PMS Be Gone!
Everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you didn't!) on dealing with that time of the month.
- If your period makes you nauseous, blame your hormones. According to health experts at TeenHealth.org, the hormone changes your body goes through during your monthly cycle can make some women nauseous and even cause vomiting, though the feeling usually goes away in a day or two. To help reduce nausea, take an OTC anti-inflammatory medicine and use a heating pad below your navel when experiencing cramps. It may also help to eat smaller, more frequent meals. If it's really bad, talk to your doctor about changing birth control pills, which can also reduce symptoms.
- Watch what you eat! How severe your PMS symptoms are from cycle to cycle may have a lot to do with what you eat in the days leading up to your period week. Cosmopolitan Radio health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, says consuming more salty foods than usual may make you feel extra bloated, since salt causes water retention. Taking in excess caffeine in coffee and soda can also leave you super-moody, since those pick-me-ups trigger mood swings.
- Take a chill pill! Your cramps may be directly linked to how stressed out you are. Wider says your stress level influences your PMS level. More stress, more symptoms.
- Carbs are good for you during your period. To avoid drowsiness, which is linked to the plunge in estrogen and progesterone that happens before your period, Judith Chamberlain, MD, of Brunswick, ME, says to eat lots of complex carbs and lean protein before and during your cycle. By turning in an hour early and sticking to your regular workout schedule you can also ward off sleepiness.
- Just before you hit your PMS week, give up caffeine (found in soda, coffee, and sugary foods). Shelley-Ann Hope, MD, at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC, says studies have shown that this, along with hitting the gym, will stabilize your mood.
- Keep a calendar of your cycle. According to Terry Hoffman, ob-gyn at Mercy Medical Center, it can help you figure out if your cycle is regular, which means it spans anywhere from 21 to 35 days. If yours is shorter or longer for three months in a row, talk to your doctor to make sure it isn't something problematic, like a hormone disorder.
- Know your flow. For most women, the flow is heaviest on the first two days, meaning you might need to use "super" tampons and change them more often. After that, changing tampons every six hours is usually fine.
- Drink iced tea during your cycle instead of soda. Experts at TeenHealth.org say it will prevent bloating and nix your sugar fix!
- According to health experts at TeenHealth.org, it's normal for you to experience irregular periods the first couple of years. However, if you find your periods are lasting longer than seven days, talk to your doctor. Heavy bleeding can be a symptom of something more severe or lead to anemia.
- If your period starts unexpectedly, use a napkin, paper towel, or toilet paper until you can get your hands on a tampon or pad, says Katrina Bradley, an ob-gyn at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. "Fold the toilet tissue neatly a few times and put it in between your labia so it's still outside your body, yet feels comfortable and stays in place."
- If you're in your 30s, take an iron supplement or eat iron-rich foods such as beef or enriched cereal, says Dr. Rebecca Booth, an ob-gyn in Louisville, KY. This will boost your energy levels, which are especially low during menstruation.
- To curb PMS, eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones. This can head off intense cravings and even raise your spirits. "Some evidence suggests that carbohydrates encourage a better synthesis of serotonin, thus helping to elevate the mood," Bruce Kessel, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, says. If you're in a noshing mood, munch on food high in complex carbs such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
- Stress can make PMS go from annoying to downright intolerable. A study by the University of Miami School of Medicine found that PMS sufferers who received regular massages had less anxiety, depressed mood, water retention, and pain. If possible, try to avoid overscheduling the week before your period and consider investing in a massage.
- If your PMS is really bad, consider talking to your doc about the antidepressant Zoloft. A study done by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry shows it helps curb symptoms.
- Pop OTC pain pills at the first sign of period discomfort, says Jennifer Ashton, an ob-gyn in Englewood, NJ. The sooner you take them, the better they will work.
- For sudden cramp attacks, take an anti-inflammatory painkiller like ibuprofen. In the meantime, to minimize further cramping of the uterine muscle, massage your lower abdomen, drink hot liquids like tea, or place a heating pad below your navel.
- If you suffer from serious PMS, take a calcium supplement. Studies from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have shown it can reduce symptoms.
- Ginger can ease your cramps just as well as drugs can. Suzanna Nick, MD, of the University of Michigan, says that the herb has compounds that decrease a specific prostaglandin produced in abundance in the uterine lining of a woman with cramps. Ginger capsules are sold at natural food stores.
- In case you weren't sure before, studies show that the Pill helps prevent PMS symptoms. According to Shari Brasner, an ob-gyn at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, the pill suppresses ovulation, and the resulting surge of the water-retaining, mood-altering, hormone progesterone.
- Working out is a sure way to reduce bloating. "Sweating helps reduce fluid retention, making you less bloated," says Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Research shows that moderate exercise soothes headaches, cramps, and lower back pain.
WEIRD AND WACKY
- The first week of your hormone cycle is a good week to start dieting. According to a Tufts University study, you're already eating 12 percent less this week and have fewer hormone-related food cravings.
- Try quitting your smoking habit during the second half of your cycle. A 2008 University of Minnesota study shows that estrogen may be responsible for giving you a greater "buzz" from addictive substances like nicotine. When this hormone level decreases in weeks three and four, you enjoy cigarette less, making it easier to quit.
- Your period can leave you tongue-tied. According to the same University of Minnesota study, progesterone interferes with your verbal ability, making you stumble over words and lose your train of thought. This hormone can also cause constipation and bloating, so load up on fiber and water to stay regular.
- Your PMS may be contagious. If you find your guy getting moody around the same time your period hits, you could be rubbing off on him. Although more research is needed, "there's mounting evidence that monthly fluctuations in testosterone may produce PMS-like symptoms in men," says California psychotherapist Jed Diamond, author of Male Menopause. In a study presented at the Society for Menstrual Research's 11th Biennial Conference, guys who filled out a questionnaire complained of monthly mood swings similar to those of women surveyed.
- Roommates might get their periods at the same time because of the moon's lunar cycle, Wider says. Experts also say that chemical signals in one woman's body may be picked up by another's, and the fact that women who live together share many same stressors also has an effect of the timing of their menstruation.
- Yuck! Your period can give you diarrhea. According to Hope, the same chemicals that trigger uterine contractions to help expel blood inadvertently cause your lower intestine to contract as well. Take an anti-inflammatory painkiller at the first twinge of cramping to stop the contractions.
- Your period may turn you on. Mary Jane Minkin, an ob-gyn in New Haven, CT, says that during menstruation, the hormone progesterone, which is known to decrease libido, is at its lowest point. Also, knowing that you are less likely to get pregnant can make you more relaxed and extra-frisky!
- Your period has its own color. Krishna White, MD, MPH, director of the adolescent medicine program at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE, says when you menstruate, you're losing blood that has built up on the lining of your uterus. The longer that blood has been in your body, the darker it will be. If it's green, yellow, or white, see your doc. That's discharge and may be a sign of infection or vaginitis.
- You may never get cramps. According to White, when you first get your period and your cycle is irregular you may not experience cramps for up to two years. Unfortunately, they will occur once your cycle regulates itself.
- According to health experts at TeenHealth.org, your breasts may tingle before you get your period. Achy, itchy, and tingling sensations are all common when it's that time of the month or your breasts are growing. Breast tissue is made up of a mix of fatty tissue and glands, which can be sensitive to the surge in hormones every month. Since glands aren't evenly spaced throughout your breasts, some spots may be more tender than others.
FACT VS. MYTH
- You can't get pregnant while having sex on your period. FACT. But it's more complicated than that. TeenHealth.org experts say that having unprotected sex at any time can be risky, and that includes during your period. Sex without a condom during periods can make it easier to spread STDs.
- You can have unprotected sex when you're bleeding. MYTH. Not all vaginal bleeding is from a menstrual period. Sometimes a small amount of bleeding happens at the time of ovulation, when women are actually the most fertile, according to TeenHealth.org experts. Because it can be difficult to tell the difference, a period shouldn't be used as a natural form of birth control.
- Pain pills are bad for cramps. FACT and MYTH. According to the Food and Drug Administration, pain pills can definitely ease your cramps, but the FDA plans on posting labels on bottles in spring 2010 to let consumers know that exceeding the recommended dosage can cause serious side effects like stomach bleeding. Stick to the correct dose, and if your cramps don't ease up, let your doc know. It could mean something else is behind your pain.
- Toxic shock syndrome is rare. FACT. This bacterial infection was once linked to a brand of superabsorbent tampons, Susan Brill, MD, director of adolescent medicine at Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Jersey says. Though that brand is off the market, it's still possible to get TSS, but the risk is very low.
- Tampons are made from harmful chemicals. MYTH. For years, scary e-mails have circulated claiming tampons contain asbestos and a chemical called dioxin, both of which are linked to cancer. According to the FDA, tampons do not contain either.
- You can be too skinny to get your period. FACT. Overexercising or crazy dieting can stop your body from working properly and affect when you get your period or if you get it at all, says White. You need a certain percentage of body fat to make the hormones that regulate your period and keep your body functioning.
- Clumping during your period is bad. MYTH. Small clots about the size of a dime are fine, White says. When your flow is heavy, your body doesn't have time to make the chemicals that keep blood from clumping. If you notice clots bigger than a quarter, get dizzy, or have headaches, your flow may be too heavy and you should see a doctor to check on a hormonal imbalance.
- You're more likely to get a cold on your period. MYTH. Though some research suggests PMS can impede your immune system, there's no proof that women are more susceptible to the common cold before getting their period. More likely, you are confusing the symptoms with an allergy infection, since they are often the same, says Steven R. Goldstein, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine. "The drop in hormone levels prior to your period as well as the stress brought on by PMS can make these symptoms feel more pronounced."
- Sunlight can help your PMS. FACT. "About five to seven days before your period starts, estrogen and serotonin plummets," Marie-Annette Brown, PhD, author of When Your Body Gets the Blues, says. Natural light stimulates serotonin, and just 20 minutes outside can improve concentration and mood levels.
- Yoga helps PMS. FACT. Yoga helps PMS because it eases cramping and stress, Dawn MacLear, creator of Evolved Yoga in Washington, DC, says. Try these two moves to relax tension: The Cobra: Lie on your stomach with your hands directly underneath your shoulders, palms down, forearms on the floor. Gently push yourself up onto your elbows or hands, stretching your lower spine and concentrating on elongating your upper body; your pelvis should be on the floor. Hold for one to two minutes, breathing deeply. The Spinal Twist: Lie on your back, arms spread out to the sides on the floor. Bend your right knee up to your chest and cross it over to your left side, toward the floor. Relax, breathe deeply, and hold for a count of one to two minutes. Return to the start position, switch legs, and repeat.