Eat To Beat PMS

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Food Is The Best PMS Medicine I’m completely convinced that good nutrition can really help beat PMS in most cases, without the need for synthetic hormones.  Eating a PMS-friendly diet can restore natural hormone balance, increase energy levels, and improve … Continue reading

Beat PMS Bloating - 5 Do's and Don'ts

When you’re already suffering from PMS, bloating around your middle just adds to the feelings of despondency.  And if you’re feeling fat – even when you’re not! – you’re more likely to feel sorry for yourself and comfort eat, giving in to those premenstrual food cravings.  So this post is about what you can do to make bloating go away – and better still, prevent it.

PMS Bloating Why Do We Get Bloated?

Many women tend to retain more fluid in the days leading up to their period.  This is because of rising oestrogen levels which make your kidneys hang on to more water and more salt.  (Bloating can also be a problem during perimenopause when oestrogen levels are going up and down).  

Other factors, such as stress and certain foods, can also contribute to bloating.  But if your bloating comes around on a monthly cycle, the cause is hormone changes. 

Constipation can also be a problem during PMS, which adds to the uncomfortable feelings around your middle.

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How Migraine Headaches are Linked to Your Hormones

 migraine with aura via evil erin on flickr

 

I remember when I saw a friend after she’d had her first major migraine attack.  She looked pale and shaken and thought she was having a stroke  – definitely not a normal, everyday tension headache!   Migraine symptoms include feeling sick or vomiting, vision problems that make you think you’re going blind or seeing stars, and temporary fragility and sensitivity to noise, light and movement that mean you literally can’t move and the only option is to lie still in a dark room.

Between puberty and menopause, migraines are THREE TIMES more common in women than men.  And women’s migraine headaches are often cyclical – meaning there’s a pattern to when they occur.  However the hormonal connection has often been ignored. 

We now know that the main trigger for hormonal headaches is a drop in oestrogen – specifically estradiol, the main type of oestrogen made in the ovaries.  Just as the cause of PMS is more about the balance of progesterone in relation to oestrogen (rather than the total amount you have of either), it’s not a low level of oestrogen that triggers a migraine headache – more the sudden drop from one level to another.  This happens at lots of points during a woman’s reproductive life and explains why we’re more prone to migraine headaches than men. 

It’s not just being stressed and overworked, or difficult or over dramatic – as some doctors have been guilty of labelling women in the past.

When Migraines Are Most Likely To Occur

AT OVULATION – or JUST before your period

Oestrogen levels plummet during the second half of your menstrual cycle, when progesterone levels increase to get your body ready for pregnancy (whether or not it needs to), making this a common time for migraine headaches.  For some women, this effect starts mid-cycle, at ovulation, rather than immediately before their period.

DURING perimenopause 

As you approach the menopause, even though oestrogen is heading in a generally downward direction, your oestrogen levels still tend to go up and down.  Many women experience more migraine attacks at this time.

during a pill-free week

For women taking the contraceptive pill, there’s typically a fall in the dose of synthetic oestrogen during the break between pill packets.  This is usually a week long and allows for a period (withdrawal bleed).  The fall in oestrogen at this time, however, may also trigger a menstrual migraine.

When Migraine Headaches Improve

Migraine headaches usually get better if you become pregnant because then there is a constant high level of oestrogen, which generally makes you feel good all round.  However, some women find that their migraine headaches come back immediately after they’ve given birth.  This is the time when high levels of all the key female hormones all drop suddenly, leading to post-natal depression in some cases.

Once past the menopause, women have a constant and stable (low) level of oestrogen meaning that migraine attacks tend to disappear – although this isn’t very comforting if you’re younger and suffering now!

What To Do About Migraine Headaches

As with PMS, the first step to identify the hormone connection is to keep a symptom diary.  If you note down your migraine headaches over three months or so, you’ll be better able to see the pattern of your migraine attacks, whether they’re connected to your menstrual cycle, and what the other triggers might be.  Some foods (like alcohol and caffeine) trigger migraine symptoms in some women. Lack of sleep and stress can also be trigger, for example.

Once a migraine has started, the medications usually used are painkillers, anti-sickness medicines or anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen, mefenamic acid, diclofenac, etc).

Conventional treatment for preventing migraine headaches uses synthetic hormones include oestrogen patches for short term use, or the pill.  But if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m keen on natural solutions and lifestyle changes rather than synthetic hormones to achieve hormone balance. 

How To Balance Hormones to Prevent Migraine Headaches

Everything I talk about on PMS Warrior contributes to natural hormone balance and this will also help with migraine prevention:

By following a holistic lifestyle plan for balancing your hormones, you may not be able to totally eliminate migraine headaches, but their severity and frequency should reduce.  Let me know what works for you in the comments below, on twitter, or on the PMS Warrior Facebook page.

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Try Agnus Castus FREE For A Month!

Bionorica one-a-day agnus castus tablet compared to Viridian agnus castus capsules (and 20p piece for scale)

agnus castus products - capsule by Viridian and tablet by Bionorica
The two forms of agnus castus – capsules and tablets (NEW)

There’s solid research behind agnus castus, and it’s a godsend for many women with PMS.  Agnus castus is an age-old herbal remedy, which seems to work by:

  • Raising progesterone
  • Reducing prolactin
  • Counteracting excessive oestrogen

Agnus castus can also be helpful during perimenopause.  Although hormone levels overall are declining during this time, fewer menstrual cycles where ovulation occurs (called anovulatory cycles) mean less progesterone is released in the second half of your cycle.  This in turn can lead to oestrogen dominance, often accompanied by symptoms like hot flushes (or ‘flashes’, if you’re American), forgetfulness and putting on weight.  Which is where topping up with progesterone, either by a ‘natural’ progesterone cream, or agnus castus, comes in.

A small number of women – usually those with with the most extreme form of PMS, called PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) – have an intolerance to progesterone.  But for most PMS sufferers and women in perminenopause, agnus castus is a safe and effective herbal remedy with minimal side effects.

Well, the good news seems to have just got better: there’s now a one-a-day formulation of agnus castus available in tablet form.

The New Agnus Castus Kid on the Block

I was recently sent a free sample of a month’s supply of a new agnus castus product called Cyclopret. (Free samples were available to members of NAPS to tie in with PMS Awareness Week).

I’ve been used to taking agnus castus three times a day in the form of powdered herb in a capsule.  My choice of brand is usually Viridian, which is an ethical UK-based company which donates part of its profits to charity.  Obviously, I pay for my usual supply myself (not freebies!).

I was intrigued to find that this agnus product looked completely different – and that the recommended dose was only one tablet a day. 

Hang on a minute… just ONE? Was this some sort of homoeopathic remedy, I wondered, with only the teensiest, tiniest molecule of actually active ingredient which would prove worse than useless?

I checked the packaging and was even more bemused. The dose in each individual tablet is advertised as being 4mg.  That’s 4mg compared to a single capsule of my regular brand containing:

  • 200mg agnus castus extract
  • PLUS 150mg of agnus castus powder (i.e. the whole berry) in each capsule
  • with a recommended dose of 1-3 capsules per day
  • totalling a whole lot more than 4mg of agnus castus! 

Extracting Only the Active Ingredients From Agnus Castus

I emailed Bionorica, who make Cyclopret, and queried the difference in appearance, strength and recommended dose.   This is what I gleaned:

  1. Bionorica is a long-established German company that specialises in herbs. (Interestingly, one of their other products is St John’s Wort, an anti-depressant herb which seems to have a beneficial effect on serotonin, and which I will do a post about soon).  The Germans pioneered the use of agnus castus and have a long history of using it in PMS treatment and research its effects, so this felt like a good sign.
  2. Rather than using the whole agnus castus plant or berries in a dried form, Bionorica extract the active compounds using water and alcohol.  This process is called phytoneering – I guess from ‘phyto’ = plants + ‘engineering’ – and more technical information is available from the English language pages on their German website (there’s also a separate website specifically for the UK).

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