Food for thought about how to live healthy!

The Physiology of PMS

Here’s a little personal rant (it has a point, I promise). Overall, the past five days have been terrible for me. Maybe my outlook on my personal life wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t about to start my period. Ironically, during this horrible five day period I have also had some of the worst PMS symptoms ever. Now that it’s over and I’m able to think rationally again, I decided to do some research as to the cause of PMS (I told you it had a point).

PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, is extremely common among women ages 13-45. About 85% are affected with at least one symptom. PMS is not characterized by the physical symptoms of a menstrual cycle, but rather the psychological symptoms 5-7 days before menstruation.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Increased Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Increased Emotional Sensitivity
  • Changes in diet
  • Changes in libido

The number and extremity of symptoms vary from woman to woman. Although there may be unusual cases where symptoms seem more prominent or withdrawn, each cycle of PMS is fairly predictable.

PMS cannot be cured because it is not well understood. The main theory behind the cause is that a neurotransmitter called serotonin interacts with certain sex hormones. Neurotransmitters are important because they transport electrical signals from one nerve cell to another. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for transmitting signals of happiness and well-being.

One of my biggest PMS symptoms is getting extreme cravings. Women tend to eat high fat and high sugar foods such as chocolate, ice cream, donuts, cookies, and other desserts because their brains are looking for something to help replace the serotonin lost due to hormonal changes.

The symptoms of PMS are well known so they can be easily managed. While going through stages of PMS, it’s important to cut back on caffeine and sodium, as difficult as that may be. Aerobic exercise, exercise with low intensities and long durations such as yoga, are also proven to help.

If none of the above help improve symptoms, it may become necessary to take SSRIs, Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors. SSRIs can be dangerous if abused which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor about the symptoms of PMS before being prescribed SSRIs.

Hormonal contraceptives, such as oral birth control or a hormone patch, only relieve the physical symptoms of a menstrual cycle or to help regulate time between cycles. Some prescriptions are known to make PMS symptoms worse.

PMS and PMDD, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, are different in that PMDD is a much more severe condition categorized as unipolar depression. If you think you may have PMDD or have a family history, it’s important to see a physician to help get the right treatment.

Some doctors believe that PMS is not a real condition and just a product of a “hypochondriatic” culture. According to Carol Tarvis, an renowned American social psychologist, women have been socially trained to expect symptoms of PMS.

Ms. Tarvis, I think it’s safe for me to say that I have not been socially trained to eat 3 glazed donuts, 2 pints of chocolate ice cream and 2 dozen Chewy Chips Ahoy in a span of five days.

But whether you believe PMS is in your imaginary head or your actual head, don’t follow my example and make sure to eat healthy and exercise during each cycle.

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