How Food Affects PMS

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Find out how to make healthy food choices that can help manage and reduce the symptoms of PMS.

Many women with PMS define their monthly nutrition needs in terms of their cravings for anything salty or chocolate. Although indulging in chocolate-dipped pretzels might seem like a fantasy–come–true, they won’t provide lasting mood enhancement or reduce the bloat. There are many better Food Cures to help you get your symptoms under better control:

CALCIUM

Calcium deficiency and PMS share many symptoms, which led researchers to test to see if they might be related. The results suggest that they very well might be. Compared with women who don’t have premenstrual symptoms, women with PMS have lower blood levels of calcium around their time of ovulation. And when PMS sufferers take 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium supplements daily, their mood and bloating improve after just a few months. I consider calcium–rich foods an absolute must for women with PMS.

BEST FOODS FOR CALCIUM: Yogurt (fat–free, low–fat), milk (fat–free, 1% low–fat), soy milk, cheese (reduced–fat), tofu with calcium, wild salmon (with bones), soybeans (edamame), frozen yogurt (fat–free, low–fat), low–fat ice cream, bok choy, kale, collard greens, white beans, broccoli, almonds and almond butter

VITAMIN D

Our bodies can’t absorb or use calcium without vitamin D. That’s why the two are so often mentioned together, and why some high–calcium foods (such as milk) are often fortified with vitamin D. In addition, research suggests that vitamin D may act on its own to prevent PMS. In a study that followed more than 3,000 women for more than 10 years, women who ate a diet high in vitamin D reduced their risk of PMS by about 40 percent.

BEST FOODS FOR VITAMIN D: Wild salmon (fresh, canned), mackerel (not king), sardines, herring, milk (fat–free, 1% low–fat), soy milk, fortified non–fat or low–fat yogurt, egg yolks, UV–treated mushrooms

MAGNESIUM

Just as was found with calcium, women with PMS seem to have lower blood levels of magnesium compared with women who did not have PMS symptoms. Women with PMS who took magnesium supplements had better mood and less water retention than women who did not get enough magnesium. (And really, doesn’t less water retention sound good for everybody?) It’s possible that magnesium might help regulate the activity of serotonin, the so–called feel–good neurotransmitter. Magnesium–rich foods are second only to calcium foods for improving your chances for symptom reduction.

BEST FOODS FOR MAGNESIUM: Pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, amaranth, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, quinoa, tempeh, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, soybeans (edamame), millet, starchy beans (such as black, navy, pinto, garbanzo, kidney), artichoke hearts, peanuts, peanut butter, brown rice, whole–grain bread, sesame seeds, wheat germ, ground flaxseed

VITAMIN B6

Your body can’t make dopamine — one of the mood neurotransmitters — without vitamin B6. Research studies into the effects of vitamin B6 on PMS have been mixed — some show that taking supplements reduces irritability, depression, and breast tenderness, while others don’t find any effect at all. There’s no need to take a supplement (beyond what you’re getting in your multivitamin, if you take one), but I highly recommend eating vitamin B6–rich foods because they seem to have helped many of my clients with PMS.

BEST FOODS FOR VITAMIN B6:Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), wild salmon (fresh, canned), lean beef, pork tenderloin, skinless chicken breast, white and sweet potatoes (with skin), oats, bananas, pistachio nuts, lentils, tomato paste, barley, rice (brown, wild), bell peppers, winter squash (acorn, butternut), broccoli, broccoli raab, carrots, Brussels sprouts, peanut butter, eggs, shrimp, tofu, apricots, watermelon, avocado, strawberries, whole–grain bread

MANGANESE

Manganese is found in very small quantities in foods, but that’s okay because we don’t need a lot to stay healthy. If you eat a relatively balanced diet, you’re probably getting enough manganese. But blood levels of manganese vary throughout the menstrual cycle, so it is not surprising that this mineral might be involved in PMS. A handful of studies have suggested that manganese, in combination with calcium, may reduce the irritability, depression, and tension associated with PMS. One study found that women who did not get enough manganese in their diets had more pain and worse moods premenstrually. Therefore, I encourage you to go out of your way to incorporate manganese–rich foods, specifically around the time of PMS.

BEST FOODS FOR MANGANESE:Pineapple, wheat germ, spinach, collard greens, pecans, amaranth, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oats, tempeh, quinoa, brown rice, flaxseed, raspberries, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), sunflower seeds, peanuts, tofu, soybeans (edamame), soy nuts, lentils

Here are some of my other food fixes for PMS:

  • Avoid salt and salty foods. PMS causes bloating and water retention. Salt can cause bloating and water retention. Ergo, salt can make those problems of PMS worse.
  • Avoid caffeine. Some research suggests that the effects of caffeine are magnified premenstrually, leading to greater breast tenderness, more nervousness, and potentially more irritability. Instead of coffee, tea, or caffeinated soft drinks, try herbal teas and other decaffeinated or naturally caffeine–free beverages.
  • Drink chamomile tea. Premenstrually, chamomile tea may be particularly helpful because it contains properties that relieve muscle spasms, and may therefore help reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. In addition, chamomile seems to reduce tension that may lead to anxiety and irritability. Chamomile tea is naturally caffeine–free, so it’s an ideal choice to replace some of your favorite caffeinated beverages when your period is approaching.


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