Mood swings, low mood, irritability and tearfulness are familiar yet unpleasant symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) for many women, usually occurring the week before their period.
For some women, symptoms may be mild, however others may experience severe symptoms to the point it significantly interrupts their life. The more severe form of PMS is called PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
Research suggests that levels of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’, may be affected by hormonal changes leading up to menstruation, contributing to more severe symptoms. In some women, serotonin levels may be more sensitive to these hormone fluctuations than in others.
If you’re reading this, chances are this is something you experience and you’re looking for ways to avoid the emotional roller-coaster each month. The good news is there are strategies to support your mood, through consuming nourishing and nutrient-dense foods, and by incorporating self-care practices into your routine!
Here are some key recommendations to support your mood before your period:
Consume foods high in the amino acid Tryptophan
Tryptophan is essential for the creation of the neurotransmitter Serotonin. Research indicates that diets lacking in tryptophan may worsen PMS symptoms, particularly irritability.
Tryptophan rich foods include chicken, turkey, beef, pork, tofu, salmon, tuna, cod, beans, lentils, cow’s milk, pumpkin seeds and eggs. Eating these foods in a meal combined with carbohydrates such as potatoes, banana, oats, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, couscous or quinoa can help to improve tryptophan absorption.
Consume foods rich in magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral for supporting a healthy nervous system and promoting relaxation. Consuming magnesium rich foods including dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, cocoa, brown rice, avocados and bananas can be helpful for managing stress and supporting a positive mood.
Look after your gut
The gut and brain communicate with each other through complex connections which can directly affect our mood. Consume a variety of colourful plant foods including culinary herbs and spices, such as rosemary, oregano, parsley, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Consume probiotic foods such as yoghurt and sauerkraut, which contain naturally-occurring healthy bacteria.
Make time for yourself each day to relax
Stress is associated with more severe PMS symptoms, therefore it’s important to factor in relaxing, feel-good activities to help boost your mood such as watching a funny film, creating art, listening to music, taking a warm bath or spending time in nature.
Use an app to track your menstrual cycle
Mood changes tend to occur during the luteal phase (the week before menstruation). An awareness of where you are in your cycle means you can plan ahead and take extra steps to look after your mental well-being at this time.
Gentle physical activity
Inactivity is associated with more intense PMS symptoms, so aim to include movement in your daily routine. Aerobic exercise such as jogging, running or cycling three times a week for 20 minutes is suggested to help manage PMS symptoms. When energy levels are lower during the luteal phase, gentle exercise can be helpful, for example a walk in nature, Pilates or yin yoga. Exercising outdoors in daylight can also help to stimulate serotonin production.
Eriksson, O., Wall, A., Marteinnsdottir, I., Agren, H., et al., 2006. Mood changes correlate to changes in brain serotonin precursor trapping in women with premenstrual dysphoria. Psychiatry Research, 146(2), pp. 107-116.
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