The PMS-Free Diet?

What you eat may affect PMS symptoms

4 min read

Got PMS?

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

What kinds of symptoms are included in the catchphrase "PMS"? Acornucopia 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 you20-somethings out there: PMS becomes increasingly common in women as they movethrough their 30s. And symptoms can get worse over time.

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

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

Further, a Turkish study on PMS symptoms in adolescent girls found thathigher milk consumption was associated with reduced bloating, cramps, and foodcravings.

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

This is very doable with foods alone, as long as you like and tolerate dairyproducts. 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 tooktwo Tums E-X tablets twice a day (for a total of 1,200 milligrams of elementalcalcium), showed a 48% reduction in PMS symptoms.

About 11% of women have moderate to severe breast pain and soreness,according to a recent study.

Another recent study suggests that flaxseed -- already famed for its healthyomega-3 fatty acids -- may also help women with breast pain.

Researchers at the University of Toronto tested flaxseed's effects onpremenopausal women with breast pain. For a six month period, one group ofwomen ate a muffin containing 25 grams of flaxseed every day, while anothergroup ate a muffin without flaxseed.

The flaxseed-eating women reported much less breast pain than the othergroup. This may be because the lignans in flaxseed are plant estrogens thatcompete with human estrogen.

The reviews are mixed, but it's possible that daily vitamin B-6 helpsimprove PMS-related depression as well as physical symptoms.

Although some sources suggest 50-100 milligrams per day of B-6, the DailyValue for women aged 19-50 is a mere 1.3 milligrams per day. That's a huge gap,and one that can't be realistically filled with food sources of B-6. You'll seewhat I mean when I list the top B-6-containing foods:

  • 1 banana = 0.7 milligrams B-6
  • 3.5 ounces cooked salmon = 0.7 milligrams B-6
  • 3.5 ounces cooked light chicken or turkey meat = 0.6 milligrams B-6
  • 1 baked potato = 0.4 milligrams B-6
  • 3/4 cup prune juice = 0.4 milligrams B-6
  • 3.5 ounces cooked halibut = 0.4 milligrams B-6
  • 3.5 ounces cooked shrimp = 0.4 milligrams B-6
  • 3.5 ounces cooked dark chicken or turkey = 0.4 milligrams B-6

Even on a "good" day (if you ate 3.5 ounces of light chicken or fisha day, 2 cups of colorful fruit, and 2 1/2 cups of colorful vegetables), you'dtake in about 2 milligrams of B-6 from food.

Keep in mind, though, that very large doses of B-6 supplements can be toxicover time -- something that can't happen with food sources of B-6. The 1998Recommended Dietary Allowance/Dietary Reference Intakes committee set the upperlimit for B-6 at 100 milligrams per day for people aged 19 and older.

Here are a few more diet and lifestyle tips that may help reduce PMSsymptoms -- and won't hurt in any case:

  • Keep your blood sugar stable. Given all that's going on in your bodyduring PMS prime time, keeping your blood sugar levels fairly stable shouldhelp your mood and energy situation. You can help do this by limiting caffeine,not skipping meals, and eating balanced meals most of the time. It also helpsto choose nutritious carbs that contribute fiber, like whole grains, fruits andvegetables, and beans.
  • Don't eat a high-fat diet. Some suggest that a high-fat diet mayhave something to do with cyclic breast pain. One recent study found that womenwith breast soreness tended to eat more fat throughout their cycles than otherwomen. The way I see it, this is yet another reason to avoid eating a high-fatdiet.
  • Move it! It just makes sense to exercise regularly. Exercise canenhance energy and lift mood. And a recent review of the research foundsubstantial evidence that exercise can help with PMS.

Of the various herbal supplements touted as possible PMS remedies,chasteberry (a dried extract of the fruit of the chasteberry tree) is the oneresearchers tend to give the most credence.

There's some evidence chasteberry may improve PMS symptoms, but more studyis needed, according to a review of the research published in the AmericanJournal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2003.

(Be sure to see your doctor before taking any herbal supplement, especiallyif you're taking prescription medications.)