It’s that time of the month again…you know, the few weeks before your period when you experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS)? As if the period itself wasn’t enough, many of us are also affected by symptoms leading up to the big flood!
Whilst plenty of us will have been told to grin and bear PMS, take the edge off PMS symptoms using painkillers, or trick the body’s natural processes by taking hormonal medications (e.g. the contraceptive pill), others have found PMS relief through natural and healthy lifestyle practices, a supportive vegan diet, and plant-based supplements.*
In this article, I’m going to cover the basics of PMS, common PMS symptoms, how to reduce PMS symptoms, and the best vegan foods and PMS supplements to support a healthy menstrual cycle.
But first, a disclaimer!
A “one size fits all” solution to PMS
*Hang on a minute Alice, you mentioned ‘natural’, are you saying we shouldn’t take evidence-based medications?
Of course not! As a public health scientist, I sincerely believe in “mainstream” healthcare practices. Scientifically-backed medication is incredibly important and you should always consult a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing any healthcare issues. But, in my humble but informed opinion, there is NOT a “one size fits all” solution to PMS. This is why I personally follow a more holistic approach; one that takes into account multiple factors that might affect my menstrual health.
Moreover, multiple studies have confirmed the link between nutrition and PMS symptoms (see here, here, and here for just a few examples of evidence-based research). And, as a vegan, it’s incredibly important to understand our plant-based diets and how we can eat or take plant-based supplements in order to maintain and support our overall menstrual health.
Great, I’ll get on with it…
What is PMS?
Put simply, PMS includes physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms that women may experience on a monthly basis, prior to starting their period. These symptoms tend to disappear soon after the menstrual bleeding begins.
On the lookout for sustainable period products? Check out our guide to turning your vag into an eco-warrior!
What causes PMS?
It’s actually not fully understood what causes PMS but it’s thought that symptoms may occur due to the imbalance of hormones and changes in the body’s nutrient levels.
How do I know if I’m PMSing?
Common PMS symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Abdominal cramps
- Tender breasts
- Anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, and other emotional symptoms
- Headaches and/or migraines
- Bowel issues (e.g. constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, excess gas, etc.)
- Lower back pain
But Alice, these symptoms could point towards loads of other health issues! How do I know if it’s because I am PMSing?
Sometimes it can be difficult to know if the symptoms we experience are due to our menstrual cycle and sometimes it’s very obvious. It’s up to you to stay in tune with your body and to jot down any symptoms you may notice; be aware that these could be different to what other women experience. Once you’ve kept track of your symptoms for a few months, you’ll probably start to spot patterns and be able to work out if these are caused by PMS.
The timing of the symptoms is a good giveaway. For example, since PMS is “pre”menstrual, if these symptoms don’t stop shortly after your period starts, they may be a sign of other health conditions.
How can I reduce PMS?
If your symptoms are really severe and affecting your daily life, then please do seek professional advice. If not, then you could focus on the following to reduce your PMS symptoms:
1. A balanced vegan diet & nutrition
Diet and nutrition play a significant role in how we feel. For example, alcohol affects the sleep cycle, salt can leave us feeling bloated, and sugar can cause headaches and fatigue. By developing healthy eating habits, it’s possible to lessen or even prevent certain PMS symptoms.
The NHS suggests eating frequent smaller meals (every 2-3 hours) instead of 3 larger meals a day, which may help to regulate blood sugar levels, reduce fatigue and improve overall health and energy levels.
In addition to eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, the following list of nutrients are particularly recommended by healthcare professionals for sufferers of PMS:
Research studies have demonstrated low levels of calcium in women who suffer from PMS symptoms. By eating dark leafy greens, soy-based foods (e.g. tofu and tempeh), fortified plant milks, lentils, and other plant-based foods high in calcium, you might be able to diminish pain, food cravings, bloating, and water retention, which are all typical PMS symptoms experienced during the luteal phase (between ovulation and menstruation) of the menstrual cycle. Phew, that was a mouthful!
According to DR.VEGAN, you should be able to reach the recommended intake by eating around 3-5 servings of calcium-rich foods per day. Vitamin D can also increase the absorption of calcium, so try pairing your calcium-rich foods with some mushrooms and eat them alfresco (if the sun is shining)!
Aside from replacing the iron that is lost during your period, iron-rich foods play a role in mood regulation. This is because iron helps convert the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin, which is also known as the ‘happy hormone’.
Numerous studies have shown how an increase in iron levels can improve mood and lethargy symptoms related to PMS. In fact, a cohort study of over 100K females found a significantly lower risk of PMS specifically related to the intake of nonheme iron, which is found primarily in plant foods and supplements! In contrast, there was a low association between the intake of heme iron (from animal sources) and PMS risk. In other words, you can decrease your PMS symptoms by consuming plant-based sources of iron – go go vegan diet!
So get out there and eat those lentils, dark leafy greens, and quinoa! The minimum recommended intake of iron is 14.8mg per day to avoid health conditions caused by a deficiency. It may be a good idea to boost your intake by taking iron supplements when you experience PMS symptoms and whilst you are on your period.
Vitamin B6 and magnesium
Vitamin B6 influences a whole host of activities in our bodies, many of which have an impact on menstrual health. For example, it helps maintain a healthy nervous system and is involved in the production of serotonin and dopamine (mood-boosting and stress-relieving hormones).
Research studies have found that vitamin B6 supplements can relieve the psychological symptoms associated with PMS, including irritability and low mood. One such study found an even more significant effect when vitamin B6 was paired with magnesium.
Luckily, there are lots of vegan foods rich in vitamin B6 and magnesium, including fermented foods, navy beans, sweet potatoes (with skin), bananas, avocados, and tofu.
2. Vegan supplements
If you’re struggling to eat enough of the aforementioned nutrients as part of your diet OR if you just need an extra boost whilst you’re experiencing PMS, then taking plant-based supplements can be an effective way to reduce PMS symptoms.
What’s more, supplementing can provide you with ingredients that you might not otherwise come across. For example, PMS supplements can include ingredients such as:
The chasteberry, also known as the Vitex agnus-castus fruit or monk’s pepper, is produced by the chaste tree and has been used to treat various ailments since ancient Greece. Whilst some of the touted benefits are questionable, a few studies have found that Vitex supplements appear to alleviate women’s PMS symptoms, including irritability, mood swings, headaches and breast tenderness.
The theory is that Vitex decreases prolactin, which helps to rebalance the other hormone levels, including oestrogen and progesterone. In turn, this fixes the imbalance of hormones that cause PMS symptoms.
An ancient herb integral to Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Look out for KSM-66, which is the optimal form of Ashwagandha (and used by DR.VEGAN). One theory is that it regulates the chemical signalling in the nervous system. Whatever the mechanisms, its ability to help the mind deal with stress and restore ‘normal’ cognitive functioning makes ashwagandha an adaptogen.
Furthermore, although further scientific studies are needed, it has demonstrated promising results in reducing symptoms of depression. These properties make ashwagandha a favourable ingredient in PMS supplements.
Another herb used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, shatavari is also an adaptogen and is used to help your body cope with physical and emotional stress. It’s a member of the asparagus family and has the added benefit of antioxidant properties, keeping the immune system in top shape! In addition to helping to bring about a calm mental state, shatavari is also used as a gentle diuretic, which can be helpful for those who suffer from water retention and bloating.
Buy PMS Hero™
3. Healthy lifestyle
As always, a healthy lifestyle including a decent sleep cycle and regular exercise routine will strengthen your body’s capabilities and boost your capacity to deal with PMS. Staying active and getting a few early nights may improve your overall energy levels and alleviate psychological PMS symptoms.
So...can a vegan diet and supplements reduce PMS symptoms?
Research suggests that they can! By following a healthy and balanced vegan diet and supplementing with the right nutrients and adaptogenic and hormone-balancing ingredients, you should be able to manage mild PMS symptoms.
What are the best PMS supplements?
Depending on your PMS symptoms, you may wish to pick and choose a variety of supplements but this could get expensive and complicated, particularly if you experience multiple symptoms. Therefore, it’s probably worth getting a combined supplement containing numerous nutrients and ingredients that alleviate PMS. But where would you find such a thing?
Well, the best PMS supplement brand so far (actually, the only vegan supplement we have found that has been specifically designed for PMS sufferers) is…
We’ve already raved about this brand over on our Best Vegan Supplements for Optimal Plant-Based Nutrition guide. Not only are they vegan and allergen-free, but they also use naturally sourced ingredients that are easily absorbed.
PMS Hero™ - supplements for premenstrual support
DR.VEGAN has recently added PMS Hero™ to their range of awesome plant-based supplements and we’re really impressed by their carefully balanced blend of vitamins, minerals, and botanicals. The capsules contain B vitamins, magnesium, Shatavari, ashwagandha, chasteberry, and other clinically-tested ingredients.
Designed by nutritionists with over 30 years of experience, the PMS supplements aim to provide relief from common period-related symptoms including cramps, mood swings, bloating and cravings.
Our personal review of PMS Hero™
After both taking these PMS supplements for over 1 month, Lucy and I have been pleasantly surprised by the calm energy we’ve had – we’ve not bickered at all since we’ve started taking them! Additionally, I can honestly say that I’ve not felt my usual PMS urge to binge eat any vegan cheese whilst glugging back a bottle of vegan wine.
I’ve personally not noticed a reduction in my cramps but then I suffer pretty badly with these anyway and even the Mira Pro didn’t make the blindest bit of difference…you win some, you lose some!
Other cool things about this PMS supplement brand
DR.VEGAN has a subscription service so you’ll always have a steady supply of PMS supplements each month. You’re also sent a free pill tin on your first order and the supplements arrive in biodegradable and recyclable packaging because your menstrual health shouldn’t cost the earth!