Anyone with a uterus will probably be able to tell you - with some passion - that dealing with an ever fluctuating dance of hormones can be quite a complex thing to do.
PMS is something a lot of us see as an inevitable part of being a woman, and a time when chocolate is our only hope… but is that really true?
Some myths and old wives tales have become part of our society (the irrational PMS-ing woman on a TV show, for example) and it's high time we talked about them.
In this post we’ll dive into 5 common myths you might have heard about premenstrual syndrome.
Some of these myths are true and need to be better understood, and some are false and we need to stop believing them ASAP...
Here are the PMS basics:
PMS stands for pre-menstrual syndrome, which is really just a fancy way of saying ‘collection of symptoms that occur before your period.’
Why before your period? Our reproductive hormones don’t just turn our period ‘on’ and ‘off’ each 28 days. They cycle through a whole range of stages to build uterine lining, ovulate and shed said lining which you can read all about here, in 5 minutes or less.
The time before your period however, is when your hormones are fluctuating and falling away rapidly. If your sex hormones are out of sync with one another, or behaving a little wildly, this is the time where your body is going to tell you all about it, in one way or another.
Myth #1: PMS is ‘normal’
PMS may be common these days, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be your norm. We’ve very much been taught that when we’re experiencing PMS we should buy and consume a bar of chocolate, surrender to Netflix and pop some painkillers. But contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Oftentimes, the not-so-fun signs we associate with PMS are the result of hormone imbalances. We commonly see PMS-type symptoms associated with either increased oestrogen, decreased progesterone, or both! In the modern world we live in, these hormone imbalances may be ‘common,’ but that certainly doesn’t make them ‘normal.’
It is entirely possible to make PMS a thing of the past, by finding out what’s going on with your hormones, and bringing them into balance.
Myth #2: PMS is the same for every woman
Signs of PMS can range from mood swings to breast tenderness to acne. Heck, your PMS can even show up differently from month to month. These differences can be what makes hormone imbalances in general so difficult to pinpoint.
Think of these signs as messengers from your body that something isn’t quite right, and could do with a little attention and TLC.
These signs of PMS can include:
- Mood swings - feeling unusually down, fragile, overwhelmed or anxious;
- Bloating and other digestive changes;
- Water retention;
- Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns;
- Sugar cravings;
- Appetite changes;
- Low energy;
- Breast tenderness;
Myth #3: PMS and your period are the same thing
PMS stands for pre-menstrual syndrome - meaning before your period.
The uncomfortable signs we associate with PMS can be caused by our oestrogen and progesterone levels falling in order to enable the start of our periods.
On day 1 of your period, your oestrogen levels will actually start their follicular phase rise again, meaning that by day 2 or 3 of your period, you should be feeling a lot ‘better’. Yes, the bleeding part of your cycle can bring about pain, cramping and bloating (usually caused by inflammation), but that's not PMS.
If your period is heavy or painful to the point that it affects your usual day-to-day activities, this can also be a sign from your body that something isn’t right, and is always worth investigating further. If the pain is debilitating or any symptoms you experience during your period are extreme, it’s best to chat to your GP to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical condition.
Myth #4: You get sick more easily when you’re PMS-ing
“It’s not that PMS makes you sick, but as your oestrogen levels fall in the second half of your cycle and in the lead up to your period, your immune system function also decreases,” explains Lisa Grey, Nutritionist and BePure Clinical Manager.
Oestrogen encourages our immune cells to do their jobs well and to kill infections. But this does mean that when our oestrogen levels naturally fall in the latter part of our cycles, our immune function is suppressed, making it more likely that any underlying bugs or viruses that have been trying to take hold, will win the fight.
This is a perfectly normal process, and this immune system suppression is actually essential for fertility. We wouldn’t want our immune systems rejecting a newly fertilised egg that’s ready to grow into a bouncing baby!
This means the second half of your cycle is also a good time to slow down, get more sleep, up your nutrients, and incorporate a little more self care into your days.
Myth #5: PMS can give you anxiety
Hormones don’t just control and regulate our bodies, they impact our mental health as well.
If you’ve noticed that your anxiety gets worse before your period (or perhaps that you only experience anxiety at the end of your cycle), it’s not just an unfortunate coincidence. It’s the result changing brain chemistry at this time of the month, brought about by hormonal fluctuations.
The two key female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, have powerful mood boosting and balancing properties. Both of these hormones also fall away rapidly towards the end of your cycle, which can in turn, leave you more susceptible to feelings of anxiety, general low mood, trouble sleeping, and crying over things that you usually wouldn’t.
This is particularly true for progesterone—your lovely calming, balancing hormone that soothes the mind and supports relaxation and sleep. With lower than optimal progesterone levels, this sudden drop, can and often does, leave you feeling like a bit of a crazy person.
If you experience feelings of anxiety on a fairly regular basis, try taking note of when in your cycle these are at their worst, and when they ease off. It might be your hormones.