PMS: Dietary Changes To Reduce Those PMS Blues

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 12:33pm

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Feeling grouchy, irritable, possibly even depressed? Are you experiencing bloating, diarrhea, swollen breasts and backaches? These are all symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a condition that affects 30-50% of women. The severity of symptoms varies, but many women notice changes in mood, water retention and bowel habits for up to two weeks before their menses starts each month. Hormones are a part of the cause, certainly, but so is diet.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms and causes

PMS is really a collection of symptoms that occur seven to 14 days before menstruation. Typical symptoms include those mentioned above, as well as decreased energy level, altered sex drive, breast tenderness, headaches, swollen fingers and ankles, and acne. Scientists believe that PMS is caused by an imbalance in various hormones during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Naturopathic doctors think that allergies, low thyroid production, toxicity, and mental and emotional issues also play a role in causing PMS.

Studies that look at the diet of women with PMS and compare them to the diet of women without PMS show that women who have PMS eat 63% more carbohydrates, 275% more refined sugar, and 79% more dairy products than women who don't have PMS symptoms. They also eat more animal fats, especially red meat. If you suffer from PMS, it may be worth your while to explore changing your diet. However, be aware that it usually takes about three months to notice a corresponding lessening of symptoms.

Dietary recommendations to alleviate PMS

1.   Decrease your intake of saturated fats to help balance your hormone levels

Red meat and dairy products contain high amounts of saturated fats that can cause estrogen levels to increase in the blood causing an imbalance in hormone levels. Along with decreasing saturated fats, trans-fatty acids in margarine and processed foods are difficult for the liver to process which also decreases the body's ability to balance hormone levels. Imbalanced hormones can lead to mood changes including irritability and depression.

2.   Reduce your consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates to manage blood sugar levels

Sugar makes processing estrogen more difficult for the body, causes blood sugar levels to increase too quickly. This can lead to high insulin levels and retention of sodium in the body which can cause swelling in hands and feet. Eating a diet with complex carbohydrates slows insulin release and can prevent many water-retention symptoms.

3.   Decrease your salt intake to reduce bloating or swelling

This recommendation is especially important if you have problems with bloating or swelling of your hands and ankles. Keep in mind that processed foods contain large amounts of sodium. While you reduce your salt intake, it is important to increase your potassium intake. High potassium foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

4.   Consider a more vegetarian diet as it may help balance your hormones

Vegetables contain lots of fiber that binds to estrogen and aids in its elimination. Replacing the meat and saturated fats in your diet with more vegetables can help balance hormones, benefits intestinal bacteria, and is good for weight management.

5.   Decrease the caffeine in your diet to alleviate PMS symptoms

This includes coffee, tea (black and green) and chocolate. Caffeine affects mood in particular and also has an effect on breast tenderness and fibrocystic breast disease.

Vitamins and minerals can also play a role in relieving PMS symptoms. Check with a naturopathic physician for recommendations concerning diet that fit your specific symptoms. Often nutrients can help the liver to function more optimally so hormones can be processed more efficiently. Some essential fatty acids can be used to balance estrogen and progesterone levels. Magnesium, potassium and zinc may be recommended in the form of whole foods or as supplements to correct deficiencies when these occur.

You do not have to live with PMS symptoms. Try these simple suggestions, and you will improve your overall health as well as decrease your PMS symptoms. For more severe symptoms, see your healthcare practitioner.