Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is that infamous cluster of symptoms familiar to many women, as well as to their male friends and partners.
Symptoms commonly occur a week or two before menses, and include bloating, fatigue, breast swelling and tenderness, headache, dizziness, heart palpitations, hot flashes, cravings, irritability, emotional lability (think mood swings), anxiety, depression, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
But if you’re one of the 30 to 90 percent of women of child-bearing age who struggle with PMS, relief may be just a few dietary changes away.
Many women with PMS crave starches and sweets, possibly related to a less-than-optimal level of serotonin in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that helps you experience the “happy” feeling. Eating carbohydrates helps the brain get access to tryptophan, an amino acid that is the precursor to serotonin. However, eating refined carbohydrates can also lead to changes in blood sugar in people who are susceptible, which can worsen mood and other symptoms.
Small, frequent meals and snacks, especially those containing protein (like nuts, nut butters, beans and animal products), can help lessen or eliminate your carbohydrate cravings. Acupuncture can also decrease cravings for sweets and carbohydrates.
Observational studies have shown that women with the highest intakes of sugar, alcohol and caffeine also had the highest prevalence and severity of PMS symptoms.
Dairy products can also worsen women’s PMS symptoms because of sensitivity to dairy proteins and/or the presence of recombinant bovine growth hormone (RBGH) in some conventional milk products.
RBGH increases your estrogenic activity after consumption, which can worsen the relative estrogen excess frequently found in women with PMS. If you struggle with PMS but want to consume dairy products, it might help to consume only RBGH-free products.
In addition to avoiding certain foods, you can also eat more foods that support the liver functions. An important job of the liver is metabolizing excess estrogens in the body.
Liver-supportive foods include artichokes, beets, dandelion greens and burdock root. Cruciferous vegetables contain high amounts of indole-3-carbinol, a compound that helps the natural elimination of estrogens. This category of vegetables includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, kale, collards, radishes, horseradish, daikon and arugula.
If you’re often stressed during PMS, increasing aerobic exercise can contribute to stress reduction and help move stagnant energy, which Chinese medicine practitioners often find as an underlying pattern in PMS patients.
For more complete, individualized evaluation and treatment of PMS, visit an integrative health care practitioner. Supplementation with vitamin B6, magnesium, L-tryptophan or even hormone therapy might be found to be appropriate, in addition to the above lifestyle changes. An acupuncturist and/or Chinese herbalist can help diagnose and treat the patterns specific to your specific symptoms.
— Eva Kozura, ND, RD, LAc, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.
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