Reviewed by

Morgane Leten - Nutrition & Fertility Coach

  • Energy
  • Hormones

What does PMS stand for?

Gritting your teeth through a work meeting while cramps and mood swings turn your world upside down for a week out of every month. Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard of PMS by now, but what does PMS mean? 

PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a combination of symptoms that like to show up before your period. Not 100% sure what PMS is? You’re not alone! Let’s learn all about PMS, so you can figure out your unique patterns and find some relief from those dreaded PMS symptoms. 

What is PMS, exactly?

Let’s start with the basics and answer the question: what is PMSing?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) occurs between ovulation and the start of your next period. It usually starts about a week before your period. The PMS meaning or definition covers the vast signs and symptoms of PMS, including mood swings, sore breasts, food cravings, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, PMS remains a bit of a mystery in the scientific world. The exact cause of PMS is unknown. But researchers think that PMS happens after ovulation as this is when estrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop if you’re not pregnant. 

Your body will stop releasing progesterone if you're not pregnant about 10 days after ovulation. Then, as the hormone levels wear off, your symptoms subside, the uterine lining sloughs off, and you get your period. If you are pregnant, you'll continue producing progesterone (and experiencing PMS-like symptoms). After pregnancy, PMS may come back, but it’s possible to experience different PMS symptoms. 

Who can get PMS?

PMS symptoms can occur from puberty through to menopause. The most common age when many women start to report that PMS is worse is around their 20s and 30s. Other women may only experience mild symptoms. PMS appears to happen more often in women with high stress, a family history of depression, or a personal history of either depression or postpartum depression. 

As many as 3 out of 4 women may experience PMS in their lifetime. Over 90% of women say they get PMS symptoms like headaches, bloating, and moodiness. For some, PMS is so severe that they can’t go to work or school, while others win the PMS lottery with only mild symptoms. 

Very severe PMS symptoms can be a sign of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a much more severe form of PMS. Fewer than 5% of women of childbearing age suffer from PMDD, which includes monthly symptoms such as: 

  • Lack of energy 
  • Anxiety or panic attacks 
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Insomnia 

What causes PMS?

Throughout the month, your body is going through changes. There’s a lot going on in there as your hormones and uterus put in some prep work. In every cycle, your hormones are going up and down as your body gets ready to release an egg. While we know that changes are happening, doctors don’t really know what causes PMS. We have a word to describe the symptoms, but the exact mechanism at work is unknown. 

It’s thought that PMS is the result of changes in your body chemistry, especially around your period. Many experts believe that PMS and the natural fluctuations in hormones could affect mood. There are also chemical changes that happen in the brain that could contribute to PMS. 

Some women find that other health problems can get worse just before their period like allergies, asthma, and migraine headaches. Lifestyle factors may also influence PMS or make it worse, like: 

  • Smoking 
  • Stress 
  • Not enough exercise
  • Poor sleep 
  • Depression 
  • Excessive alcohol intake 
  • Too much sugar, red meat, or salt 

What does it feel like?

Swollen breasts and a stabbing pain in your stomach can put a big downer on your day. Even when you know it's coming, all you want to do is hit the sofa and ride it out with a hot water bottle. The exact symptoms of PMS you experience can be different for everyone. PMS covers physical and emotional symptoms. You may even find that PMS symptoms can vary from month to month. 

Physical PMS symptoms can include: 

  • Stomach cramps 
  • Constipation or diarrhoea 
  • Bloating and gassiness 
  • Headaches
  • Backaches 
  • Clumsiness 
  • Food cravings 
  • Tiredness
  • Skin problems 

Mental and emotional symptoms of PMS can include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Insomnia 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Depression 
  • Anger and irritability 
  • Confusion 
  • Social withdrawal 

The different phases of the menstrual cycle also impact your libido and sexual desire. Some women experience an increase in libido the days before their period, while others are much less interested in the idea. Whatever you may be feeling in those days is personal to you and your cycle. When it comes to PMS, the science is not exactly definitive, so it’s important to let your body guide you on what works for you. 

If you find that your PMS symptoms are majorly impacting your daily life and ability to work and function, speak to a nurse or doctor. Keep an eye on your symptoms, and always speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns. 

Does it change with age?

Yes, it’s normal for PMS symptoms to change as you get older. Your period and cycle are changing and evolving as you transition to menopause. You may find that PMS symptoms get worse towards your late 30s and 40s. During this part of your life, your body is in a transition phase toward menopause, known as perimenopause. 

It’s not inevitable that PMS gets worse with age, but as your cycle evolves, PMS can change as well. This is especially true for those who are very sensitive to fluctuating hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. 

As your body starts to prepare for menopause, it can become unpredictable. In the years approaching menopause, your hormones are up and down. So, it’s difficult to predict what those changes in PMS symptoms will look like. For instance, mood changes could stay the same or get worse. Eventually, PMS does stop after menopause as you no longer have a period. Menopause typically happens between the ages of 45 and 55. The transition to menopause can last for years. 

Can vitamins or minerals help?

When figuring out how to deal with PMS, it’s a good idea to start by keeping track of your cycle and symptoms. The more you know about your cycle, the more you can start to understand what’s normal for you and your body.  

Studies show that some vitamins and minerals may help offer some relief to PMS symptoms. Here are some of the top vitamins and minerals to add to a PMS-friendly diet. 

  • Vitamin B6 may help with PMS symptoms like moodiness, forgetfulness, irritability, bloating, and anxiety. You can find vitamin B6 in foods like fish, poultry, potatoes, bananas, and dark leafy greens. For a hassle-free option, you can support your cycle and hormonal activity if you add the right vitamins and minerals to your diet. 
  • Another key mineral that contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue, which may occur during the premenstrual phase, is magnesium. It has been studied that the intake of magnesium & vitamine B6 can help alleviate several PMS symptoms. Magnesium is a powerful mineral that also contributes to muscle function, which may help if suffering from menstrual cramps. Many women in modern society have an inadequate magnesium intake, so it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor to check if you’re lacking magnesium. You typically find magnesium in leafy green veg like spinach, nuts, and whole grains. Sneak more magnesium into your diet with a daily supplement. 
  • Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) may offer some relief for PMS. Studies show that taking a 1-2g supplement of polyunsaturated fats may help reduce cramps and other PMS symptoms..  

While certain vitamins and minerals may help with PMS, it’s a good idea to restrict certain foods like alcohol. Research shows that alcohol intake is associated with a higher risk of PMS, and heavy drinking is associated with a larger increase in risk. When you have PMS and are about to come on your period, it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water and watch your alcohol intake. 

What else can I do to manage PMS?

While PMS can feel out of your control at times, there are lots of ways that you can manage it. These are things that you can do at home. One of the best ways to manage PMS is to understand your unique patterns, so you can start to find out what works for you and makes you feel better

Here are some tips to help manage PMS that you could try living according to the 4 seasons of your cycle

  • Regular exercise of about 30 minutes a day. 
  • Eat a healthy diet with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  
  • Try to eat enough calcium from your diet (think dairy, leafy green vegetables, and canned salmon).  
  • Avoid salt, alcohol, and caffeine. 
  • Don’t smoke. 
  • Get plenty of sleep 
  • Manage and reduce stress
  • Keep track of your menstrual cycle and symptoms 

Although it can feel like the last thing you want to do is exercise when you’re PMSing, several studies show that exercising, especially aerobic exercise, can help improve PMS symptoms. Other studies suggest that younger women with high physical activity have milder PMS symptoms. Exercise triggers the release of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which may help to boost your mood too.  

Getting a good balance of nutrients through your diet and moving your body regularly can have a positive effect on your physical, mental, and emotional health. To support your menstrual cycle from the inside out, make sure you’re adding high-quality vitamins and minerals to your diet. If you have questions, get in touch with our experts and ask us anything!