We grew up with our older sisters and perhaps even our mothers too complaining about cramps and bloating and food cravings. We've heard our friends talk about heavy bleeding and feeling fatigued. So we expected PMS to happen to us too, and we didn't find anything wrong with it when it did. Sure, it's a pain in the ass, but since it's so common, we figured it's normal and just what's supposed to happen - and hell our doctor probably wasn't telling us anything different, just giving us a pill and sending us on our way.
But just because something is common, doesn't make it normal.
Premenstrual syndrome, heavy periods, early periods and menstrual clots, among other things are caused by hormonal imbalance, usually low progesterone, high estrogen or a combination of both. (There are definitely issues caused by low estrogen as well, but that tends to not be as common!)
Before I talk more about PMS it's important to have some information on how our body creates these hormones and why they are so important.
During the follicular phase of your cycle your follicles make estrogen, specifically estradiol (not the only form of estrogen your body has, but a very important one when it comes to period health). Estradiol has several important roles in the body - it boosts the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (stimulating mood and libido in the process) and benefits your muscles, brain, bones, heart, skin and metabolism. In regards to your period health, what's important to know is that estradiol stimulates your uterine lining to grow and thicken (in order to prepare for a baby). So the more estradiol you have, the thicker your uterine lining will be and the heavier your period will be.
When you ovulate, one of your follicles swells and ruptures to release an egg. After ovulation you will either become pregnant or get your period two weeks later. Ovulation is important because it's how you make progesterone. Your recently ruptured follicle becomes a gland called the corpus luteum which secretes progesterone. (This 4 centimeter corpus luteum gland grows in under a day and if you become pregnant will survive for three months until your placenta takes over the role of making progesterone - can we take a second to stop and appreciate how remarkable and amazing the female body is?!)
Progesterone has the very important role of nourishing a pregnancy. Progesterone also reduces inflammation, helps to build muscle, improves sleep and calms the nervous system. But, in regards to your period health progesterone counterbalances the effects of estrogen. Progesterone thins the uterine lining (preventing your periods from being super heavy).
Now that I've given you a very brief overview of progesterone and estrogen let's get back to PMS and period problems...
Here's a quick overview of the most common problems and their causes:
Heavy menstrual bleeding - as mentioned above, is most commonly caused by low progesterone and estrogen excess
Breast tenderness - cause by excess estrogen
Cramps in lower pelvis or back - a "normal" amount of cramps (will usually go away if you take ibuprofen and won't render your completely useless for the day) is caused by the release of prostaglandins in your uterus. Prostaglandin levels increase with more estrogen and less progesterone.
A low progesterone to estrogen ratio can also cause: mood swings, water retention, nervousness, irritability, anxiousness, and low libido
So as you can see PMS just doesn't happen for no reason. It's a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance. And hormonal imbalances can be fixed.
This blog is from a recent email I sent out to my list. On Monday I'll be sending out an email covering what causes you to have low progesterone (or none at all), how you can find out if that's your problem, and what you can do to fix it (and I'll be covering high estrogen the following week). If you want to have first access to the information I put out and receive exclusive content I reserve for my email list only, you can sign up here.