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8 Diet Dos and Don'ts to Ease PMS

These strategies may help curb PMS symptoms.
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Feature

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is such a regular occurrence for many women that they consider it a normal part of getting their period. About 8% to 20% of women get moderate to severe symptoms a week or two before their monthly cycle begins.

These symptoms include a range of physical and emotional changes. The biggest complaint is often mood-related, such as feeling extremely grouchy or unhappy, often to the point where family members know when your period is coming, says gynecologist Rebecca Kolp, MD, medical director of Mass General West in Waltham, Mass. Abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, and headache are other frequent gripes she hears from patients.

Although the causes of PMS aren't well understood, fluctuating levels of hormones and brain chemicals are thought to play a role. What a woman eats and drinks can also have an effect.

"There's evidence that diet is involved in either the development of PMS or contributes to the severity of symptoms," says Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, ScD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who has studied nutrition's role in PMS.

With that in mind, here are eight diet-related suggestions to help ease PMS symptoms.

1. Do enjoy high-quality calcium foods.

In studies of college-aged women and nurses, women with the highest intakes of calcium and vitamin D were less likely to develop PMS, Bertone-Johnson tells WebMD. 

"With calcium, those results were stronger when it came from foods than from foods plus supplements or a supplement alone," she says. Her research found a food benefit from calcium at about 1,200 milligrams a day (RDA for women 19-50 is 1000 mg) and at 700 IU of vitamin D (RDA for women is 600 IU aged 70 and below.)

To get these amounts, aim for at least three servings of calcium-rich foods a day, such as low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified orange juice, or soy milk. It's difficult to get enough vitamin D from diet alone (salmon and fortified milk are good sources), but women can make up the difference with a daily multivitamin or a supplement. Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.

As for why these nutrients may ease PMS, Bertone-Johnson suspects that calcium works in the brain to relieve depressive symptoms or anxiety, and vitamin D may also influence emotional changes.

Of course, you need adequate calcium and vitamin D for many other health reasons, including the health of your bones. Curbing PMS may be a fringe benefit.

2. Don't skip breakfast or other meals.

"The hormone storm from PMS can lead to a domino effect on appetite," says Elizabeth Somer, an Oregon-based dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness.

To avoid becoming overly hungry, eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. If you're feeling blue from PMS, then skipping a meal will only make you more irritable as blood sugar levels plummet.

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