PMS Escape – Clinically Proven to work in a PMS crisis
I’m not keen on the remedies and supplements which are targeted at women with PMS but which are not backed up by science. But when I find a product I like, I stick with it and spread the love.
Several years ago, I discovered a powdered drink from America specifically designed for women with PMS called PMS Escape. It had been developed by Dr Judith Wurtman while she was Director of the Program in Women’s Health at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Clinical Research Center and was a clinically tested and patented blend of carbohydrates and vitamins.
Having come out of an academic institution, it’s not surprising that PMS Escape was supported by research papers which provided evidence of its effectiveness in double blind trials. These showed that it successfully boosted serotonin levels and thereby reduced the PMS symptoms of sadness, tension and anger (as well as cravings for sugar and carbohydrates) compared with a placebo.
I’ve already written about how carbohydrates are essential to managing PMS symptoms, but the great advantage of PMS Escape was that it served up a balanced mix of carbs in a quickly digested convenient form, giving almost instant relief. Taken on an empty stomach, PMS Escape would have a calming, soothing effect within 20 minutes or so. The effect was rapid and astonishing, and a lifesaver in a crisis – for example, when you had to get it together to face a challenging day at work despite your PMS.
I’ve kept a little stockpile of PMS Escape in my cupboard and it has bailed me out on several occasions. Just yesterday I had an unexpectedly ratty day after I let my blood sugar levels plummet by forgetting to eat from breakfast till 3pm. Fatal. I got shaky and irritable, impatient and muddle-headed, but nonetheless I needed to get myself together to meet someone. Due to very poor planning, I didn’t have the time or the ingredients to prepare and eat a sensible carbohydrate-rich plant-based meal which would have got me back onto an even keel. So I reached for the PMS Escape – the sticking plaster solution. And it worked a treat. I was able to face the world and get on with my day. It also saved me from the potato crisps and chocolate fingers – which would have given me a short-lived energy and mood boost but would have left me feeling worse in the long run.
I’ve only used PMS Escape occasionally but when I have, it’s been very effective. So as far as I could see, the only downside was the cost – about £12 for enough for 3 days’ usage (a month’s supply) – and the fact you could only order it online.
Well, I don’t need to worry about either of these any more, as it’s now been discontinued.
I’m sorry to drop that bombshell – especially if you’ve got excited because I’ve just waxed lyrical about it – but you have to understand … I’m grieving too! PMS Escape is now showing ‘out of stock’ or ‘sold out’ pretty much everywhere. What a shame that the one thing that has been proven to be fast-acting, safe and effective, has been withdrawn.
PMS Escape Withdrawn – So Now What Do We Do?
At first I suspected that PMS Escape had stopped being imported into the UK because of new health food regulations, but I see that it’s the American side of the operation that has withdrawn it. So that seems pretty final. (If anyone knows exactly why it’s been discontinued, I’d be interested to know. I’ve tried emailing the manufacturer / distributor, Enzymatic Therapy, and got no response).
But as the saying goes, perhaps it’s better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. It’s time to move on and find an alternative PMS emergency fix. But first a little about how and why PMS Escape worked so well.
Why Serotonin Is Important In PMS
Dr Wurtman was onto something with her serotonin-boosting drink. Serotonin is the brain’s feelgood chemical and has a role in regulating mood, appetite and sleep. Women have less serotonin than men anyway, and you won’t be surprised to learn that serotonin levels are thought to be particularly low during PMS. The changes in the ratio of oestrogen and progesterone which occur in the second half of the menstrual cycle (the luteal phase) seem to decrease the activity of serotonin in the brain at this time, resulting in anxiety, aggression and depression.
Serotonin also affects appetite and the sense of fullness you get after eating properly. (You may have noticed that most women can’t last long on a very low carbohydrate diet without feeling an urge to binge because their serotonin levels get too low and their appetite control goes to pot).
When serotonin levels are low – like in PMS – you’re liable to be tormented by food cravings which spur you on to eat more sweet or starchy foods. This is your body’s way of telling to get some tryptophan in from food to make more serotonin in the brain. (Tryptophan is the precurser to serotonin, which means you need it to start off the chain of chemical reactions for serotonin production). But when you respond to the cravings by eating sugary and refined foods, your blood sugar levels which can lead to spikes in insulin production and an energy crash which leaves you feeling worse. Protein-rich foods also don’t always allow for the tryptophan in them to be absorbed because of other completing amino acids which stop trypophan getting to the brain. So complex carbohydrates – together with the vitamins needed to synthesise tryptophan like zinc and the B vitamins – are the best way to go to increase serotonin.
Anti-depressants like Prozac also work to increase serotonin. The SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) mean that you hang on to serotonin in your brain better and they act very much like serotonin-boosting foods. However, a nutritional solution is a better, safer and more targeted way of helping women with mild to moderate PMS than anti-depressants .
Create Your Own Serotonin Boosting Mood Foods
To maintain serotonin levels – or for an emergency serotonin fix during PMS – these are the golden rules:
- Include complex carbohydrates as part of a varied diet. This means eating whole grains (not refined, processed white flour, for instance), vegetables; beans and grains. Put down that croissant and pick up whole grain roll.
- Eat foods rich in B-vitamins. The B vitamins play a critical role in brain health and in serotonin production and are essential for high energy and good mood
So here are a few ideas for serotonin boosting, calming, uplifting foods:
- Bananas contain tryptophan, carbohydrates and vitamin B6, and they’re quick and easy to eat. Add them to a smoothie, to your breakfast porridge, or eat on the run.
- Flaxseeds raise serotonin levels because they contain both tryptophan and high levels of omega 3 fatty acids which your brain nerve cells need.
- Beans and lentils are full of protein and good carbs. Try falafels in wholemeal pita bread or indian dahl or vegetable chilli for a comforting meal
- Buckwheat isn’t wheat, it’s a seed which is naturally rich in many B vitamins and contains much more tryptophan than most starchy carbs. Other seeds that you’d be forgiven for thinking are grains are millet and quinoa. They contain protein and carbs and essential amino acids so are great all-round foods (I’ll be posting some suggestions on how to cook them soon).
- Green leafy vegetables – bursting with fibre, carbohydrates and B vitamins. Steam them, stir fry them, bake them, eat them raw (finely shredded and marinated). Use large lettus leaves or chard (collard greens) as a wrap instead of a flour tortilla.
Other Ways of Boosting Serotonin
In addition to tryptophan-rich foods, some women find a supplement called 5HTP (5 Hydroxytryptophan) to have a useful anti-depressant effect. It too works on raising serotonin levels and I’ll be writing a post about how and when to use it in the near future.
And while food is important, there are things you can do for yourself that increase serotonin. You know what makes you feel good (even if during PMS you don’t feel like doing any of it!):
- Getting natural light every day. This also tops up your Vitamin D levels which helps with calcium absorption from food. Serotonin levels are reduced in winter due to the lack of sunlight and are also a factor in Seasonal Affective Disorder (or winter depression) which also exacerbates PMS
- Proper sleep, rest and relaxation
Further Thoughts on Serotonin Solutions
Dr Judith Wurtman, who originated PMS Escape, has co-written a book about boosting serotonin levels for weight management, improved sleep and mood, which explains more of the science around serotonin. It’s called The Serotonin Power Diet and is useful for women with PMS to understand the role this vital brain chemical plays and how we as women – and especially women with PMS – are particularly serotonin sensitive. Dr Wurtman herself seems to have moved on from studying PMS and now mostly runs weight management clinics.
Based on my own experience, I would like to see a replacement for PMS Escape. I think there is a market for some sort of serotonin rescue product for women with PMS who need an emergency fix. What do you think?
Who knows, maybe once I finish my nutritional studies, I will look at developing and testing an effective and convenient alternative serotonin boosting product myself. (So if there are any research scientists or food technologists who are interested in a development project, please get in touch!)
I know this has been a long post, but PMS and serotonin is an important and complicated area. As ever, thanks for reading.