5 PMS Self-Care Hacks That Work And 5 That Don’t
Looking for quick relief from PMS symptoms but not sure which anecdotes to trust? Find out whether these viral period dos and don’ts can really help you in taking care of yourself.
We all wish there was a magic spell or a click of a button that would make periods a breeze. Knowing that we have to spend the better part of our lives worrying about not just the week of the period but also the week of premenstrual symptoms (the most common type being Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS) leading up to it, we’re sure to try almost anything that will alleviate the pain, bloating, headaches, gas, irritability and depression.
While prescription treatment and medication is the way to go in the case of severe and debilitating cases of PMS, there have been several natural, homemade and DIY hacks tried and tested on the internet in the past few years. Here are ten such self-care anecdotes, and why they may or may not be worth the try.
PMS hacks that work, according to research
1. DIY peppermint roller: While there is no general consensus about the treatment of PMS, the use of herbal medicine for certain symptoms have been proven to be effective. Peppermint oil and mint, for example, have been shown to reduce the severity of PMS and especially dysmenorrhea (pain during menses) in a 2016 study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research as well as a 2019 study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal. In a rollerball bottle, mix 10-15 drops of peppermint oil with a carrier oil (base oils like almond, jojoba or coconut that can dilute the essential oil and be applied on skin) and give it a good shake. That’s all you need to make your own safe and easy peppermint roller for lower abdominal massage, though it is advisable that you contact your doctor if cramps get too severe.
2. Seed cycling: Seed cycling is a trend that has been around for a while, but is only gaining momentum in the past few years. Different sources have claimed that this process can help in balancing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, thereby treating both premenstrual and menopausal symptoms. The menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases—the follicular (shedding of the uterine lining) and luteal (release of the egg). The National University of Natural Medicine, US, explains that seed cycling involves daily ingestion of seeds high in essential fatty acids in rotation throughout the cycle. While estrogen-supporting seeds of pumpkin and flax are taken during the follicular phase, progesterone-supporting seeds of sunflower and sesame are better suited for the luteal phase. In a protein ball, blended in smoothies, topped in a yoghurt bowl or a salad—there are endless ways in which you can upgrade your diet and hormonal health with these seeds.
3. Acupressure points: Acupressure, similar to acupuncture, involves pressing or gentle massage of certain points on our body with our thumb or fingers while taking deep breaths. In a 2017 Cochrane study of 277 women with PMS, acupressure worked better in reducing moderate to severe PMS symptoms when compared to sham acupressure (focusing on areas away from the actual trigger points, also known as placebo acupressure) or no treatment. Classified under different names according to their location, acupressure points like Spleen 8 (SP8), Large Intestine 4 (LI4), Liver 3 (L3), Conception Vessel 6 (CV6) etc have been proven in multiple studies to reduce PMS symptoms, constipation and even labour contractions. Acupressure on the SP8 point can combat dysmenorrhea, according to a 2012 study in the journal Patient Preference and Adherence. Moreover, a 2017 study of L3 in Complementary Therapies in Medicine shows its potential in improving periods of depression and anxiety.
4. Lavender aromatherapy: Essential oils and aromatherapy have long been used as mood-lifters and relaxants. Recently, their impact on physiological discomfort during PMS has also been noticed during research. A 2018 study by Tu?ba Uzunçakmak et al in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine revealed that inhalation of lavender oil not only helped participants to cope with pain but also “anxiety, nervousness, bloating and depressive thoughts.” Try putting a few drops in your bath, on a piece of cloth, on your pillow, in a diffuser or even just get a candle.
5. Bananas: Bananas are nutritionally dense fruits that are a great source of Vitamin B6, fibre, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C and manganese. While the B6 and potassium can reduce water retention, bloating and cramps, bananas are also bifidogenic (promotion of good bacteria for better gut health) for women, according to a study published in the journal Anaerobe by E. K. Mitsou et al. Moreover, magnesium is great for normal cell and organ function, as well as gynecological welfare, as published in the 2021 paper in The NFS Journal. Unless you are allergic, you can incorporate this delicious fruit in your diet in a lot of ways—whether you pair it up with yoghurt and peanut butter or freeze it for some delicious nice cream.
PMS “facts” that are not entirely true
1. You shouldn’t drink tea and coffee: This is not entirely a myth, since there is research to show that caffeine can aggravate cramps, inflammation during PMS. However, you can cut back on caffeine while enjoying a beverage. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommends 200mg of caffeine per day for Indians, so a cup of coffee should be safe as long as you are not going overboard. When it comes to tea, it’s the black and green teas that contain the most caffeine. So you can still enjoy your hot cuppa if you switch things up with herbal teas. Chamomile, in particular, “has been used to treat PMS because of therapeutic properties such as anti-inflammatory effects; antispasmodic effects (prevents muscle spasms); anti-anxiety effects”—says a 2019 review published in the Journal of Pharmacopuncture.
2. Eating papaya can induce periods: Have you ever wished you could get your periods out of the way before an important exam or a vacation? Unfortunately, your diet cannot control that. Many anecdotes claim that the high Vitamin C content of papaya can induce contractions and speed up the shedding of the uterine lining, thereby inducing a period. However, the scientific evidence behind this rationale is little to none. Check out this enlightening thread by Dr. Tanaya Narendra aka Dr. Cuterus, where she debunks the myth surrounding ’emmenagogues’ or period inducing foods.
3. Your period stops in water: Have you ever felt like your period magically disappeared under a long shower or during a swim? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you still need to wear a menstrual product when you go for a dip in the pool. According to US Masters Swimming, your period appears to be gone because the water pressure simply slows down the flow. Since there is a risk of water absorption and thinning away of adhesive in the case of pads; tampons or menstrual cups (which keep the blood from coming in contact with the external environment) are better choices.
4. Cold foods can worsen your symptoms: Did you know that a study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, undertaken as recently as 2018, showed that 89.6 percent of the participants believed that cold beverages can stop or worsen your periods? Rest assured, as there have been no studies that prove the negative impact of food temperature, especially cold ones, on PMS. In fact, a cold glass of water or lemonade can actually help you rehydrate or re-energise after a long day. However, it is recommended that you minimise the intake of sugary drinks and alcohol, as they can cause dehydration, fatigue, cravings, bloating and cramps.
5. You should avoid exercise: Now, this one’s tricky, because during PMS you might not feel like working out at all—which is completely natural. However, there is a widely held misconception among certain people that exercise can worsen dysmenorrhea and other symptoms. A 2015 research paper published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care reveals how several studies of Indian women (and others) have reached this conclusion. In reality, exercise can help reduce “premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea and relieve bloating. Exercise also causes a release of serotonin, making one feel much happier”. Just remember to take it easy, not to strain yourself and opt for lighter routines, like gentle yoga.