For many women, there’s nothing like the week before your period. “Bloating, headaches, moodiness, cravings, and fatigue are just some premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that can make the pre-period week uncomfortable and unpleasant for you—and for anyone who stands between you and the last doughnut hole,” writes Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RD for Verily.

Speaking of doughnuts, Barkyoumb lists five foods you should eat to ease your PMS symptoms: yogurt, amaranth, red meat, chickpeas, and chamomile tea. She notes that more evidence about effective dietary treatments indicates that certain nutrients can help reduce PMS. But is there another more accurate way to fight PMS?

The great majority of women experience at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) every month, be it moodiness, bloating, headaches, or cramping,” writes Lindsay Schlegel. She notes that PMS is caused by hormonal fluctuations in your body (see chart below). So while typical advice like changing your diet, exercising, avoiding coffee and alcohol, or taking hormonal birth control may have their roles in reducing symptoms of PMS, charting your cycle to better understand your hormones may be the main key to putting your body in balance.

hormones

These hormone fluctuations are a major reason why we at Verily encourage women to use a fertility awareness-based method (FABM) to chart her cycle ASAP. Schlegel points out that, “Hormonal fluctuations produce physical signs that you can observe and record to understand your unique patterns.” Working with a trained FABM instructor, you can use your charts to help pinpoint how hormonal changes affect your mind and body. Then, a doctor who has trained in and supports using FABMs can help you find ways to treat your PMS from the inside out. Here is an example of how using a FABM can help heal you from the monthly drudgery of PMS.

Treating Severe Premenstrual Syndrome in the Luteal Phase

In 1995, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a study showing that 37 percent of patients reported experiencing a 50 percent reduction in their daily PMS symptoms after taking alprazolam (generic Xanax) at a specific time during their fertility cycle. The study reports, “Alprazolam was significantly better than placebo or progesterone for total premenstrual symptoms and [Daily Symptom Report] factors of mental function, pain, and mood.” Patients were administered alprazolam during the luteal phase of their cycles—the period after ovulation and before the start of menstruation. So the question then becomes: How do we pinpoint when that critical phase is taking place?

What and How?

Women who use observations of cervical fluid (also called cervical mucus) for modern, evidence-based FABMs, including the Billings Ovulation Method and the Creighton Model, are able to precisely pinpoint the luteal phase of each cycle, plus or minus one to two days to account for error.

A woman’s body creates cervical mucus throughout her entire cycle. Before and during ovulation, her cervical mucus is noticeably slippery, thinner and clearer than at any other time during her cycle.

Billings LIFE sums up what this can mean for your reproductive health:

“Both clinical and laboratory studies have shown that the most fertile time in the cycle coincides with what we call the Peak—the last day of the slippery sensation at the vulva. We know from hormonal studies that the Peak day relates very closely to the time of ovulation. In most cycles the egg will be released on the Peak day, but in some cycles ovulation may not occur until day 1 or day 2 past the Peak. The egg lives for a maximum of 24 hours after being released. By keeping a daily record of the sensation and appearance of the mucus you can learn to recognise your times of infertility, potential fertility and the Peak of fertility.”

We can add recognizing “times of PMS” to the list. We can eat and workout our way to high heaven in anticipation of PMS’ awful symptoms. But nothing beats knowing exactly how and when to treat them. FABMs are tools that allow you to administer treatment with precision.

Women’s fertility cycles aren’t one-size-fits-all. So we shouldn’t expect every piece of PMS advice to work for our body in the same ways, if at all. I’m not saying that eating and living healthy aren’t useful for treating PMS—we should be doing this for our bodies regardless! But armed with scientifically backed FABMs, charting your cycle is simply another more accurate tool you could use to get relief from PMS. Of course any individualized treatments to help relieve PMS during certain parts of your cycle should be done in consultation of a FABM-trained doctor.

Women’s unique fertility cycle has been underestimated and undermined long enough. You can find out what solution works best for you. The answer is inside your body; you only have to know how to decode it. Choosing a FABM that resonates most with your current state in life and your goals for the future is just the place to start.

Check out the eight most common ways to chart your cycle and this doctor’s study on which FABM apps are most accurate for charting your cycle. And if I haven’t done enough to convince you, here is a list of real women sharing all the reasons why they made this life-changing decision to say “yes!” to modern charting methods.