Hormonal Health Part 1: What Really is PMS and Do I Have to Have it?

Sex Hormones - Libby Weaver

Let’s talk about our hormones and how they affect us during PMS! Before I give my two cents on preventing and helping with PMS, it is important to get some basic knowledge on how PMS occurs. Let’s explore the sex hormones:

Estrogen- the dominant sex hormone for the first half of the cycle used to lay the lining of the uterus down. This hormone wants you to get pregnant! It also stores fat so that your own body fat can initially fuel this new life you’re creating.. kinda cool but we don’t like to think so.. because, well, fat. In excess, it can interfere with the thyroid’s ability to make its hormones. There are different forms of estrogen, that are either harmful or nourishing to your body, and your liver plays a big role in deciding your personal ratio. Lifestyle choices will help estrogen get transformed effectively and efficiently, so that it can be excreted throughout our body.

Progesterone: holds the uterine lining in place and is an anti-anxiety agent and an anti-depressant. It allows us to move fluid along in our bodies (diuretic) and helps us use fat for energy. This hormone is only made from the adrenal glands in a small amount, and the adrenal glands is also where we make our stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are made. This can become a problem if our stress hormones take over.

It is important to know that neither hormone is good nor bad, but if you are deficient or excessive in either one of them, that is when a problem can occur.

Cortisol– not only a stress hormone but also a catabolic hormone (breaks muscle down) that historically communicates with the body that there is no food left, which slows our metabolic rate down. In present day, this gets excreted from long term stress such as finances, health, confidence, ect.

Adrenaline– “Our bodies are in danger” Heat of the moment/ immediate reaction to stress. Time to “fight” or “flight.”

With too much of these stress hormones being produced from the adrenal glands, the body is historically being told “theres not enough food” from cortisol and “you are in danger” from adrenaline. The last thing it wants is to bring a baby into the world under those circumstances, so it shuts down progesterone, the hormone that helps us stay calm, not drown in sadness, and moves water throughout us, altogether. With that said, we need to control our stress response in order to increase our progesterone levels.

By day 21 of our cycle, we’re supposed to have 25 units of progesterone. Dr. Libby Weaver, one of Australia’s leading nutrition specialists, shares that in her 16 years of work, she has only seen 6 women with that amount. The average score she got back was 0.5 (aka it wasn’t found,) so us women aren’t making enough progesterone in the first half or second half.

Coming towards the end of the cycle, progesterone will fall. If your hormones are in balance, the decline will be steady. The lining of the uterus shreds if there is no conception around day 28. During the time of the falling of progesterone and shedding of the uterus, it is crucial for progesterone levels to stay above estrogen levels in your body.

second half hormones

I added the two blue arrows to point out the branching off of the bright red lines to show two instances of extremely low progesterone towards the end of the cycle. A healthy progesterone flow (the maroon/brown colored line) will increase rapidly and will either continue to increase if you are pregnant, or fall slowly and steadily while staying above estrogen levels if you are not. Notice how the black line, the estrogen, stays below the progesterone levels toward the end of the cycle. If you are going into the beginning of your cycle with the opposite happening (too much estrogen/ not enough progesterone,) that is how PMS happens.

We want to avoid this. And we can avoid this. This is not normal. This is not something we have to live with.

So what can you do to raise your progesterone and prevent PMS?

Support your adrenal health! We want the right ratios of progesterone and cortisol, and we want to be able to regulate them ourselves. What leads you to make the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in your life? For most people, it’s caffeine, because it communicates to your body to produce adrenaline. Another big one is our perception of pressure. Where do you feel pressure in your life? How do you respond to it? What long term stress have you been feeling for quite some time?

After doing some self digging, consider bringing restorative practices in your life to give the adrenal glands a lovely rest. Yoga and meditation, even just 15 minutes of each, can be really rewarding.

Here’s what else can help:

  • Magnesium– 1 cup of spinach has around 40% the amount you need for the day. You can also get a lesser value from pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, and….. cacao?!?! Good news, right? Just make sure you’re getting it raw or minimally processed. The higher percentage of cacao you get directly from the bean, the less sugar and other ingredients it contains.
  • Flax seeds have lignin’s that help balance hormones and block the negative effects of too much estrogen
  • Red raspberry leaf– in tea or capsule … AMAZING for cramps
  • Chasteberry– believed to be a natural source of progesterone
  • Vitamin D- helps your body use calcium, (which you can get so much of from kale) and reduces inflammation
  • Evening primrose oil– contains Omega 3 Fatty Acids! Somewhere within 3 and 6 grams of EPO with 270 to 540 mg of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the dose. Also good for unclogging your pores!
  • Maca– nourishes the adrenal glands due to all the minerals and fatty acids in it!
  • Dandelion root– helps with liver detoxification and can help with bloating too
  • Rosehip tea – the rosehip plant helps balance hormones, increases cell rejuvenation and circulation, and strengthens the immune system.
  • Avocados! An anti-estrogenic food.. How? They contain plant sterols and also contain Vitamin E
  • Pineapple– couldn’t resist and picked at a blemish? Pineapple contains a protein-digesting enzymes called bromeliad, which is known to build up the immune system and speed up wound healing
  • And of course, last but not least, exercise to balance your hormones! Aim for even just a half hour of aerobic exercise most days of the week.

I, myself, have been affected by PMS in so many ways and have seen other people suffer from it. We women all dread this time of the month and prepare for it as if it is normal. But, we don’t have to continue with this! I recommend you try a bunch of these little things leading up to your period and see if it makes a difference. We are all different and respond differently to literally everything. My food may be your poison, and your food may be my poison. The only way you can know is to try.

*My information was retrieved from my IIN Nutrition Online Education which included a handful of videos, lectures, and articles. 

Stay tuned for Hormonal Health Part 2 where we talk about hormonal acne!

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