You know that time of the month when you’re irritable, angry, irrational, and feel a little out of control? Or depressed, exhausted, anxious, and blue? Is it hormonal or just a funk?
It’s become a societal norm to pin mood swings on hormonal fluctuations, and that's an issue. It perpetuates the belief that women are simply destined for suffering due to our physiology. When we learn to live in sync with our endocrine system and support it with the right food and lifestyle habits, we have the power to optimize our health and kick butt all month long. The "typical" PMS symptoms our culture often writes off as a consequence of womanhood are actually serious signs of a hormonal imbalance.
I know what you’re thinking. If PMS-based mood disruption isn’t a predestined part of womanhood, then how come so many women suffer from the same symptoms? My theory is that many women are experiencing some form of endocrine dysfunction, whether they know it or not. And that can happen for a lot of different reasons, from the wrong food choices to too much stress to toxic ingredients in everyday household and beauty products. I know all about this, firsthand—when I was suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), I battled terrible anxiety and depression. But when I got to the root of my hormonal imbalance and healed my body with the right nutritional and lifestyle tools, my mental health totally healed too.
The bad news is you can’t spot treat your way to better moods: You have to get your whole hormonal ecosystem working if you want to get your mind in a positive place and keep it there. The great news? You can absolutely do this by taking simple steps starting right now. Here are seven things to start doing this month to reclaim your moods, stat:
1. Start taking B vitamins and magnesium.
Stress is known to deplete magnesium, an important nutrient for balancing your cycle, easing bloat, alleviating anxiety, and encouraging good sleep. Additionally, low levels of B6 can exacerbate issues related to estrogen dominance—the most common cause of period problems—since the vitamin helps produce progesterone, which keeps you balanced. Start supplementing with both of these to stave off unpleasant symptoms.
2. Get enough sleep.
When you have too much or too little estrogen, it negatively affects your production of melatonin and serotonin, two key hormones for optimal rest. This creates a vicious cycle that leaves you exhausted and crabby. To start getting a handle on your sleep, consider quitting caffeine (or at least cutting it out the week before your period) and then try creating a soothing bedtime ritual that helps you totally unwind—that means shutting off your electronic devices and taking the time to ease into rest.
3. Move your body.
Science has shown that exercise can help reduce the amount of physical and psychological PMS symptoms, potentially because of the feel-good endorphins you get when your body’s moving. But cycle-syncing your workout routine is essential to hormonal balance. If you’re in the midst of your luteal phase (i.e., the days leading up to your period or the phase most often pinned with the PMS label), for example, you’ll want to get in your high-intensity classes in the first half and switch to lower-impact Pilates or restorative yoga right before you menstruate.
4. Enjoy regular orgasms.
Yes, you read that right! Orgasms provide tons of benefits for your health, from regulating your menstrual cycles to inducing deep relaxation by boosting your endorphin levels and flushing cortisol—the stress hormone—out of your body.
5. Eat the right carbs and fats.
By eliminating processed junk foods and incorporating nourishing carbs and fats, you’ll recalibrate your blood sugar and insulin levels. When you’re maxing out on sweets and starches, the rush of glucose causes your body to release a flood of insulin; this disrupts your ovulation and encourages your body to store extra fat. And guess what that extra fat produces? Even more estrogen, which only sets you up for more symptoms. Our bodies are actually better designed to get fuel from fat than from sugar, and when paired with wholesome whole grains, they’ll keep you feeling stable and satiated for a long time (meaning you won’t get hangry).
6. Pop a probiotic.
The majority of your happy hormone—serotonin—is actually manufactured in your gut. When your gut flora is off, you won’t be able to adequately absorb the right nutrients to keep your body in balance. This is a big deal because a mounting body of evidence indicates that your gut and mental health are closely connected. Consider taking a probiotic supplement and/or adding fermented foods like kimchee and sauerkraut to your daily diet.
7. Consider nonhormonal contraception alternatives.
Plenty of women are prescribed birth control to remedy their mood swings, but recent research from the University of Copenhagen revealed that the birth control pill and other hormonal contraceptives (including the hormonal IUD, patch, and ring) could actually be causing depression. I highly recommend avoiding hormonal birth control completely and instead using other methods of contraception like condoms.
If you’re not sure where to start, my new app was designed to track your symptoms and teach the right actions to take at each phase of your cycle.