About 3-5% of women have hormonal symptoms so severe that it affects their work, education, relationships and/or daily activities.
This is equivalent to 1, 35 million women in South Africa alone. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a diagnosis used by psychiatrists to describe a specific set of particularly pronounced mood symptoms, appearing the week before, and going away a few days after, a period starts. Yes ladies, we are talking about what is commonly known as PMS, and unfortunately it can get worse with age.
Two major brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) seem to be affected by the menstrual cycle – serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Serotonin – sometimes called the ‘happy hormone’ has been shown to help control appetite and carbohydrate cravings.
Oestrogen helps to improve mood by keeping up the levels of serotonin. Similarly a derivative of progesterone enhances the production of GABA, which is a calming neurotransmitter that switches off adrenalin, helping to reduce anxiety and irritability. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter involved here.
So, in a nutshell, falling levels of these three neurotransmitters, before a period, trigger PMS symptoms.
Having a well-balanced diet is the best way to provide the nutrients needed for all three of these neurotransmitters to work effectively. The proteins that you eat are made up of amino acids, which are vital for many processes in your body, including making hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. There are 22 altogether, eight of which are ‘essential’ which means they cannot be made in the body and therefore must come from the diet.
Tryptophan is one of these essential amino acids and is the raw material from which your body makes serotonin. It is, however, the least abundant essential amino acid in food. Meat, beef, game, poultry, eggs and almonds are among the best sources. Dairy products, grains and chocolate also provide good amounts. If your blood sugar levels are unstable, you are more likely to be tired, irritable, depressed and have hot flushes (and sugar cravings). Only a small amount of dietary tryptophan is converted to serotonin as the majority of tryptophan is used to make vitamin B3. If your diet is deficient in vitamin B3 then your body has to make it from tryptophan, upsetting the entire applecart.
Patrick Holford says that you CAN put an end to your PMS symptoms simply by eating the right diet. A low-GL diet is very balanced and ensures that you are eating your protein with your carbohydrates, which essentially helps to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. It is also important that you take get optimum levels of Vitamin B3. To this end Patrick Holford formulated a supplement called Female Balance to ease symptoms associated with hormonal cycles. This has optimum levels of magnesium (low magnesium levels are linked with poor appetite, nausea, tiredness, mood swings and muscle cramps) and vitamins B6, B3 and B12.