By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
Hormones and mood are intrinsically related, to the point that there are diagnoses for when it has become unbearable. There are two hormone-based mood disorders that have been identified within the medical field: Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). PMS is the “medical term” used for a series of physical and emotional symptoms that can occur a few days prior to a woman’s menstrual cycle. These symptoms tend to be manageable and only last 2-3 days. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD comes with the same symptoms of PMS but with more severe emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and intense fatigue. In PMDD, symptoms typically start during the luteal phase, which is just after ovulation, and extend all the way until your menstrual cycle begins. It can last between 12 and 14 days, making it a person’s default mode for almost the entire month. These conditions are both attributed to hormonal changes.
The cause of PMS and PMDD is that your hormones are unbalanced: your estrogen levels increase and your progesterone levels decrease in a way that is not benefitting your emotional wellbeing. These hormone changes cause a drop in serotonin, the neurotransmitter most directly linked to mood, causing moods to change.
Too little estrogen can look like menopause while too much estrogen can cause the symptoms most often found in PMS and PMDD. Some of these symptoms can include anxiety, irritability, decreased energy, bloating, food cravings, depression, headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, brain fog, etc. Hormonal imbalances and estrogen dominance, often the cause of hormone based mood symptoms, can happen due to having too little progesterone, if you’re on oral contraceptive pills (OCP) or have used OCP recently, and exposure to environmental toxins such as parabens, pesticides, solvents. These hormonal imbalances continue to be promoted and intensified by diets that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, excessive caffeine, chronic stress, hormones in dairy products, and food intolerances such as gluten.
Conventional treatment for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is typically a combination of antidepressive medications (such as SSRI’s), anxiety medications (such as benzodiazepines) and oral contraceptives. These options, although sometimes necessary in order to start to apply the lifestyle changes discussed below, don’t resolve the issue or address the root problem. They may help make the symptoms more manageable, acting as a bandaid instead of curing the issue at hand. You may choose to combine both traditional medications with lifestyle changes or opt to try the lifestyle changes alone.
If you are looking to balance your hormones and heal what is underneath your mood symptoms, here are our lifestyle and wellness recommendations:
Engage in a month long to 2 month long lifestyle change and tuning up of diet. Chances are you will maintain many of the lifestyle changes you have undertaken because of their results and your improvements.
To ensure optimal results, try cutting out all dairy, gluten and decrease sugar consumption. This is done with the goal of decreasing inflammation. Sugar in natural foods such as bananas, berries, and dates are more than welcome and do not need to be eliminated.
Balance your blood sugar levels. Start your day with a blood sugar balancing breakfast that is high in protein. This may include a protein shake, eggs, or the inclusion of nut butters in your breakfast. You can choose to visit your primary physician and get tested for conditions such as hypoglycemia.
Ensure your digestive health is running smoothly. One of the ways your system eliminates estrogen is through your bowel movements. So regularity is key. Visit your gastroenterologist if necessary and consider taking a daily probiotic supplement.
Increase fiber intake through increased consumption of vegetables and fruits. Try adding 2 Tbsp of flax seeds to your daily diet (in your daily smoothie or salads) to help with consistent bowel movements.
Decrease caffeine consumption.
Don’t skip meals, eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.
Increase Omega 3s through diet. Foods with high levels of omega 3s include wild salmon, fatty fish, chia seeds, flax seeds. You can also choose to take a daily supplement (1000 mg a day) to ensure you are meeting your daily requirements.
Increase levels of Magnesium. Research has found that women who have PMS have lower magnesium concentration in the red blood cells than women who do not experience hormone-based symptoms. Foods that are high in magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, bananas, avocado. You may choose to have a daily supplement as well, preferably an hour before bedtime.
Increase levels of B vitamins – especially B6, folate and B12. Foods high in B6 include avocado, grass fed beef, sunflower seeds, tuna, and turkey. You may choose to supplement with a B complex vitamin and up to 50 mg a day of B6.
Decrease stress and balance the nervous system by including mindfulness practices in your daily life. These may include a daily meditation (in the morning), yoga, pilates, and/or prayer, massage therapy, and relaxation training.
Increase aerobic and/or anaerobic exercises to 3-5 times per week in order to increase levels of endorphins, serotonin, improve digestive health and balance nervous system and hormones.
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The material on this article is provided only to help people get started in their search for relevant information. It is not meant to treat or replace any professional psychological or medical treatment or advice.
Dr. Francesca Vazquez is the founder and editor of Ease to Wellness, LLC. She is a licensed health psychologist and vinyasa yoga instructor based in Miami, FL. She completed her training at Ponce School of Medicine, Jackson Memorial Hospital/University of Miami, and UF Health Cancer Center, specializing in health psychology & behavioral medicine. She has worked in spinal cord injury rehab, neuropsychology, pain management, stress management, mindfulness based stress reduction, psycho-oncology and wellness coaching. Currently, she runs Ease to Wellness while also providing health psychology services for private clients, teaching yoga, and running wellness workshops. She is a regular contributor for websites such as www.mindbodygreen.com and a Health Psychologist at Adaptive Center and Mind and Soul Therapy, both located in Miami, FL. To contact or for more information, visit www.francescavazquez.com.