Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is an umbrella term used to describe a broad range of symptoms related to the menstrual cycle. Symptoms can either be psychological, physical and/or behavioural and can range from irritability and confusion to headaches and cramping and everything in between. Each month, millions of women all over the world feel the effects of PMS at varying degrees. For some its severe and for some, they barely notice. The good news is friends, that with some nutritional and lifestyle related tweaks, PMS symptoms can be reduced and potentially alleviated.
Here are my top tips:
- Limit saturated fat intake such as processed and fatty meats, dairy products and fatty snack foods. These are our ‘bad’ fats and can cause a rise in the blood levels of our sex hormones, aggravating PMS symptoms. Increased intake of saturated fats also increases our inflammatory response and menstrual pain levels, as they are a precursor to our major pain hormones, the prostaglandins.
- Limit refined carbohydrate intake when dealing with PMS. This includes highly processed grains, white bread and rice as well as simple sugars such as sucrose and honey. These foods cause blood sugar imbalance when consumed, causing peaks and troughs in our energy levels as well as our moods. Not only this, refined carbohydrates also disrupt hormonal balance. Once consumed, refined carbohydrates cause a peak in insulin, which then results in lower levels of the important sex hormone binding globulin. When SHBG is low, our sex hormones, oestrogen and testosterone do not bind as much, therefore we have an excess circulating in our blood stream. This can lead to the symptoms of irritability, anxiety, insomnia, night sweats all that we experience with PMS.
- Avoid entirely or limit your caffeine intake to 1 caffeinated drink daily before and during your period. Caffeine is known to trigger PMS symptoms. This includes; black tea, green tea, coffee, chocolate etc.
- Steer clear of refined sugar entirely. Consumption of sugary foods is linked to a higher prevalence of PMS symptoms. Also, stick to the 2 fruit daily recommendation and opt for lower sugar options such as berries and green apples.
- Focus on incorporating more low GI nude food into your daily diet. These are our wholegrains, fresh fruit and vegetables…things that do not come in packages and are essentially ‘nude’.
- Choose high fibrous dietary options. A diet high in fibre assists with the excretion of oestrogen from the body. The brassica family of vegetables (e.g. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage) are especially useful when it comes to clearance of endogenous oestrogen. Steaming and stir-frying these vegetables are best to avoid overcooking them and reducing their nutritional status.
- Consume more tryptophan-rich foods (i.e. bananas, pepitas, legumes, turkey and sesame seeds). Too little tryptophan has been linked to increased irritability and aggression of females in the premenstrual phase.
- Eat more of the ‘good’ fats aka our omega 3 fatty acids. These exert an anti-inflammatory mechanism, reducing PMS symptoms. Foods in this category include oily fish (e.g. sardines, salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, herring), flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts and olive oil.
- Focus on ensuring adequate protein in your diet. This will ensure blood sugar stability and will prevent any mood fluctuations and/or irritability that is commonly associated with blood sugar imbalance and PMS.
- Reduce salt and alcohol. Too much salt causes fluid retention, which can disrupt fluid balance. If you do suffer from fluid retention, parsley is your new best friend. Add it to your salads, smoothies, veggies, soups etc. Alcohol can exacerbate the stress response, disturb our sleep patterns and can inhibit healthy food choices…all of which are important when combatting PMS.
- Ensure adequate hydration. Water, naturally flavoured water, smoothies, soups, broths, herbal teas all count.
- Reduce stress as best you can. Incorporating foods rich in B vitamins will assist with our stress response and the metabolism of important hormones e.g. oestrogen. These include our grains, dark leafy greens and fish and seafood. Chronic stress can exacerbate hormonal imbalance, causing PMS to be present more than it is welcome! Find what works for you and implement it in to your routine. This may mean busting out a groove to your favourite song, meditating quietly, yoga stretches, reading a book, drawing, painting etc.
- Avoid wheat and dairy before and during your period. Both tend to slow intestinal transit time, which can cause increased oestrogen dominance due the body’s inability to clear it from the system quick enough.
- Supplement if necessary (always under the guidance of your healthcare practitioner!). Magnesium, vitamin B6, essential fatty acids and evening primrose oil are commonly used.