How to Treat PMS Symptoms with Food

Almost 85 percent of women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in their childbearing years, with five percent altering their daily routine due to the intensity of their symptoms.

PMS is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 40, but can cause discomfort to anyone who has started their menstrual cycle. The symptoms of PMS may worsen with age, so it is important to learn about menstruation and how to establish hormone control with nutrition.

“Every woman’s dietary needs and menstrual cycle will be different. It’s important to recognize your individual needs and consult your doctor with any questions or concerns,” said Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “Generally, living a healthy, active lifestyle will benefit anyone.”

The Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle normally consists of four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal. Each month, a woman’s hormones increase and decrease depending on which phase of the cycle she is experiencing. This is normal, but can be uncomfortable without the right nutrition to support the changes associated with each phase.

When women eat according to their cycle, they can nourish their bodies back to healthy hormone and nutrient levels. The benefits of syncing personalized eating habits to your menstrual cycle include:

• Elimination of PMS symptoms
• Elimination of cramping
• Little to no hormonal acne
• Adequate preparation for conception
• Balanced hormones

Menstrual Phase

During week one of your period, the uterine lining is shedding. This happens due to a drop in hormones. You may feel tired, achy and irritable. This is because your body is losing a lot of iron. Your first nutritional goal is to restore that iron supply and reduce inflammation, especially for women who experience heavy bleeding.

“You will want to reach for slow cooked foods like bone broths, soups, casseroles and stews. Including vitamin C rich-foods with iron-dense, plant-based foods will aid in iron absorption,” Derocha said. “Hydration is also a key ingredient for blood building because water is the main component of blood.”

Some examples of blood-building foods are:

• Spinach
• Liver
• Poultry
• Beef
• Raisins
• Flax seeds
• Pecans
• Bell peppers
• Fish
• Poultry
• Garlic
• Parsley
• Collard greens

Follicular Phase

The second week of your period is called the follicular phase. During this time, estrogen and testosterone will continue to increase as the uterine wall thickens. You might feel confident, energetic, assertive and more attractive than usual.

This is a great time to take advantage of your energy and create new fitness goals. The rising estrogen levels in the body act as a muscle builder and an appetite suppressant.

“Including protein-rich foods can help maintain and build muscle mass as you continue with your exercise regime,” Derocha said.

Muscle-building, fatty, protein-filled foods can be accompanied by folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin E to nourish the egg. Some examples of good foods during the follicular phase are:

• Cottage cheese
• Eggs
• Fatty fish
• Avocado
• Oats
• Olives
• Quinoa
• Parsley
• Kiwi
• Blackberry
• Green peas
• Almonds
• Walnuts

Ovulatory Phase

Week three of the menstrual cycle is the ovulatory phase. You might feel a little sluggish, moody and heavier than usual. Rising progesterone levels in the body can be blamed for the subtle weight gain. You may also feel slightly constipated during this phase, so it is important to eat fiber-filled foods that keep you regular.

This can include raw or lightly steamed vegetables and fruit.

“An increase in progesterone levels may also contribute to blood sugar drops, so make sure to eat regularly to avoid mood swings,” Derocha said. “Make sure to drink enough water, especially when active.”

Here are some examples of protein-rich, fiber-filled, detoxifying and hydrating foods that will help you conquer the ovulatory phase:

• Shellfish
• Beef
• Yogurt
• Cucumber
• Cranberries
• Grapes
• Tomatoes
• Asparagus
• Lettuce
• Macadamia nuts
• Plums
• Sunflower seeds

Luteal Phase

The fourth and final week is used as preparation for menstruation. You may feel irritable, moody and have intense cravings for carb-filled, fatty foods.
This is due to the serotonin drop associated with decreasing levels of estrogen. Carbohydrates will help restore this loss and boost your mood.

You will want to eat foods that help prepare for the menstrual phase.

“Make sure to incorporate some beef, liver and poultry into your diet to maximize iron absorption,” Derocha said. “If you experience bloating, it may be a good idea to avoid excess sodium intake.”

Progesterone is also decreasing, which needs to be built through the foods that you eat. The following foods are rich in zinc, magnesium and B6 which are the building blocks of progesterone:

• Tuna
• Salmon
• Brown rice
• Carrots
• Sweet potato
• Avocado
• Dark chocolate
• Pomegranates
• Sesame seeds
• Cashew nuts
• Pine nuts

Although PMS can seem unbearable, using natural foods and the right nutrients to combat your symptoms can help you make the most of every day of your cycle.

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Photo credit: Dafne Cholet

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