mirena Coil have the effect of preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs, stopping ovulation. (This also helps to make the IUS even more effective than the IUD.)

Because of it’s effect on periods, the Mirena Coil is often given to women to control heavy period bleeding; for example, in women with fibroids.  It can also be given to women after the menopause instead of traditional HRT, usually in combination with oestrogen.

Mirena Coil IUS used for treatment of PMS

The Mirena coil is not really a coil, more a small T shaped device inserted into your womb (Shown here upside down)

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You say PMT, I say PMS...

Aren’t They Both The Same, PMS and PMT?

 PMT is an old-fashioned term for PMSThe answer is yes and no. 

Let me clear up the confusion and share a bit of history.

The first written accounts of premenstrual problems date back to Hippocrates the ancient Greek philospher and physician in around 450BC, and references continue to appear throughout history.  But it wasn’t until the 20th century that they were given a name. 

Although today there is recognition of the wide range of symptoms which go with PMS, until the 1980s PMS was defined as Premenstrual Tension (or PMT) – a term which focussed only on the symptoms of irritability and anger.

The PMT label itself was relatively new, having been first used in the early 1930s.  At that time, premenstrual problems were seen as a private matter and viewed as a peculiar byproduct of women’s psychology.  Treatments, such as they existed, included psychotherapy, tranquilisers, even ECT (electro-convulsive therapy).  Thankfully, things have moved on!

The term Premenstrual Syndrome (or PMS) recognises that the physical and psychological effects on women of their menstrual cycle are much broader and wide ranging than just tension or irritability.  So it’s more accurate.  It’s also the term used in all the research and medical literature, and is recognised by everyone from conventional doctors to complementary therapists. 

Don’t most people mean PMS when they say PMT?

Well yes, perhaps.  But both language and our understanding evolve, and PMT now seems a rather old-fashioned term – one that harks back to a time when there was considerably less understanding of PMS. It can also be confusing if both terms are used interchangeably.  In any event, it seems like the use of PMT is dying out naturally anyway.  And the PMS Warrior thinks that’s a good thing!

Mothers and daughters - is PMS passed on?

Me, My Mother and PMS

It isn't a coincidence that mothers and daughters may both suffer from PMSWith the clarity that only comes with hindsight, I now realise that my mother suffered from the most horrendous PMS while I was growing up.  It wasn’t so clear at the time. My mother’s mood swings, depression and outbursts were always explained as being the result of struggling without any support to bring up a child alone and deal with money, housing, and all the other things life throws at you.

But now when I think back to those times, I realise that all those practical difficulties must surely have also aggravated my mother’s predisposition towards PMS – a predisposition which I seem to have inherited.

Of course, I’m don’t think my mother would ever have used a term like PMS and I’m pretty certain she didn’t keep a symptom diary.  Such things weren’t really talked about then, and there was not much acknowledgement of how PMS could affect you, never mind information about how to manage it.  Indeed, when I was ‘starting out’, I remember spending a lot of time seeing doctors about the physical problems associated with periods rather than the psychological impact of hormones or the existence of PMS which I think played a large part during my ‘difficult years’ (hindsight again!)

The monthly pattern to our fights and bad moods at home has only become clear to me as an adult looking back, by which time it was too late to do anything about it.  However, it has made me interested in whether it’s more than just coincidence that I’ve been affected by PMS just as my mother was (and I wonder if my grandmother was too). 

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Live near Oxford? Have PMS? Invitation to join four-month research study

Does This Describe You and Your PMS?

If you're 18-30 and suffer from PMS, researchers at Oxford Brookes University want to hear from you

•    Aged between 18-40?
•    Have regular periods?
•    Suffer from PMS symptoms that affect your life?
•    Live near Oxford?
•    Currently have a sedentary lifestyle, or are too busy to  fit exercise into your life?
•    Able to attend short appointments at flexible times a few times a week for the next four months?

Oxford Brookes University logo used on PMS WarriorIf so, researchers in the Functional Food Centre, part of The School of Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University want to hear from you.

They’re especially keen to recruit women who do little or no exercise at the moment (meaning you typically work up a sweat less than one hour a week) and who regularly experience Premenstrual Syndrome.

(And if you’re wondering why women over 40 are excluded, it’s because we typically start to have less regular periods from this age).

What’s Involved in Participating in This PMS Study?

If you are able to come to the University a few times a week (at times that suit you), by giving regular blood samples, you’ll get your personal hormone levels mapped. Information from this can help with your PMS treatment and is useful data to share with doctors.

As I’ve recently written about exercise and how it helps PMS, I was interested to see that the team will also measure the effect of increasing exercise on PMS. They will support half of the women recruited to the study by increasing their activity levels for a couple of months and comparing it to the group whose activity levels don’t change.

What Will You Get Out of This PMS Study?

Sarah Hillier Oxford Brookes University

Sarah Hillier Co-ordinator for the PMS Research

This research study is a great opportunity to obtain information about your hormones and learn about how PMS is linked with exercise.  I know many of you are already very busy and overwhelmed – especially those of you juggling work and families – but I hope the study gets lots of recruits.

The bigger the sample, the better the evidence that comes out of the research, and that helps us all tackle PMS more effectively.

You’ll also receive a payment on completion of the trail as a thank you for your time and trouble and as a contribution towards travel costs.

The research team are recruiting from now until Christmas 2011 and hope to publish their results in an academic journal next year, so we can all learn from the findings. I’ll keep you updated.

Contact Sarah Hillier for a chat if you’re interested; Tel. 01865 483283 or email shillier@brookes.ac.uk.  Please pass this invitation. Thanks.

Snacks that don't make your PMS worse

Eating Well During PMS Is Tough But Worth It

Over on my Facebook page, I regularly post pictures of what I eat to show what an anti-PMS, hormone-friendly, plant-based diet might look like.  I include plant-based foods I prepare at home and the choices I make when I eat out.

One thing I’ve learnt is that denying yourself usually backfires, especially when you’re in the grip of PMS food cravings. 

Why Do We Crave The Foods That Make Our PMS Worse?

I know how incredibly hard it can be during PMS to stick to wholesome foods when every fibre of your being is crying out for fat, sugar, carbs, salt and processed foods in the form of white bread, chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, cakes and the rest.  And I know I’m not alone.  Here’s one woman talking about how she’s aware of how she uses uses food to ‘self-soothe during PMS.  I’m sure this pattern will be familiar to many of you!

That need for instant gratification is particularly strong during PMS when your brain is telling you to eat foods which give you an immediate serotonin hit.  Try to resist the impulse.  Remember that processed and nutrient-depleted sweet or starchy foods totally mess with your blood sugar levels – and ultimately make your PMS worse.  It’s just not worth it – you pay for the highs with the lows.  And that’s the last thing you need when you’re already feeling when PMS makes you feel fat, shakey, irritable and lethargic. 

My Advice is: Compromise

Have a snack.  Even have a biscuit.  But make it a small bisuit, or a not very sweet one – or better still, a seeded cracker.  Or a small piece of dark chocolate (less sugar, fat and dairy).  Add some berries on the side.  Or some nuts for protein (brazil nuts and pecans can be easily digested, whereas other nuts, like almonds and hazelnuts should really be soaked). 

Cholates and biscuits are not ideal PMS foods, but it’s all about progress not perfection.  Trying to be perfect can be counterproductive (you give up trying because you never can be perfect).  So instead, think about healthy substitutions or healthy additions and you can indulge yourself without feeling guilty or experiencing an unwelcome sugar crash.

Present Snacks Nicely So They Feel Like A Treat

Doesn’t everyone have apples sitting forlornly in their fruit ball, lonely and overlooked?  When you contemplate eating one, the effort involved puts you off and sends you running in search of something in a shiny foil packet.  Stop!  Sometimes all it takes to make a healthy food more appetising is to chop it up and dress it up. 

How about chopped apple with a sprinkle of lemon juice and powdered cinnamon, adorned with some pecans and blueberries? A bit more interesting and appealing, no?  It’s a snack that’s good for you and good for your PMS.  It gives you lots of little bits to work your way through and tastes to enjoy and is more likely to satisfy you too.

Slow Down

Whatever you choose as a snack, take the time to savour your snack.  Sit down.  It will help your digestion and make the snack more enjoyable if you eat it slowly, rather than chomping.  Chew. Lick. Nibble.  Eat mindfully. Here are five good reasons why you should eat slowly.  

And then go and do something to distract yourself from eating rubbish that makes your PMS worse until your next hormone-friendly proper meal!

Let me know your favourite hormone-friendly and anti-PMS snacks (Pics welcome! I’ll post them on the PMS Warrior Fan Page where you can click ‘Like’ and connect with me and other women with PMS)

The one thing you must do for PMS - even if you don't feel like it

The Single Best Thing You Can Do For Your Body and Your PMS

 I’m talking of course about exercise

No – don’t go away!  I know the last thing you want to do when you’re PMS-ing is to squeeze yourself into lycra and face the world.  But honestly, it doesn’t have to be like that (well, not the lycra part at least).  

Exercise really can make a difference, not just to how to look and feel, but to the irritability, anxiety, anger and depression that are symptoms of PMS. 

And once you’re out the door, you will start to feel better, I promise.  The hardest part is often getting started – especially when you’re suffering from PMS-induced lethargy.

The Benefits of Exercise for Everyone

In case you need convincing about the benefits of exercise (whether you have PMS or not), how about if I told you that even moderate exercise – a little every day, a few longer sessions ever week, doing more as you build up stamina – gives you all these benefits and more:

  • Strengthens muscles and bones
  • Decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Improves long-term memory
  • Improves reasoning
  • Regulates appetite
  • Bolsters the immune system
  • Helps you to solve problems
  • Decreases your risk of diabetes
  • Improves your fluid intelligence
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Treats depression
  • Cuts the risk of stroke
  • Decreases the risk of heart diseases

There is now considerable scientific evidence to back up all these claims, and my thanks to Dr John Medina, molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School for that comprehensive rundown.  Here’s a video of him talking about exercise being ‘the magic bullet’ (and practising what he preaches!). 

As Dr Medina points out, to survive we had to move – not to sit at desks, on sofas, in cars as we do so much of the time nowadays.  Our bodies are no longer doing what they were meant for, and as there is a strong connection between our bodies and our brains – “healthy body, healthy mind” – this has all sorts of repercussions.

The Benefits of Exercise for Women with PMS Symptoms

On top of all the general benefits of exercise, the most compelling one is that exercise alleviates the symptoms of PMS.   As well as keeping you fit, exercise can actually give you energy when you most need it, and can distract you from negative and self-defeating thoughts and change your mood.

It is also particularly essential for women to prevent brittle bones and hip and wrist fractures in later life.  So-called weight-bearing exercise, like walking, running or resistance training, prevents osteoporosis. That’s the long-term benefit. 

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Scientific review of PMS treatments in The BMJ (this is a big deal!)

PMS represents a wide-ranging and complex ragbag of symptoms, and affects so many women, over such a long period of their lives … yet it is still often poorly understood by doctors. 

So it’s brilliant to see a comprehensive review of research and treatment options for PMS in the BMJ, the respected journal which keeps doctors in the UK up to date.  It’s based on robust research (e.g. randomised control trials) and proper scientific evidence, and brings together evidence from all the key available research into particular areas of PMS treatment. 

British Medical Journal - the BMJ has just published a review of PMS treatmentsThe authors recognise that:

Premenstrual disorders have a substantial social, occupational, academic, and psychological effect on the lives of millions of women … and their families. 

And they acknowledge that:

Little is known about what causes premenstrual syndrome.

Most refreshing though, is their admission that:

“… the few treatments that are licensed are ineffective, although treatment can, however, be provided for most women with good effect using unlicensed approaches.

Taken from the Abstract (Summary)

This is a breakthrough, being both a valuable tool for doctors – and a sign that PMS is coming out of the shadows.  (Unfortunately, unless you are a doctor with a BMJ subscription, you have to pay to see the text of the full article).  This review also complements the Treatment Guidelines for PMS produced by the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS).

I’m also pleased to see the team who produced it actually includes some female experts (being made up of one male professor, two female professors and one female researcher). 

As with any research paper, not everyone will agree with the authors’ conclusions, and some of their statements about PMS treatments beg further questions.  However, I’m encouraged by the supportive and informative comments about the PMS review already appearing on the BMJ website from other doctors and I’m sure the debate will continue.  The more information and discussion there is around PMS and what works, the better, so this comprehensive review is a good news all round.

Research study backs vitamins B1 and B2 - but only from food not vitamin supplements

vitaminIt’s a good day when you see some proper scientific research conducted into ways to alleviate PMS symptoms.  And by proper research, I mean rigorous, large-scale research carried out over a meaningful period of time, and looking at a large and representative sample.  The study of PMS is important and deserves it.

So I was very pleased to see that The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published the results of a ten-year study which looked at the eating habits of over 1,000 women with PMS, and nearly 2,000 in the control group (i.e. without PMS).  

The objective of the study was:

To evaluate whether B vitamin intake from food sources and supplements is associated with the initial development of PMS.

Why Look at B-Vitamins?

You may already have heard that B-vitamins give you energy and clear brain fuzz.  (Anyone else tried fizzing, orange-y Berocca for a hangover, for example?).  In fact, the whole family of B-Vitamins are important for a range of health reasons, as they:

  • Help your nervous system carry information to and from your brain through the synthesis of feelgood chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine (likely to be one of the reasons why they are particularly significant in PMS).
  • Help your body release energy from food to give you energy and stamina.
  • Are important for healthy muscle function.

The various vitamins in the B-Vitamin group are sometimes called by alternatives names which can be confusing, so here’s a run down of the most common ones:  Continue reading

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