Are your hormones wrecking your health? Women go through a lot every month, thanks to the hormonal fluctuations that are also responsible for the monthly menstrual cycles, and the inevitable menopause. Many women experience a wide array of annoying symptoms of depression, irritability, gastrointestinal discomfort, lack of appetite, migraine headaches, and so on. Genetics, stress, lifestyle could all play a role in aggravating premenstrual symptoms. Most experience mild symptoms, but it is estimated that close to 20% experience severe symptoms. The exact cause of PMS is still unknown and although they cease when ovulation also stops and it may not be directly related to the levels of hormones in the blood.
The variations in the female hormone, estrogen results in many of the symptoms, including depression, irritability, sleeplessness, cravings, bloating, and cramps that women experience just before or during the menstrual cycle, termed as premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Menopause too is associated with a drop in estrogen levels, and increased discomfort associated with the symptoms. Many nutrients have been studied for their possible impact in reducing these symptoms. Here are a few that have been studied extensively.
Vitamin B 6
A double blinded randomized controlled clinical trial found that pyridoxine or Vitamin B 6, reduced both overall PMS symptoms and specific symptoms of irritability, anger and depression. A review of clinical trials also found evidence that up to 100 mg per day of pyridoxine helped reduce PMS symptoms, especially depression.
Evidence is strongest for the role of calcium in alleviating symptoms of PMS. Ovarian hormones influence calcium metabolism. Many studies have found that in those who experience severe PMS symptoms had reduced levels of calcium in their blood. A clinical trial involving more than 450 women who were given calcium supplements of 1200 mg per day found that there was significant reduction in all symptoms associated with PMS. A recent study also reported that women who had the highest intake of both calcium and vitamin D were least likely to develop discomfort associated with menopause. The best source of calcium is milk and milk products, and also found in green leaves, seeds, nuts and millets like ragi, and whole pulses.
Magnesium is believed to have therapeutic effect on menopausal and PMS symptoms. In a trial Walker et al. Found that a daily dose of 200 mg of magnesium reduced bloating and cramping by the second month of administration. This may be one of the reasons many women instinctively have a craving for chocolates during or just before the monthly cycle. Chocolate or cocoa is a rich source of magnesium.
Estrogen is a hormone that controls and regulates the monthly cycle. A decreased estrogen levels causes many of the symptoms associated with menopause and PMS. Natural estrogens are found in some foods, including soya and flaxseeds. A randomized trial of 14 premenopausal women found that there was significant reduction in specific premenstrual symptoms using soy proteins. Estrella et al. found in a recent study that soya had antidepressant effect in pre and menopausal women. Flaxseed had the same effect, and moreover was more effective than soya in reducing symptoms associated with PMS, according to a study. Ground flaxseed can be sprinkled over salads or yoghurt, and soya granules, tofu and soya nuggets are a better, more available forms of natural estrogen.
Studies have shown that a diet rich in foods containing thiamine and riboflavin (vitamin B1 and B2) may reduce the incidence of PMS by 35%. The best sources of these include whole grains, bran of cereals, milk and milk products.
Modifying lifestyle, by including moderate intensity exercise, meditation and yoga, and eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and includes plenty of wholegrains are all essential to reduce severity of PMS symptoms.
Expert nutritionists are available through various online fitness and wellness portals who can help ease your pain a little during this time.