It’s not unusual for women to experience tender breasts, bloating and muscle aches a few days before they start their menstrual periods. But when these symptoms affect your body, your mood and your behavior, and become severe enough to disrupt daily life, they are called premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Symptoms may be mild or strong and vary from month to month. For many women, PMS may start as early and their teens and 20s, and continually worsen as they reach their 30s and 40s. (A more serious form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, is experienced by approximately 3 – 8% of women in their reproductive years.)
PMS is caused by fluctuations in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone that occur during the menstrual cycle. It’s unclear why some women experience PMS and others don’t, but we do know that getting too much or too little of some foods in your daily diet can increase your chances of developing PMS symptoms. Other contributing factors such as high stress, lack of exercise and too much caffeine can make matters worse. It turns out that knowing what foods to eat and which to avoid can help prevent or lessen PMS symptoms.
Well-Being spoke to Mickie Autry, PhD, NP-C, Menopause & Sexual Wellness Nurse Practitioner and Myriam Harris, RN, Diet Coach at Ovation Women’s Wellness in Flowood, about which foods may reduce or increase the severity of PMS and PMDD symptoms, and how we often crave the very foods that are most likely to make them worse.
“There are common foods that tend to worsen PMS symptoms and some that can help to lessen symptoms,” explains Ms. Autry. These include: foods high in refined sugar (consume less than 5 tbsp/day); animal fat, including diary products (consume up to 3 oz/day); salt (consume less than 3grams/day and beware of the hidden sodium in most packaged and processed foods); caffeinated beverages, which may increase feelings of irritability; alcohol beverages (consume less than 1oz/day).”
“Sugar and salt are two of the culprits women often crave with PMS/PMDD,” adds Ms. Harris. “When estrogen and progesterone levels change, this can trigger a decrease in serotonin in the brain which can affect mood and symptoms and may lead to strong food cravings. Intake of these extra calories can increase bloating and weight and worsen symptoms. Also, be mindful of sodium intake, which can increase fluid retention and worsen symptoms.”
“Specific to PMS/PMDD, food-journaling and identifying foods that may worsen symptoms at certain times during your cycle can allow avoidance in the future and may result in some improvement in symptoms.”
“What’s most important is to eat a healthy and balanced diet,” says Harris. “Although there are no specific recommendations for supplements, some studies have shown that women who have a higher intake of Calcium and Vitamin D are less likely to develop PMS and may have less symptoms if they do develop these problems. Calcium works in the brain to alleviate depressive symptoms and anxiety and Vitamin D may also positively influence emotional health.”
“In our Ovation clinic, we use the Ideal Protein protocol for weight loss. This helps with stabilizing blood glucose levels, which helps to limit cravings. Our diet is also low in sodium, which helps with bloating and fluid retention. We educate our patients that weight loss may be more difficult with PMS/PMDD but we emphasize positives. Although one may not lose weight as easily with these problems, we promote weight maintenance during these times and our weight loss coaches provide encouragement and are available to meet with our clients when needed,” Harris notes.
“Exercise is another key component of PMS self-help,” adds Autry. “Regular aerobic exercise 3 or 4 times per week, has many benefits especially during the time of monthly ovulation. Those who participate in regular exercise seem to have less premenstrual anxiety. Aerobic exercise is thought to increase endorphin levels to offset symptoms of depression and elevate mood.”
“A woman’s stressful lifestyle, coupled with inconsistent diet or exercise patterns and lack of rest and play time, are believed to be major factors in PMS,” Autry continues. “For most women, making simple changes can reduce PMS symptoms and dramatically improve quality of life. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and take the first steps toward power over PMS.”
Mickie Griffith-Autry, PhD, NP-C, of Ovation Women’s Wellness, earned her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Jacksonville State University, her Master of Science degree in nursing from the University of Alabama Huntsville, and her PhD from Walden University. Her research dissertation was entitled Pelvic muscle strengthening: Impact on sexual functioning in the menopausal woman.
Myriam Harris, RN, attended Mississippi State University and The University of Mississippi School of Nursing. She is a member of the staff of Ovation Women’s Wellness where she serves as Ideal Protein coordinator and diet coach.