Nutrition Articles

Eat to Beat PMS

9 Tips to Feel Better All Month Long

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PMS. Three little letters that spell dread and discomfort for millions of women every month. It is reported that more than half and perhaps as many as 85 percent of all women experience discomfort related to menstruation, common referred to as Premenstrual Syndrome. In this article we'll explore how your diet (and some nutritional changes) can help you eat to beat monthly PMS symptoms.

What is Premenstrual Syndrome?
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is the name for a group of symptoms that begin 7-14 days before your period (menstruation). The symptoms include a variety of physical and psychological symptoms and usually stop soon after your period starts.

While the exact cause of PMS is unknown, it seems to be closely related to the fluctuating levels of hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Some women may be more sensitive than others to changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. Stress and emotional problems do not seem to cause PMS, but they may make it worse.

Signs and symptoms of PMS
Symptoms vary from one woman to another, but the most common physical and emotional symptoms include:

Anger
Anxiety
Appetite changes
Acne
Backache
Bloating
Breast swelling

Breast tenderness
Constipation
Crying spells
Depression
Diarrhea
Difficulty sleeping
Fatigue

Fluid retention
Food cravings
Headache
Insomnia
Irritability
Joint and muscle pain
Memory problems

Mood swings
Overeating
Swollen hands or feet
Tension
Trouble concentrating
Upset stomach
Weight gain


While 85 percent of menstruating women experience some of these symptoms, only 3 percent to 8 percent experience a severe form of PMS called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). PMDD symptoms are severe enough to either disrupt women's personal relationships or interfere with their normal work and home responsibilities.

Eat to Beat PMS
There is no cure for PMS, but healthy lifestyle habits may help reduce symptoms. Here are 9 eating tips that I recommend for women who want to prevent or reduce their PMS symptoms:
  1. Enjoy 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day to reduce bloating and feelings of fullness.
  2. Limit your consumption of salty foods and sodium to reduce fluid retention and bloating. Use your Nutrition Tracker to monitor sodium intake, aiming for 2,400 milligrams or less each day.
  3. Select foods high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, such as whole grains, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and lentils. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these foods may improve mood and reduce cravings.
  4. Limit your intake of highly refined and processed carbohydrates such as chips, crackers, and snack foods. These foods can trigger overeating and upset your digestive system.
  5. Limit the amount of sweets (candy, cake, cookies, breakfast pastries, pie, jams, jellies, and soda) in your diet. These can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar that contribute to moodiness and irritability.
  6. Choose calcium rich foods and get at least 1,000-1,200 milligrams daily. Calcium is a key nutrient for women anyway, but it has also been shown to ease depression, moodiness, water retention and PMS pain. For more ways to boost calcium intake check out these dairy-free sources.
  7. Avoid or limit caffeine consumption to decrease feelings of tension, anxiety, and irritability prevent breast tenderness.
  8. Avoid alcohol to help with feelings of depression and moodiness. One study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology also found that regular alcohol consumption increased length of and severity of cramps in women who experience cramps during PMS.
  9. Discuss with your doctor the benefits of taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement.
In addition to dietary changes, the following lifestyle habits can also help women who experience PMS.
  • Exercise can help improve your overall health and alleviate symptoms like fatigue and depression. Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day (or most days of the week). Learn more about exercise and your period.
  • Get enough sleep. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Find healthy ways to cope with stress, like talking to friends, writing in a journal, or practicing yoga.
  • Schedule stressful events for the week after your period.
  • Don't smoke. PMS symptoms appear to be worse in women who smoke.
  • Stick to a routine so that you eat, wake up, go to bed and exercise at the same time each day.
If dietary and lifestyle changes don't help control your symptoms within two to three cycles, or if PMS seriously affects your health and daily activities, visit your health care provider. There are no unique physical or laboratory tests to diagnose premenstrual syndrome, but your doctor can examine you and perform test to rule out other problems. He or she may ask you to keep track of your symptoms for several cycles, too. Your health care provider may suggest various treatment options, including medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen, diuretics, antidepressants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and/or oral contraceptives (birth control pills). You may need to try more than one medicine to find the treatment that works best for you.

Why suffer through PMS every month if you don't have to? Try to incorporate these habits to improve your overall health and well-being and feel your best all month long.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • I thank God that I no longer have to deal with PMS ! But stay tuned hot flashes are another sign that God has a strange sense of humor. Ugh! It sounds like you ladies have a better handle on things due to being better informed. Good luck to you all. - 8/29/2014 12:43:26 AM
  • Anyone know what do do about sleep trouble during Pms? For most of the third week I am a wreck b.c. Of it. - 12/3/2013 4:41:26 PM
  • I've never suffered much from PMS, but I figured out as a teen that when I got cramps, I could exhaust my abdominal muscles by doing sit ups and then they didn't have the strength to cramp any more. - 7/31/2013 12:22:37 AM
  • I have horrible PMDD...three weeks out of the month I feel like I am wigging out. To anyone experiencing the same thing I would say read "The Woman Code" by Alissa Vitta. She designs a plan to decimate the symptoms. I haven't tried it yet, but it seems like a lot of women have had a lot of success doing the program and it is easy to follow.

    - 5/23/2013 10:53:29 AM
  • Too true! Thanks for commiserating. - 5/22/2013 6:57:55 AM
  • Great article. For those who suffer from PMS, I have some bad news for you. It doesn't stop with the onset of Menopause. We just get to add hot flashes and night sweats to the list. Oh, the joys of womanhood. Some days I would just love to slap Eve! lol - 5/20/2013 3:54:29 PM
  • Well-written article with some good information.

    A reminder, though, as this is a pet peeve of mine - birth control pills do not do anything to "fix" or "cure" menstrual or pre-menstrual problems. In fact, what they do is to stop your normal cycles completely. The bleed you get is simply shedding of the uterine lining from withdrawal of the hormones at certain times. It doesn't remove the menstrual problems, it removes the real menstrual cycles.

    cj - 5/20/2013 12:03:45 PM
  • When I had PMS, it would be binging and depression as the worst part. I could go through chips and chocolate like there was no tomorrow. I had a hysterectomy 20 years ago and have not missed PMS one little bit. - 5/20/2013 10:39:32 AM
  • Great article. don't forget to have hormones checked as well no matter your age. Hormonal imbalances can make PMS and periods a lot more painful and can make you feel like you have the flu each month. My 20yo needs supplements from days 20-28 and I'm peri-menopausal. We are both a mess so I appreciated this article. - 12/12/2012 1:22:56 PM
  • There are some great comments.

    I feel like when I get PMS everyone in the house goes nuts too, including my husband and son.

    - 8/19/2012 6:57:11 AM
  • I think its funny that one of the tips was to limit sweets and candy! Tell a woman with PMS that she can't have chocolate and see how that goes! haha!!

    I experience pretty severe PMS and experience most of the symptoms on the list. I will definitely take these tips into consideration. - 12/3/2011 8:36:00 AM
  • I hate that note after PMDD "Unlike PMS, PMDD is bad enough to interfere with your life"

    Now I've met girls who've had really bad symptoms, such as pain so bad that they fainted, and they have to go on medication, but I'm not wrong in complaining when I feel depressed for no reason except that I have PMS. I feel tired no matter what I do. It's a little bit of interference I think. - 9/8/2010 9:48:21 PM
  • When I was a teenager my PMS wasn't that bad. my sister had it really bad and still does. Even after my kids were born it wasn't too bad. AFter my last child was born, I had my tubes tied. I wanted nothing to do with my husband for 6 months, maybe that had something to do with having 3 kids ages 5 and under or my hormones being out of whack or both. However, that was 5 years ago and for the longest time I had no symptoms of PMS or anything, didnt even know it was coming, except for my major moodswings. Now as I am approaching 30, it is getting more noticeable. My breasts hurt and I am way more adept to mood swings almost to the point that I can't stand to be around myself or anyone else. I had been taking a DIM supplement and that seemed to help with my mood swings, I really need to get into taking it again. Exercise and getting enough rest and water definitely helps. - 6/1/2010 8:42:52 AM
  • Great information. The idea of taking pills is tough but I will try the Evining Primrose to see if it helps. - 3/8/2010 2:03:02 PM
  • Usually when I have PMS I tend to crave soda, and the caffeine seems to ease my cramps, but I must be dreaming? - 12/12/2009 11:51:01 PM

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