by Grace Ingram
PMS – three letters that make every woman groan with exasperation. Once a month those familiar feelings of irritability, bloating and cramping (just to name a few) return to settle in for a few days.
Premenstrual syndrome, commonly abbreviated to PMS, refers to a collection of physical and emotional symptoms that many women experience during the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (right before the start of a period) (1).
Symptoms include cramps, breast pain, headaches, bloating, mood swings, fatigue, and food cravings. Though most women experience a unique combination of these symptoms to an extent, an estimated 20% of women experience PMS at a clinical level, which significantly affects their quality of life (1).
Does diet matter?
The cause of PMS is not fully understood; however, scientists agree that it is controlled by a combination of hormonal, neural, genetic, psychological, and dietary factors (1).
Good nutritional status is associated with less frequent and less severe PMS symptoms, so a high-quality diet is the key first step to PMS management (4). This means focussing on less processed whole foods and making sure you’re eating from the five food groups each day.
If you’ve already got the healthy eating thing down, here are a few extra tips to ease PMS symptoms.
6 tips to manage PMS through diet
1. Beat the bloat
There are lots of ways to reduce uncomfortable bloating through your diet. Chewing food properly, eating smaller meals more often and some light stretching or exercise can all help ease a bloated belly. Additionally, try to avoid processed, high sodium foods as these can draw fluid into your gut and leave you feeling… bleh (5). Instead, reach for fresh foods, like a handful of natural almonds over a packet of chips, or fresh tomatoes in your pasta rather than a premade sauce.
2. Reflect on your relationship with food
Disordered eating behaviours such as restriction, binging and dieting have been associated with more severe PMS symptoms (3). Take some time to reflect on the way you think about food. If you are worried, a dietitian can help you in your journey to heal your relationship with food.
3. Don’t be hard on yourself for craving that chocolate… its science!
Research shows that hormone changes during PMS are associated with increased cravings of sweet and carb-rich foods (6). So, if you find yourself craving a little bit of chocolate or a big bowl of pasta, don’t be surprised! It is important not to be too restrictive when these cravings hit – this can lead to out-of-control binges later. While indulging in something sweet or other refined carbohydrates is okay sometimes, it is important to fuel your body with slow-releasing carbs too. Think of a warm bowl of oats, some multigrain sourdough toast with your favourite toppings, or a muesli bar with lots of whole grains.
4. Get in your calcium
A 2017 study found that calcium supplements improved mood and bloating in women with PMS (7). However, a good dose of calcium doesn’t need to come from supplements. Before you turn to tablets try upping your intake of dairy, seafood, firm tofu, chickpeas and nuts.
5. Limit caffeine and alcohol
While you might feel like turning to caffeine to beat fatigue, or alcohol to lift your mood during a bout of PMS, these substances could do more harm than good. Multiple research studies have identified an association between PMS occurrence and caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning that it exacerbates anxiety and turbulent moods that are already present in those living with PMS (8). Similarly, alcohol is associated with an increased risk of PMS symptoms due to the effects of alcohol on the body’s hormones and neurotransmitters (9). Instead, make sure you give yourself enough time at night for a solid sleep routine and make a list of ‘mood-boosting activities for when you’re feeling down.
6. Give Ginkgo a go
If you want to give something different a try, Ginkgo Biloba, a herbal supplement, could be worth a shot. This herbal remedy had been used historically in Traditional Chinese Medicine, with modern research observing its benefits in numerous conditions, including PMS (10). Dosage at which significant benefits have been recorded are no greater than is recommended on a bottle of the tablets from the pharmacy – a 40mg tablet three times per day (10).