Our Bodies, Our Lives
By Dr. Tristi Muir

Emotional explosions, bloating, food cravings, diarrhea. No, this isn’t a travel misadventure; it’s the dreaded premenstrual syndrome, more commonly known as PMS.

Have you ever gone through your closet trying on clothes but they all seem too tight because your belly is so bloated? When you look in the mirror, have you burst into tears because you feel fat?

To calm yourself, you rush into the pantry to devour the fresh chocolate chip cookies and quickly move on to the jalapeño potato chips?

Ahhh, you have calmed yourself down, but the end result is water retention in addition to your bloating. Ugh!

But your frustration ends as your period starts. Calm and stability — and estrogen — blossom within you and make life amazing … for about two weeks. Then it all starts again.

About 75 percent of women experience some symptoms of PMS, beginning with the second half of their cycle and receding with the onset of a woman’s period.

PMS describes a constellation of symptoms, including bloating, mood swings, agitation, food cravings, breast tenderness, change in bowel habits (including constipation and diarrhea), insomnia and loss of sex drive.

The urban dictionary defines PMS as: “A powerful spell that women are put under about once every month, which gives them the strength of an ox, the stability of a Window’s operating system, and the scream of a banshee. Basically, man’s worst nightmare.”

Our female hormones affect all of our body, not just the female organs. The change in hormones can affect neurotransmitters in our brains (particularly serotonin).

As the estrogen levels drop the second half of the cycle, serotonin levels may also drop, which may lead to depressive symptoms, insomnia, fatigue and food cravings. Stress can worsen PMS symptoms.

Fortunately, we can fight back!

Diet
To avoid bloating, eat smaller, more-frequent meals rich in veggies and fruit. Vitamins may lessen PMS symptoms, particularly vitamins B6 (50-100 mg daily) and E (400 international units daily).

Avoid licking the salt off the margarita glass or binging on those salty potato chips that seductively call you from the pantry so that you reduce your water retention — and, hopefully, your waistline.

While reaching for alcohol may seem like it might calm your frayed nerves, it may actually worsen depressive symptoms or release your inner beast.

Exercise/stress
Daily exercise (at least 30 minutes) can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (endorphins) giving you a “natural high.” Embrace the things that reduce your stress.

If you are not sure what works for you, consider giving yoga a try or treat yourself to a massage.

When to see a doctor
If you find that your symptoms are not improving with these techniques or they are interrupting your school, work or home life, then you should see your health care provider.

Keep a diary of your symptoms and document when they occur in relation to your period. Start a list of questions that you have for your provider and bring them with you.

As a woman, we know that life is always changing. Hormonally, it starts with puberty and may feel like a roller coaster through each cycle.

But there are many things that we can do to take control of our hormonal fluctuations.

At any point of life, if you need help to rein in or replace your hormones, reach out to your health care provider. It’s why we’re here.

Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women’s sexual, gynecological and emotional health. Dr. Tristi Muir is the director of the UTMB Pelvic Health and Continence Center at Victory Lakes. Visit www.utmbhealth.com/pelvichealth.