Nutritional Therapist Jen Walpole specialises in women’s health, specifically fertility and hormone balance. Jen often works with clients that are experiencing irregular menstrual cycles, have been diagnosed with PCOS, endometriosis or those that wish to support their fertility, pregnancy or require ante-natal support.
Jen's approach focuses on holistic wellbeing which is why we're a fan of her approach. At healf, we focus on Eat, Move, Mind & Sleep as the four pillars of wellbeing which is why we are unlocking the secrets to female hormone balance through Diet, Supplements & Lifestyle.
By Nutritional Therapist Jen Walpole
For countless women, the onset of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) can feel like an unwelcome monthly friend, with symptoms that can disrupt both personal and professional lives. But did you know that PMS is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding female hormonal health? Hormones influence everything from our mood and energy to sleep patterns and skin health. Beyond the monthly cycle, achieving hormonal balance has broader implications for overall wellness.
Diet and lifestyle play pivotal roles in managing PMS and hormonal balance. The foods we eat, the supplements we choose, and the way we lead our daily lives can tip the balance of our hormonal health. However, whether you're in your twenties, thirties, forties, or beyond, there are tailored nutritional and lifestyle tweaks that can support your body's natural rhythms. Let's explore PMS (and beyond) to help you achieve optimal hormonal health.
PMS – What’s 'Normal'?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects up to 75% of women during their reproductive years. Symptoms vary among us and can range from mild to severe. However, understanding typical PMS symptoms from those warranting further investigation is essential. Here's an insight into what's normal and what's not:
'Normal' PMS Symptoms:
Mood Fluctuations - Feelings of irritability, sadness, or mood swings are common before menstruation. These mood changes often alleviate with the onset of menstruation.
Physical Changes - Many women experience breast tenderness, bloating, weight gain, and headaches. These symptoms typically commence a week or two before menstruation and recede once it begins.
Behavioural Symptoms - Fatigue, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances can also be components of regular PMS.
Not Normal Symptoms (Potentially PMDD):
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) characterised by significant mood disturbances and physical symptoms that dramatically interfere with a woman's daily life, especially in the two weeks leading up to menstruation. The exact cause of PMDD remains unclear, but it's believed to be linked to hormonal changes that trigger specific neurotransmitter changes in the brain. It's essential to differentiate PMDD from other mood disorders, as the treatment and management can differ.
Severe Depression and Hopelessness - While feelings of sadness can accompany PMS, profound depressive states, especially if leading to suicidal thoughts, are indicative of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), a severe and less common form of PMS.
Extreme Mood Shifts - If mood swings become too extreme and begin to interfere with relationships or work, it might signal PMDD or another mood disorder.
Persistently Intense Physical Pain - While some pain, like cramps, is expected, debilitating pain that interferes with daily activities is not standard PMS fare and warrants medical investigation via your GP or healthcare provider.
Symptoms Extending Beyond the Menstrual Cycle - If symptoms persist well into menstruation or arise at other times in the cycle, it might not be typical PMS.
Key Nutrients To Reduce PMS
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects numerous women, manifesting as a mix of emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms in the days leading up to menstruation. Hormonal fluctuations play a pivotal role, but the good news is that certain nutrients and foods can alleviate some of these symptoms. Here are my top 6:
Calcium & Vitamin D
Studies highlight the significance of calcium and vitamin D in managing PMS symptoms. In fact, one study of over 3,000 women found those with higher intakes of calcium and vitamin D had substantially reduced risks of developing PMS. The findings underscore the potential therapeutic benefits of calcium and vitamin D in PMS prevention. Good sources of calcium include dairy, tahini, green leafy vegetables, and small fish, such as sardines. Meanwhile, it’s advisable to supplement vitamin D, increasing your dosage throughout the winter months.
Magnesium & B6
Magnesium, especially when combined with vitamin B6, is known to be effective in alleviating mood swings and other PMS-associated mood changes. Foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables are excellent magnesium sources. As magnesium is needed for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, it is also worth considering supplementing this much needed mineral. B6 can significantly reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, especially mood-related changes. Foods such as poultry, fish, bananas, and potatoes are good sources of vitamin B6.
Optimal iron levels are linked to a reduced risk of suffering PMS. Good sources include lean red meats, poultry (especially the darker meat), oily fish, beans, tofu, and spinach. To optimise uptake, pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C, such as beef in a tomato sauce and beans with lemon juice.
Taking a multivitamin such as Wild Nutrition’s Food-Grown Daily Multi Nutrient would ensure you are supplementing your dietary intake of all of these key nutrients to support any PMS symptoms and hormone balance.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s may diminish the intensity of PMS symptoms, particularly low mood, nervousness, and bloating. Fatty fish is the richest source of omega-3 whilst chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds offer plant-based sources. Supplementing your diet with omega-3 may also be beneficial to ensure you are obtaining optimal levels. Bare Biology’s Rise & Shine, offers optimal levels of EPA and DHA, alongside vitamin D.
What Else Helps Hormone Balance?
Right, so we have PMS support sorted, but about general hormone balance? Here, are some of the key foods that stand out for their potent benefits in promoting hormonal health.
Broccoli, kale, spinach, and Brussel sprouts belong to this family of vegetables renowned for their nutrient density. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in diindolylmethane (DIM), a compound shown to support the body's oestrogen balance. Aim for 2 portions of dark green leafy veg per day.
Not only supportive of PMS, omega-3 fatty acids present in fish like salmon and mackerel are also essential for hormone production. Studies have found that Omega-3s can influence insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, aiding hormonal regulation. Aim for 2-3 portions of oily fish per week.
Apart from being a source of omega-3s, flax seeds contain lignans. These compounds behave like oestrogen in the body and can act as a natural buffer during phases of hormonal fluctuation (12). Aim for 1-2 tbsp flaxseed per day by adding this to overnight oats, smoothies, or yoghurt. A nice way of incorporating this into your diet is via a flaxseed oil like this one from Fushi – use as a dressing for veggies or salads.
Rich in antioxidants, cacao contains compounds that boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood (16). What’s more, cacao provides a lower caffeine alternative to coffee for that morning pick me up, which won’t impact cortisol levels and therefore negatively impact hormonal balance. Opt for raw cacao, such as that found in cacao and collagen by Ancient + Brave.
The gut and hormones are intricately linked. Probiotics, found in fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut support a healthy gut microbiome which in turn influences hormone production. Optibac for women contains Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which support the gut-brain axis, which plays a role in modulating stress responses and might indirectly influence hormone levels.
Lifestyle Tips To Alleviate PMS
Managing PMS involves a combination of dietary adjustments, with some key lifestyle changes. Below are some lifestyle tips that could help alleviate the symptoms of PMS.
Regular Exercise - Physical activity is beneficial for overall well-being and can also relieve PMS symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins, which act as natural mood lifters. It can also help mitigate symptoms like bloating and fatigue. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, even a power walk would do your PMS the world of good!
Stress Management - Stress exacerbates PMS symptoms like irritability and mood swings. Methods like deep-breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness can help manage stress levels. Getting out into nature has proven benefits when it comes to reducing stress. Consider engaging in activities that bring you peace and relaxation.
Adequate Sleep - Lack of sleep can make anyone irritable, but it can be especially taxing when you're experiencing PMS. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night to help regulate mood and improve psychological well-being.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol - Both caffeine and alcohol can affect your mood and energy level. Limiting these substances might help reduce PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, bloating, and mood swings.
Balanced Diet – It goes without saying that diet is key to help manage PMS and support hormone balance. Eating small, frequent meals rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre, and protein can help keep your blood sugar levels steady and improve mood. As mentioned, incorporating foods high in calcium, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids may also help alleviate symptoms. Meanwhile, high sugar foods can lead to blood sugar imbalances, creating hormonal disarray. Similarly, trans fats increase inflammation, further disrupting hormonal activity. Keeping sugar and poor/processed fats out of the diet is therefore advisable when it comes to managing PMS and supporting hormone balance.
Hydration - Proper hydration can help ease bloating and digestive issues. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water a day (approx. 2L) and limit salt intake to help reduce water retention.
Remember that individual needs and responses vary, so it may take some time to find the most effective approach for you. However, incorporating these lifestyle changes can offer a holistic way to manage PMS symptoms.