PMS — not “Just Hormones” but a “Supply-Chain” Issue
During the luteal phase (roughly the week or two before getting our period), our hormones turn on the anabolic switch. Under this regime, cellular processes are given the mandate to build (as opposed to break down) tissue. The primary ‘construction site’ is the endometrial lining of the uterus. At the risk of stating the obvious, all of this re-modeling effort is in preparation for the potential implantation of a fertilized egg.
While on a sentimental level, this anabolic state is quite touching (look at us, physiologically wired to nurture new life!), in stark economic terms, it constitutes a supply-chain mismanagement situation. See, all our raw material stuff (nutrients, neurotransmitters, and antioxidants) is being delivered to the endometrium-construction-project, which leaves very little stuff to fuel all other non-reproductive physiological processes (listed below).
- Repairing and building muscle / other tissue(s)
- Creating feel-good neurotransmitters
- Keeping inflammation at bay
- Fighting oxidative stress & de-toxifying
In life, we were taught that PMS (or PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder) is “just hormones“. While this is factually correct (as in, the anabolic state is switched on by the rise in progesterone), it has a decidedly defeatist tone (like “such is life”). Instead, a more solution-driven perspective is to consider PMS an outcome of the “supply imbalance” issue. Every month, our body’s supply-chain management is hijacked by a special construction project, which creates a shortage in ‘raw materials’ needed to fuel the ordinary and routine functions that make us “feel like our normal selves.” THIS is the reason we feel crappy during the luteal phase.
It’s not ‘in your head’
Changes in metabolism (aka the body’s energy economy) mirror the rhythmic pattern of our hormonal cycle. Every luteal phase, our body enters the anabolic state where it “mismanages” our fuel supply, causing deficiencies. Metabolomic, lipidomic, and nutrient biomarker data validate that PMS is a result of these deficiencies. The same data also show that for those who have underlying hormonal imbalance (PCOS being one of them), these deficiencies (and symptoms) are exacerbated.
To start, one of the raw materials ‘hijacked’ for the special-construction-site are amino acids. You may be familiar with these as the building blocks for protein. So, during the luteal phase, other muscle ‘construction’ work (i.e. growth and repair from working out) becomes sluggish. You may not know that amino acids also produce antioxidants, which are in charge of ‘neutralizing’ toxicity and oxidation and therefore preventing our cells from getting ‘rusty’. Low amino acid supply for glutathione production leads to higher oxidative stress and impaired liver detoxification during the luteal phase.
Fatty acids are involved in inflammation modulation. So, the hijacking of fatty acid supply leads to elevated inflammation. Not surprisingly, we feel its effects in an array of PMS: mood swings, abdominal cramps, back pain, breast tenderness, appetite cravings, weight gain and bloating.
Add B-vitamin precursors to your amino acids and fatty acids, and you get endocannabinoids. The hijacking of all three results in a reduction of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin. This explains cyclical stress, anxiety, and depression implicated in PMS and PMDD.
Not only that, Vitamin D stores are low too. They were used in the ovulatory phase for follicular development and progesterone generation. This leaves our mood, bone health, and immune levels more vulnerable during the luteal phase.
What’s on your plate
The good news is that there is hope, and even better, that it comes in the form of eating! If we are dealing with a deficiency, then the logical solution is supplementation. So, what should we eat (ahead of and during the luteal phase) to complement the deficiencies and alleviate PMS?
If you recall, the bulk of hijacked supplies are in the form of amino acids and fatty acids, so the best bang-for-your-buck is in meats and fish, which are high in protein and fats. If you’re vegetarian, and/or just want that extra boost, add supplements like glycine and omega-3. Meat and fish are also high in vitamin B6, which helps boost neurotransmitter production, and when combined with sulfur amino acids, produces the antioxidant glutathione. Also, protein and fats are more satiating (compared to carbohydrates), which makes them a smarter choice of fuel during the part of the cycle where we experience increased appetite. Finally, increasing Vitamin D intake through food and sun exposure, especially during the ovulatory period, is a good defensive strategy to blunt PMS later on in the cycle.
Disclaimer: This doesn’t constitute medical advice. Source: Menstrual cycle rhythmicity: metabolic patterns in healthy women