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PMS? Discover Which Food Help or Aggravate PMS
Foods can affect the severity of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. While some foods can help, others can worsen PMS. The foods that help are usually those containing minerals and vitamins that known to reduce PMS symptoms. Therefore, foods rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins B, D and E can help your PMS. On the other hand, foods to avoid are those that create the wrong hormone profile during the menstrual cycle. This article discusses foods in both groups and should help you choose the right foods for your PMS diet.
by Brad Chase
Food is important to our health in many ways. Besides serving as energy source and building block of every cell in the body, food also influences the balance of hormones in the body, the release of neurotransmitters in the brain and even the immune system.
Foods contain more than proteins, carbohydrates and fats. They also contain essential and trace minerals as well as all the vitamins that the body needs.
In addition, foods contain bioactive phytochemicals that possess medicinal properties.
Like every aspect of health, the foods you eat can help or worsen your PMS symptoms. One of the most important studies to investigate the effects of diet on the risk and severity of PMS is the Nurses’ Health Study II, a cohort study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Different groups of researchers have taken data from that long and large study to reach some important conclusions about the link between foods and PMS.
For example, a 2005 paper that analyzed data from this study found that women who ate foods with high contents of calcium and vitamin D are significantly less likely to suffer from PMS.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology also analyzed data from this cohort study to reach the conclusion that foods rich in non-heme iron (vegetables) and zinc have also been linked with lower risks of PMS.
It is important not to overstate the benefits of foods in the management of PMS. Foods are not magic bullets for PMS.
It is highly unlike that your PMS symptoms are solely due to the foods you eat just as foods cannot be solely used to manage PMS. But they can contribute to the cause of or cure for your PMS. Your diet can be the difference between a mild case and a severe cycle of PMS.
Discussed below are the foods to adopt because they can reduce your PMS symptoms as well as those to avoid because they can worsen those symptoms.
How Calcium Helps PMS
Multiple studies have confirmed that calcium deficiency can worsen PMS symptoms. In addition, increasing your calcium intake has been proven to help with PMS.
During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, the hormonal changes that occur disrupt calcium metabolism. Women with low calcium levels especially those who have borderline hypocalcemia experience the worst PMS symptoms.
The recommended dietary intake for calcium is 1,200 mg per day. This value is easily achieved with foods rich in calcium.
Calcium-Rich Foods for PMS
Although milk is traditionally associated with calcium, it is not be best way to get the mineral especially for those suffering from lactose intolerance. In addition, bovine hormones in cow milk may be a source of concern. If you do like your milk, make sure to get the low-fat variety.
Fermented dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are also excellent calcium sources and they may even be better than milk.
Yogurt is not only a healthy choice because of its calcium content but also because its probiotic content can protect a healthy gut flora. The best variety of yogurt to take for your PMS symptom is nonfat, plain yogurt.
Green leafy vegetables are also great foods to get your calcium. In addition, they are also rich in magnesium and potassium, two minerals that can help with your PMS symptoms.
While raising your calcium levels, it is also important to raise your vitamin D levels. Studies show that women who ate foods rich in calcium and vitamin D had 30% lower risk of PMS. Therefore, add foods rich in vitamin D to these calcium-rich foods for the best results.
How Magnesium Helps PMS
Magnesium is important to energy production in every cell of the body. In addition, it complements the activities of calcium in the body.
Magnesium deficiency can cause calcium deficiency and hypoparathyroidism. Since low levels of calcium and parathyroid hormone are associated with PMS symptoms, low levels of magnesium can also worsen PMS.
Besides promoting calcium, magnesium can also directly improve PMS symptoms.
Because it is required for the biological activity of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the primary energy molecule of cells), increasing your magnesium intake can increase energy level and provide relief for fatigue.
In addition, magnesium is a muscle relaxant. Therefore, it can relieve for PMS-related cramps as well as muscle ache and joint pain.
Studies also indicate that magnesium supplementation is especially effective for relieving symptoms related to fluid retention. Magnesium reduces abdominal bloating, weight gain, swelling and breast tenderness in women with PMS.
Other benefits of magnesium in PMS therapy include its anti-inflammatory effect and ability to stimulate the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain.
Therefore, magnesium can also help with PMS-related anxiety, irritability, mood swings and depression.
Magnesium-Rich Foods for PMS
Good examples of foods with high magnesium contents are banana, beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables, whole grain bread, brown rice and cocoa powder.
Therefore, by adding green leafy vegetables (spinach etc.) to your diet, you can get both calcium and magnesium.
While dark chocolate is sometimes recommended for PMS, it is not a wise choice. Although it contains cocoa solids which is rich in magnesium, it also contain cocoa butter which can increase the amount of bad fats in your diet as well as refined sugar and other additives.
The importance of vitamin D in the management of PMS has been mentioned under calcium.
Vitamin D3 serves as a cofactor in the synthesis of the intestinal proteins needed for calcium absorption. Therefore, vitamin D should be combined with foods rich in calcium to increase the absorption of the mineral.
However, vitamin D may provide even more benefits for women with PMS. In a 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that high dose vitamin D supplementation significantly reduced the pain and aches felt by women with PMS.
This is possible because vitamin D blocks the production of prostaglandins. However, high dose vitamin D is not recommended.
The best way to include vitamin D in your diet is to eat foods rich in both calcium and vitamin D. Therefore, fortified dairy products are recommended.
However, the best food sources of vitamin D are fish and fish oils. Fatty fish such as tuna, mackerel and salmon are especially rich in vitamin D as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also took data from the Nurses’ Health Study II mentioned at the beginning of this article to determine the benefits of B vitamins for women with PMS.
By gathering dietary intake and medication use data from over 110,000 women in the US over a period of 10 years, the researchers found that eating foods rich in thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2) for 2 – 3 years was associated with reduced risks of PMS.
Strangely, the same study also found that B vitamin supplements was linked to increased risk of PMS.
This study represents a strong support for adopting foods rich in B vitamins (rather than supplements) in order to treat or prevent PMS.
Excellent sources of thiamine and riboflavin include red meat, milk, legumes and green leafy vegetables.
Red meat should not be included in your PMS diet for a number of reasons but especially because meat can increase the activities of estrogen and, therefore, worsen PMS.
Although this 2011 study did not find any link between vitamin B6 and PMS, an earlier study published in the journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology, in 1997 found that vitamin B6 supplementation reduced PMS-related mood changes.
That study highlighted the strength of B vitamins in PMS therapy. These vitamins are important to the functioning of the central nervous system. They serve as cofactors for neurotransmitter syntheses and promote the release and activities of “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.
Therefore, increasing your dietary intake of B vitamins can help you fight depression, irritability and mood swings.
Although milk and dairy products are rich in calcium and even vitamin D, they are not recommended to be included in your PMS diet.
Except for certain dairy products such as the low-fat varieties, milk and dairy contain a lot of saturated fat.
Saturated animal fat is a big no-no for women with PMS. They create the right environment for inflammation by promoting the syntheses of proinflammatory factors in the body.
Therefore, the saturated fat in dairy products can worsen cramps, bloating and mood changes associated with PMS.
Yet another concern with milk and dairy product is the presence of animal hormones that end up in this products. Ingesting animal hormones is not only unhealthy but it can specifically disrupt human endocrine system.
This can lead to big changes in sex and ovarian hormones produced during the menstrual cycle and end up worsening PMS symptoms.
Meats should also be avoided during PMS for the same reason as dairy. Milk contains saturated fat.
When fried, the proportion of unhealthy trans fats may also increase. The same concern applies to the vegetable oils used in deep frying. They do contain unhealthy partially hydrogenated fats. All of these bad fats can only promote inflammation and worsen PMS symptoms.
Besides its fat content, meat may also contain animal hormones. These foreign hormones destroy the delicate human hormonal balance and are bad for women with PMS.
Therefore, keep your PMS diet low in meat and choose meat from trusted sources and from animals not raised with hormones.
Soy and soy products are commonly promoted as a milk alternative. They are indeed healthy and contain calcium and vitamin D but they are not right for a healthy PMS diet.
The chief strength of soy is also the reason why it should be avoided by women with PMS. Soy contains a high concentration of phytoestrogens.
Phytoestrogens are compounds derived from plants that have estrogenic properties.
Therefore, soy and soy products can increase estrogen activities in the body. While this effect is needed in the management of certain conditions (menopausal complaints, for example), it is bad for PMS.
One of the causes of PMS is estrogen dominance. Most of the emotion-type symptoms of PMS results from the effects of estrogen in the central nervous system. Therefore, it is important to keep estrogen activities down during PMS. Soy simply does the opposite.
There are other reasons to cut out soy from your PMS diet. For example, soy contains anti-nutrients.
Anti-nutrients (such as phytates and oxalic acid) bind to essential nutrients in the gut and prevent their absorption. Therefore, soy can cause a number of nutritional deficiencies that will worsen PMS.
Furthermore, soy has been shown to reduce thyroid function. Since hypoparathyroidism is one of the causes of PMS, lowering the levels of thyroid and parathyroid hormones will trigger hypocalcemia and PMS symptoms such as fatigue, depression, weight gain and bloating.
Sugary foods especially soft drinks, snacks and processed foods should be eliminated from your PMS diet.
Sugar causes a spike in energy level followed by a crash. Therefore, you are likely to suffer from mood swings, fatigue and lack of mental focus if you do not significantly reduce your sugar consumption.
Refined sugar also reduces the absorption of essential minerals and vitamins.
Avoid sugar at least 2 weeks before your menstrual period and cut back your sugar intake throughout the month.
Common salt is another item to cut down in your diet. High sodium intake can lead to water retention and is responsible for bloating, one of the most common complaints of PMS.
While salt is important in your diet, the period before your menstrual cycle is time to reduce how much you consume. Getting rid of salted processed foods can greatly reduce PMS-related fluid retention.
Caffeine is bad news for your mood, mental concentration and sleep. Although, it is great as a stimulant, it is the drawn-out side effects of caffeine that you should fear.
Therefore, do not use caffeine to increase your alertness while experiencing PMS. It will only worsen your mood swings, stress, insomnia and cognitive performance.
Alcohol leaves the body dehydrated and produces a number of negative responses. Alcohol consumption results in poor sugar control, hormonal imbalance and rebound fluid retention.
Alcohol also affects your sleep and mental performance. It can also cause depression and fatigue.
In one study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the researchers found that alcohol consumption prolonged and worsened cramps felt by women with PMS.
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