We’ve been having our periods since we were teenagers, but that doesn’t mean our bodies get used to the changes it brings every month. Instead the rollercoaster of hormones brings about a ‘perfect storm’ of crankiness, irritability and low moods. The question is, can you tailor your diet for PMS to help your body out each month?
What is PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or Premenstrual tension (PMT) is used to describe the same thing; the emotional and physical symptoms that affect you in the two weeks before your period is due. It’s thought that around 90% of women suffer from PMS either before or during their period, which equates to three out of four women dealing with PMS symptoms at any given time!
What are the symptoms of PMS?
Although different for each woman, the most common symptoms tend to be:
- Low Mood
- Breast tenderness
- Bad skin
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling emotional/getting upset easily
Keep a diary of the symptoms you experience each month to see if there is a pattern. Do the symptoms appear at the same time, in the same order? Do you tend to experience some symptoms more than others. Keeping a note of what you feel each month (both mentally and physically) can help when you come to tailor your diet to what you need.
Why does PMS happen?
Amazingly, even though women all around the world suffer from PMS, the actual cause has never been pinpointed. It is thought to be connected to our hormones, since the symptoms coincide with a dip in oestrogen and progesterone in the luteal phase; the lead up to ovulation and your period starting. It’s also thought that deficiencies in certain minerals and nutrients our bodies need can also play a part, and this is why looking at what we eat is really important.
Tailoring our diets for PMS
Food plays a massive role in our physical and mental wellbeing so making small adjustments to our diets in the lead up to our period can alleviate or at least dull some of the symptoms.
Tailor your diet – Almonds for mood swings
Magnesium is a mineral that plays many different roles in our bodies, but crucially, it plays a part in brain function. Studies have shown that magnesium improves your mood, by helping with serotonin production. Serotonin is what is known as the ‘happy hormone’ and boosts your mood when levels are high and promotes feelings of wellbeing and happiness. We all need a bit of that at the moment! Some studies have also shown that magnesium can help reduce cramps and even PMS headaches.
There are plenty of foods rich in magnesium, including almonds and pumpkin seeds (great for snacking), spinach, quinoa and (yeah!) popcorn. If you feel you aren’t getting enough magnesium-rich foods into your diet, ask your GP about a daily magnesium supplement.
Quick PMS Tip
Having a bath can help with PMS symptoms like a crampy stomachs or low moods. Why not add Epsom salts to your bath, which are actually magnesium sulphate and can help to relax your body.
Tailor your diet – Bananas for bloating
Vitamin B6 is another serotonin regulator and also helps to keep stress levels down. Bananas are not only rich in B6, but also packed with potassium which stops your body from retaining too much water and bloating. In a recent clinical study, B6 was seen to reduce the PMS symptoms, particularly depression and irritability. Luckily, keeping vitamin B6 at arms length is really easy and you can buy it at most chemists and health food shops. B6 also helps to level your hormone system out by helping your body produce more progesterone. This will stop the oestrogen in your body dominating and exacerbating PMS symptoms. You should be able to get all the Vitamin B6 you need from your diet and eating B6-rich foods.
Stock up on Pork, chicken and turkey, peanuts, soya beans, oats and bananas for a B6 hit in the two weeks leading up to your period.
Tailor your diet – Calcium for psychological symptoms
Several studies have shown that women suffering from PMS have an altered calcium imbalance and that those who had a higher milk consumption experienced reduced bloating, cramps and depression.
Calcium is found in foods like cheese, milk, yoghurts and green leafy vegetables like spinach.
Keep in mind that Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium, which is why calcium and Vitamin D are often suggested to take alongside one another. It is suggested we all take Vitamin D supplements if we live in the Northern Hemisphere, especially between the months of October and March when the sun isn’t as strong. Vitamin D-rich foods include; salmon, sardines, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
Tailor your diet – Selenium for your cycle
Selenium is a nutrient which is crucial for the development of healthy ovarian follicles. Healthy ovarian follicles means a healthy corpus luteum; cells responsible for the production of progesterone. In turn, more progesterone means a healthier menstrual cycle – a higher chance of getting pregnant and fewer PMS symptoms.
Foods rich in selenium are brazil nuts (great snack foods), but also tuna, salmon, sardines and oysters.
Tailor your diet – Oily fish for menstrual cramps
An epidemiological survey among Danish women who were given fish oil supplements during a three-month trial, showed a highly significant reduction in period cramps. Researchers concluded that taking fish oil supplements, especially with B12 vitamins, can help women who suffer from painful period cramps. Oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are full of Omega-3 and Vitamin D (both help with PMS symptoms). They also have anti-inflammatory effects that help to keep those cramps from being too intense.
Carbs for PMS?
We’re constantly told to cut down on carbs, but that’s not so in the lead up to your period. Heaps of studies show women who upped their carb intake actually reported fewer PMS symptoms, than those who cut carbs out altogether. This is thought to be because carbohydrates help form tryptophan, which is the building block for serotonin (remember the happy hormone from earlier?)
Tailor your diet – Which Carbs?
The trick is to choose which carbs you eat carefully; don’t reach for the doughnuts and cakes! They might give you a quick energy boost (which we all need when we are premenstrual), but they also cause your insulin levels to spike, then fall rapidly. This makes it more likely that you’ll pick up another snack to try to boost your energy again.
Choosing carbs like potatoes, lentils, whole fruit and vegetables, oats and nuts, plus Chia and pumpkin seeds for snacking are ideal.
Tailor your diet – Dark choc
We all have cravings during our cycles and reaching for unhealthy snacks is probably our body’s way of trying to up our energy levels and mood! The great news is that dark chocolate can help with both these things (and is delicious). The cocoa content in dark chocolate is the key; it’s antioxidants lower your blood pressure and can help reduce stress hormones. It also contains magnesium which boosts serotonin production enhancing your mood. We all need a bit more of that….
Hopefully this has been a helpful addition to get through those days we’re all experiencing every month. Why not try to tailor our diet around our cycle with the aim of feeling better? Sounds like a pretty good solution to us! Let us know how you get on.