Tired of the belly bloating, short temper, irritation, and sugar cravings right before that time of the month? You’re not alone, and a Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS Diet that includes changing up what you’re eating could help alleviate symptoms.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman’s mental health, physical health, and behavior during certain days of their menstrual cycle, and symptoms can start anywhere from five to 11 days before menstruation. “PMS symptoms can vary widely and in severity from one person to another. Three of the more common symptoms include depressed mood, feelings of anxiety, and irritability. Over 40% of women note bothersome symptoms around the time of their menses,” says Marcos Sosa, MD, Assistant Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Atrium Health. He adds, “I tell my patients that when these symptoms begin to negatively affect their lifestyle, then they should consider evaluating their diet and how it affects their mood.”
How the pandemic has impacted PMS
In the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, stress levels have been on the rise, but there could be a correlation between added stress and PMS symptoms. “I unequivocally believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to affect all aspects of our lives,” says Sosa. “The lack of control of the pandemic at the individual level can leave us feeling vulnerable. At the macro-level of society, people are losing loved ones to illness, losing their employment, and unable to engage with friends. Those with moderate to severe PMS may experience more pronounced symptoms during the pandemic.”
Tamar Samuels, RDN, NBC-HWC, and Co-Founder of Culina Health agrees that stress can take a toll. “Many of my clients, myself included, have seen noticeable increases in PMS symptoms associated with stress from the current environment in which we live.”
Lulu Ge, founder and CEO of Elix Healing, says that stress can affect reproductive hormones.”Stress can affect reproductive hormones and potentially interferes with normal follicle development, menstruation, and fecundity. The rise in cortisol levels can lead to dysregulated reproductive hormone release, which can transpire into amenorrhea, anovulation, or irregular ovulation. Right now, we’re hearing from our new community members that they’ve experienced some of their worst cycles since the pandemic started,” says Ge.
Related: Best Period Tracker Apps
How does the PMS Diet work?
“A PMS diet includes foods and supplements that aim to reduce both the physical and psychological burdens of the condition,” explains Sosa, adding that one to seven days before menstruation occurs, estrogen and serotonin levels decrease which can then trigger those monthly cravings for sugar and salty snacks. “High salt intake may cause fluid retention and worsen symptoms of bloating associated with PMS,” he says.
And for those suffering from moderate to severe psychological PMS symptoms, he suggests avoiding alcohol because it can lead to increased irritability. Samuels says nutrient deficiencies can play a part in PMS symptoms so it’s important to adjust your diet to include those. “Specifically, nutrient deficiencies in vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin A can all contribute to PMS symptoms,” she explains. “Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency can exacerbate neurotransmitter and hormone imbalances that may contribute to some PMS symptoms like mood change.”
Related: What Is the Anti-inflammatory Diet?
What to eat on the PMS Diet
“Consuming complex carbohydrates has been shown in the medical literature to decrease the severity of mood symptoms for those suffering from PMS. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and squash,” says Dr. Sosa.
“[The list includes], chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken, turkey, potato, and bananas,” says Samuels.
“Calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, low fat milk, or cheese can decrease symptoms of PMS. My recommendation is to consume 1200 mg of calcium daily. An added benefit is that calcium also improves bone health,” says Dr. Sosa. Samuels says fortified unsweetened non-dairy milks, turnip greens, kale and broccoli are also calcium-rich options.
Pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, black beans, dark chocolate, and sugar-free, all natural peanut butter are options packed with magnesium according to Samuels.
“Chasteberry fruit has also been shown to decrease PMS symptoms. Chasteberry fruit can be ordered online or found at a health food store,” Dr. Sosa says.
“Foods like beef liver, cod liver oil, sweet potato, spinach, pumpkin, carrots and herring are vitamin A-rich foods,” says Samuels.
Samuels says you can get vitamin D from foods like cod liver oil, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout, and egg yolks.
Related: What is PMDD?
Benefits of a PMS Diet
The benefits of a PMS diet are two-fold. “One, a reduction of the severity of PMS symptoms, particularly “depressed mood,” is welcome,” says Dr. Sosa. He adds, “a PMS diet provides nutritional benefits that can improve other aspects of a person’s life including increased energy levels, maintenance of desired weight, and protection from chronic conditions such as heart disease.”
Samuels says eating healthy options of protein and fat with each meal also helps to balance blood sugar which helps to balance hormones.
Cons of the PMS Diet
No diet is without its cons, the PMS Diet included.. “The only con would be the additional time it would take to prepare these foods and potential financial costs associated with buying good quality produce and animal products,” she says.
Dr. Sosa agrees there aren’t a lot of drawbacks since the PMS diet promotes healthy foods. “Initially you may feel a decrease in energy if you are converting from a very high fat and simple carbohydrate diet to healthier food choices. It is important to stay the course and give your new diet the opportunity to equilibrate with your mind and body,” says Dr. Sosa.
Next up, here’s why you may have missed your period.