Hormones, PMS, and Period Symptoms: Demystifying Your Menstrual Cycle With Nutritional Therapist Clare Lawrence

Our bodies are incredible. But sometimes what's going on inside can feel a bit, well, confusing. 

What even are hormones? How can I improve my menstrual symptoms? What's happening in my body during my menstrual cycle? These are all questions we've been asked from our Unfabled community. And rightly so – unless you were raised in a matriarchal utopia, it's highly unlikely you've been equipped with sufficient information and guidance about these topics. 

We sit down to ask the wonderful Clare Lawrence 5 questions about hormones and the menstrual cycle. Clare is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Health Coach, and all-round expert in hormonal health. 

1. So Clare, in layman's terms – how would you describe what our hormones are, and what they're meant to do? 

Hormones are tiny molecules which act as chemical messengers for the body. The way I like to think of it is like the postal system; all our hormones are different letters communicating different things and the bloodstream is the post person who delivers the letters to where they need to go.

Our hormones play a critical part in almost every aspect of healthy human function. From metabolism, appetite, digestion, weight, sleep, mood and fertility; our bodies are constantly producing the hormones they need to keep us in a state of ‘homeostasis’, or continual balance.
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2. What can cause hormonal imbalances? And what happens if our hormonal balances are disrupted?
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Our hormones are constantly fluctuating to help maintain this state of homeostasis. Hormonal imbalance to put it simply is when there is too little or too much of a hormone in our system. Even the slightest imbalance can have a profound impact on how we feel: from PMS, weight gain, anxiety, hair loss, low mood, brain fog (and the list goes on!)

There are several causes of hormonal imbalance. The most common ones are:
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Exposure to environmental toxins
  • Lack of movement or over exercise
  • Not enough sleep
  • Issues with gut health

3. Premenstrual symptoms are common and lots of people experience difficult symptoms around their period such as cramps, disturbed sleep and anxiety. What is PMS and why do we get it?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is associated with the “luteal phase” after ovulation, which is typically between days 15 and 28 of the cycle. During this period there is a rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone, and it’s this wave of hormones that is thought to be directly related to PMS.

There are over 200 symptoms associated with PMS, the most common being depression/anxiety, irritability, fatigue, abdominal cramping, breast tenderness and headaches. Of course our cycles are not consistent and PMS symptoms can worsen at times of significant hormonal changes such as puberty, taking or stopping contraception, postnatal and perimenopause.

PMS is a barometer for our overall health and wellbeing, and experiencing an abnormal cycle is a sign that something else is going on in our bodies. I am always such a big advocate for tracking your cycles: knowledge is power and building the connection can be really empowering to understand.

4. What are your top tips on how to manage difficult PMS?

Supporting yourself throughout your entire cycle will then help to reduce your PMS symptoms. My top tips for this are:

Balancing blood sugar levels

Eating 3 proper meals a day (no toast and jam for breakfast!), which include a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and lots of veggies. It really is basic but has the most profound impact on how we are feeling.

Stress

Stress has a huge impact on our cycle and can really aggravate PMS symptoms. Studies have shown that women who feel stressed in the weeks leading up to their period are two to four times more likely to suffer from moderate to severe symptoms.

Sleep

In the run up to your period it’s common to struggle to fall asleep or stay in a restful sleep. This is because just before menstruation progesterone drops which causes your body temperature to rise, and you experience less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Prioritizing a good night’s rest – going to bed early and having good sleep hygiene – will really help.

Exercise

Exercise is an amazing tonic for PMS, though I know for many of us it’s the last thing we feel like when we are cramping and feeling rough. However, exercise releases endorphins which really help to make us feel great.

5. Any final tips on how we can build a connection with our cycle and try to be more in sync with our ourselves and our hormones?

Knowledge is power, yet unfortunately we are not taught the benefits of tracking our cycle until we want to conceive and fall pregnant. Understanding each phase of our cycle and how we are feeling at each point can be incredibly liberating. Imagine knowing the best time to have an interview, book a wax or go on a first date?

During the first phase of our cycle called the follicular phase (first day of our period to when we ovulate) oestrogen is on the rise, and during this time we feel more confident, articulate, and productive. Basically, we feel bloody great and it’s the best time to maximise it!

After ovulation we enter the luteal phase of our cycle which when progesterone is on the rise. Our body is preparing for a potential pregnancy and with this we might feel the need to chill out, get lots of sleep and avoid stressful situations.

Knowing your cycle is a great indicator for your overall health. Having missed periods or irregular cycles can be a sign that you are burning the candle at both ends or potentially of a more serious issue that should be followed up with your GP.

There are so many great apps out there for tracking your cycle such as Clue and Flo.

You can connect with Clare via her website, and follow her on Instagram.

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