As I write this, I am experiencing brain fog, heightened anxiety, uncomfortable bloating, and the kind of irritability where even the slightest excess of noise is making me want to hide from the world. No, I am not in the throes of PMS, otherwise known as premenstrual syndrome, but am instead experiencing postmenstrual syndrome, the lesser-known symptoms that a small percentage of people may experience directly following their periods that tend to last for a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
What Is Postmenstrual Syndrome?
Although not as well-known as the similar premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder — a quick google search of "postmenstrual symptoms" will lead you down a rabbit hole of articles and message boards of individuals seeking help and advice — it is still something very real that some people may deal with every month.
"Postmenstrual syndrome is certainly not as well-known as its sister premenstrual syndrome," explains Nicole Jardim, also known as The Period Girl, certified women's health and nutrition coach, "but I've seen it anecdotally and increasingly in a number of my clients over the past two to three years. Still not nearly as many as women with premenstrual syndrome — I'd say about 10 percent of my client population has reported this issue to me."
What Are the Symptoms of Postmenstrual Syndrome?
"The symptoms are quite similar to the symptoms of of premenstrual syndrome, but I have found they tend to be more emotional," she adds, "Anxiety — sometimes severe, low mood, moodiness, or severe mood swings — sometimes actually feeling depressed, snappiness, impatience or irritability, anger and sometimes rage, teary or crying very easily, or feeling like meltdowns are a regular occurrence."
Nicole goes on to explain that the physical symptoms of postmenstrual syndrome can commonly include vaginal dryness, pain during sex, and physical pain — such as abdominal or joint pain, headaches, and sometimes even migraines.
What Causes Postmenstrual Syndrome?
After developing these post-period symptoms a few years ago, I knew something had to give. Instead of looking forward to my period ending each month, I would dread it, afraid that these ailments, that were sometimes so severe that they would alter my daily life, would make an appearance. Abdominal pain, nausea, tension headaches, anxiety, and depression — you name it, I felt it (and sometimes still do). But what exactly causes this to happen?
"In my experience, a lot of women who have postmenstrual syndrome also have PMS or PMDD leading up to their periods," Nicole shares. "I think it is important for us to understand that in actuality, what underlies all of the symptoms associated with PMS is hormonal imbalance, and the two main hormones involved are estrogen and progesterone, the key female sex hormones. In addition to regulating the reproductive system, these hormones also heavily influence chemicals in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which all affect mood and even gastrointestinal health. The thing is, hormones don't exist in a vacuum. If there is imbalance with one or two hormones, there's likely an imbalance with other key hormones like thyroid and adrenal hormones, too. Further, these imbalances are not going to only be apparent through symptoms at just one time of the month. In many cases, you see evidence of the imbalances at different times of the month. Hence why lots of women suffer from both PMS and postmenstrual syndrome."
Nicole also explains one of the main root causes for these imbalances: "A root cause for these imbalances comes from insulin dysregulation or resistance," she notes, "Insulin secretion is directed by how much sugar is in our blood. When we're in a state of constant high blood sugar because of too much sugar or refined carbs and chronic stress, we end up riding a blood sugar rollercoaster. Unfortunately, insulin is a powerful hormone that dictates how other hormones operate. Our sex hormones — estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone — are all affected, which leads to menstrual cycle abnormalities."
"If your symptoms are severe and not responsive to this treatment, see a physician," urges Dr. Tania Elliott, allergist and the chief medical officer at EHE. "Hormonal imbalance can play a role in postmenstrual symptoms, just as it may in premenstrual syndrome, and it's important to identify what's happening with your body before taking more significant action. It's also critical to determine whether what you're experiencing is linked to your menstrual cycle or something else entirely."
Suggestions to Treat Postmenstrual Syndrome Symptoms Naturally
Motivated to not feel horrible post-period every month, I began exploring different ways that would help to alleviate the dreaded symptoms and improve my health overall. Much to my surprise, I found that altering certain aspects of your life, no matter how small they may seem, can make big, positive changes. Of course it is important to always consult your doctor, and these suggestions are by no means meant to act as medical substitutes, but here is what helped me.
Acupuncture: As someone who has always been afraid of needles (I hate getting blood taken!), I never would have thought that acupuncture and I would get along so well. For a year straight, I went to a naturopathic doctor who also performed acupuncture on me. "Acupuncture and herbs balance the body by ordering the internal architecture of the body through the use of points on the meridians," explains Isobeau Trybula, clinical director of WorkSong, a neighborhood acupuncture clinic in NYC. "There are several methods we use to do this — needling, moxibustion, massage." After a few months, the intensity of my post-period symptoms lessened, and I was able to function much better overall.
Natural Supplements to Balance Hormones: I always have had an affinity for natural supplements. I am loyal to Source Naturals' Herbal Resistance Liquid for avoiding colds, and I take cinnamon tincture often to help balance insulin levels. Turns out, there are also a bunch of natural supplements to help with hormonal issues, such as HUM Nutrition's Moody Bird, which is designed especially for the menstrual cycle. "The key nutrients in Moody Bird have shown in clinical studies to interact with the body's hormone production, helping to increase progesterone levels during the luteal phase of the cycle," says Sarah Greenfield RD, CSSD, HUM's director of education. "This helps to alleviate symptoms associated with PMS, such as mild mood changes, cramps, and breast tenderness."
"Get your hormone levels checked, and make sure your doctor is looking at subtle levels," adds Prudence Hall, MD, and founder of The Hall Center and author of Radiant Again & Forever, "Herbs can also help — vitex, chasteberry, and shatavari."
Be Sure to Care For Your Microbiome: According to emerging studies, research shows that the gut microbiome plays an integral role in hormone health, especially in the regulation of estrogen levels. Adding wellness elixirs into your diet, such as Beauty Kitchen's Antioxidant Inner Beauty Boost, can help nourish your gut microbiome and boost the immune system, aiding you in reaching optimal wellness.
And, Very Importantly, Be Gentle on Yourself: If hormonal issues occurring at any time of the month have you feeling less than your best, be sure to be easy on yourself. If you are experiencing anxiety, take some time to meditate while diffusing some essential oils (Vitruvi's Eucalyptus Essential Oil is a personal favorite) to help calm your mind and body. If a pre- or post-period headache strikes, Saje Wellness's Peppermint Halo can naturally and quickly alleviate the pain. Exercise, whether it is a long walk, some cardio, or yoga, can also help diminish the symptoms around hormonal imbalance. And if you are looking to find some relief from hormonal acne, a quick trip to the spa (such as Joanna Vargas's Spa for her Power Peel), can be a time not only to pamper your skin but also yourself.
And please always remember: you are not alone in this!