Right around age 19, I began to have terrible PMS symptoms. About once a month, I would become extremely bloated, gain weight, and experience acne breakouts. I was also very irritable and depressed, felt unable to focus, and though I was always tired I had a hard time sleeping at night. Do these symptoms sound familiar to you?

My apologies if they do. PMS is premenstrual syndrome and can occur in women right before their period. Symptoms include bloating, once-a-month weight gain, fatigue, breakouts, cramping, food cravings, tender breasts, irritability, loss of focus, depression, and difficulty sleeping.

I used to dread the week before my period. At age 19, I decided to go to the doctor to see if there was anything that would help eliminate or reduce the symptoms. I made the appointment and sat in my doctor’s office, describing all the symptoms I was experiencing.  As soon as I finished explaining what I was experiencing, she told me that birth control would relieve these symptoms and prescribed YAZ. I left the office feeling optimistic that my symptoms would soon be gone.

I began taking the pills immediately. Although the birth control helped regulate my previously sporadic period, I still had all of my PMS symptoms, they were just a little less intense. One thing that did change was that I was, literally, always hungry – always. I constantly wanted food or thought about food. Under the assumption that a slight reduction in the intensity of my symptoms was the best help that I could receive, I continued to take YAZ for about nine months. During that time, I gained about 20 pounds. It was only later that I learned that birth controls tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant. No wonder I was always hungry!

After about nine months, I stopped taking the birth control and immediately returned to a normal appetite. I was able to get my mind off food and exercise more self-control in my diet. I realized that I only tried to treat the symptoms and never put any thought into discovering the root of my symptoms.

I began to search online to see if I could find what causes PMS. Despite my doctor’s good intentions, the more I learned about PMS, the more I recognized the benefits of doing my own research.

Eventually I found information that led me to the root of my symptoms. First, it was important to understand the menstrual cycle in order to understand PMS. Articles like this helped me understand the menstrual cycle while using everyday terms.

Simply put, these are five steps that explain our menstrual cycle:

  1. The day we get our period is day one of our menstrual cycle. For the next 14 days, our sex hormones lay low and do not experience much change.
  2. At day 14 (two weeks after the day we get our period), an egg is released – this is called ovulation. Our estrogen level begins to rise.
  3. Shortly after our estrogen level begins to rise, another hormone called progesterone begins to rise. The estrogen and progesterone begin to outstrip each other and balance each other out.
  4. The lining of the uterus thickens and blood begins to build up.
  5. For most women, between days 28 and 31, the lining in the uterus sheds and we get our period.

Other articles I found, such as this one and this one, explain why many women have problems with their menstrual cycle and experience PMS. The articles explain how the troublemaker is progesterone. As estrogen begins to rise in our bodies on day 14 of our cycle, our progesterone level is also supposed to rise to outstrip and balance out the estrogen. When women have a low level of progesterone, they can experience PMS. Low levels of progesterone may be the result of genetics or a poor diet, either currently or in the past.

What did I do? I went to GNC and bought their progesterone cream for $16. One week before I get my period, I rub a nickel-size amount of the cream on the palm of my hands once or twice a day. My PMS symptoms have been gone ever since I started applying the progesterone cream.