What is it?
As many as 75% of menstruating women can identify with the physical and emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). A highly individualized experience, PMS is characterized by a constellation of symptoms including moodiness, tearfulness, irritability, bloating (water retention), insomnia, fatigue, food cravings, headaches (sometimes migraines), breast tenderness, and depression. Symptoms generally start a week or a few days before menstrua?tion and continue into the first few days. If symptoms become disruptive and impair daily life, it would be prudent to seek medical treatment.
What causes it?
The exact cause of PMS is currently unknown, though theories suggest that PMS may result from an imbalance of hormones. This imbalance can cause mood fluctuations and food cravings. Preliminary studies indicate a possible link between PMS and abnormal metabolism of prostaglandins (hormone-like sub?stances) or the hormone progesterone. Also, PMS may be associated with decreased levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is instrumental in the regulation of mood, appetite, and feelings of well-being.
How food may help.
Although food doesn’t prevent PMS, certain substances in food may offer relief from some of the distressing symptoms of PMS.
Calcium may help to reduce mood disturbances, abdominal cramping, bloat?ing, and muscular contractions resulting from PMS. Calcium may help regulate brain chemicals and hormones that affect mood.
Foods high in complex carbohydrates can be helpful in that they increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood and appetite. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates also help to regulate glucose levels, which are thought to fluctuate in women with PMS.
Women who experience PMS often have low magnesium levels, which may predispose them to PMS-induced headaches.
Though research has been conflicting, some studies show that foods rich in vitamin B6 may help to stimulate production of sero?tonin and reduce anxiety and depression caused by PMS. Also, vita?min B6 may help to increase the accumulation of magnesium in the body’s cells.
One of the reasons that PMS is less common in Asian countries may be the high consumption of soy foods in those cultures. Soy iso?flavones such as genistein (as well as lignans in flaxseeds) are phy?toestrogens that may help to balance hormonal fluctuations by reducing high estrogen levels, believed to play a role in PMS.
Eating foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and shellfish, may decrease menstrual pain by promoting the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce depression (see page 162), which is one of the many symp?toms of PMS.
In addition to adding foods to the diet to help manage PMS, there are also some foods to be avoided. Reducing caffeine intake as well as sodium may help to reduce PMS symptoms.
– nonfat plain yogurt
– skim milk
Contain calcium – Studies indicate that this mineral may help to reduce mood disturbances, cramping, and bloating resulting from PMS.
– whole grains
Contain complex carbohydrates – By lowering the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream, foods high in complex carbohy?drates may offer satisfaction for those women plagued by PMS-induced food cravings. Further, complex carbohydrates are thought to increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps to regulate mood.
– sunflower seeds
Contains magnesium – Some studies show that women suffering from PMS have low levels of magnesium.
Contains vitamin B6 – This vitamin is believed to reduce anxiety and depression by increasing serotonin and other brain chemicals involved with mood.