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Women's Health

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The PMS-Free Diet?

What you eat may affect PMS symptoms
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Got PMS?

A whole lot of you will answer "yes." According to some estimates, about two-thirds of women report regular premenstrual discomfort, with about one-third seeking help from a health care provider. Up to about 8% of women experience severe impairment (called premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

What kinds of symptoms are included in the catchphrase "PMS"? A cornucopia of complaints, including breast swelling and tenderness, bloating or water retention, headaches, irritability and moodiness, depression, food cravings, and more.

These pesky and sometimes debilitating PMS symptoms occur between ovulation and the start of your period. Here's the bad news for all you 20-somethings out there: PMS becomes increasingly common in women as they move through their 30s. And symptoms can get worse over time.

Now here's some better news for all PMS sufferers. Did you know that what you eat can affect your PMS symptoms? And sometimes, it isn't what you add to your diet but what you take away that helps. Read on for suggestions on foods to choose and foods to lose.

The Calcium Connection

Probably the strongest potential PMS helper is calcium. Several studies have suggested that PMS patients tend to have an altered calcium balance and are also at increased risk of osteoporosis. Other studies have linked adequate intakes of milk and calcium with reduced PMS symptoms.

Further, a Turkish study on PMS symptoms in adolescent girls found that higher milk consumption was associated with reduced bloating, cramps, and food cravings.

How much calcium is enough? Some suggest that we should shoot for 1,200 milligrams a day.

This is very doable with foods alone, as long as you like and tolerate dairy products. Here are some of the top calcium-rich foods:

  • 1 cup low-fat yogurt = 448 milligrams calcium
  • 3.5 ounces sardines with bones = 380 milligrams
  • 1 cup nonfat milk = 300 milligrams
  • 1 ounce cheese = 200-270 milligrams
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses = 175 milligrams
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese = 153 milligrams
  • 1/2 cup cooked spinach = 140 milligrams
  • 1/2 cup tofu = 138 milligrams
  • 1/2 cup cooked green soybeans = 130 milligrams
  • 1/2 cup soy nuts = 119 milligrams
  • 1 cup cooked butternut squash = 100 milligrams
  • 1/2 cup cooked collard greens = 100 milligrams

And if you don't like dairy? Supplements may help, too.

In a Columbia University study, women with moderate to severe PMS who took two Tums E-X tablets twice a day (for a total of 1,200 milligrams of elemental calcium), showed a 48% reduction in PMS symptoms.

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