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Rael Girl’s Guide to PMS

By: Jessica Bippen, MS, RD Registered Dietitian Nutritionist 

Your moody, tired, bloated and now you’re hangry. You’ve got some extreme cravings for some carbs and chocolate. We get it. PMS symptoms are real! But they don’t have to be unbearable. What if you could drastically reduce your monthly mood-swings and other PMS related symptoms from some simple diet and lifestyle tweaks? Well lucky for you, it’s 100% possible.

What really is PMS?

Before we dive into how to reduce these monthly symptoms, let’s first take a deeper look at PMS. Premenstrual syndrome is defined as a broad range of symptoms that typically occur one to two weeks before your period. Women can experience one or many of the emotional and physical symptoms associated with PMS. Some of the most common symptoms include acne, fatigue, irritability, bloating, confusion, mood swings, headaches, breast tenderness, fluid retention, cravings, anxiety, weight gain, muscle or joint aches and insomnia. Given such an extensive list of symptoms, is safe to say you’re probably one of the 85% of women who experience at least one of these symptoms.

So now I’m sure you’re wondering why the heck does this happen? The truth is the definite cause is still unclear since there are a lot of variables that can play into PMS symptoms and everyone's body is different. However, most research points to the severity of your monthly hormonal fluctuations and the effect they can have on the chemicals in your brain like serotonin. It’s also thought that some women are more sensitive to these hormonal fluctuations, which leads to more intense PMS symptoms. In addition, nutrition and lifestyle are key players in PMS. Certain nutrients have been shown to play a role in PMS symptoms, so if you’re lacking certain nutrients, your PMS symptoms may be worse!

Food and Nutrition’s Role in PMS

To help reduce PMS symptoms, reducing alcohol, caffeine, salt, and sugar is key, as they can make PMS symptoms worse. It’s been shown that excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption can worsen symptoms and have been associated with prolonged cramping, while salty foods may cause bloating and fluid retention. Even though we start to crave simple carbs and sugar during this time of the month, this craving is actually due to the shifting levels estrogen and progesterone, which can decrease levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain. Carbohydrates and sugar cause a release of serotonin in our brain. Rather than turning to simple carbs like chips and cookies, focus on nourishing carbohydrates like whole grain, sweet potatoes and fruit.

Nutrients That May Influence PMS

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies also can play a role in the development of PMS. There’s evidence that a woman’s diet may contribute to the development of PMS or be related to symptom severity. What women eat and drink, or in some cases, what they don’t eat and drink, can be directly related to PMS symptoms.

Calcium and Vitamin D - Calcium and vitamin D work together to treat PMS and may also prevent it. Calcium eases mood swings, headaches and bloating. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Higher dietary intake of both calcium and vitamin D through foods and supplements has been associated with reduced risk of PMS.
Vitamin B6 - Vitamin B6 plays a role in the production of serotonin and dopamine, both of which affect mood. Some research also suggests low levels of vitamin B6 may contribute to edema and some mood-related symptoms associated with PMS.
Magnesium - this mineral may be beneficial in reducing fluid retention associated with PMS. Studies of magnesium supplements have shown improvement in mood, water retention, breast tenderness, and insomnia. Magnesium also regulates serotonin levels, which can impact your mood.

Smart Food Nutrition Choices for PMS

Eating a healthy, balanced diet all month long is the best approach to combating PMS symptoms. This helps ensure you are getting all the necessary nutrients, especially those related to PMS. Enjoying a balanced diet that focuses on a wide variety of colorful, fiber-packed fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.

When it’s that time of the month where you’re PMS is the worst, try focusing a little extra on your food choices to makes sure you are getting in foods that are good sources of calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium and fiber.

Calcium - full-fat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, grains, beans, canned salmon and sardines;
Vitamin D - salmon, trout, tuna, mushrooms, and eggs, or fortified foods
Magnesium -  dark leafy greens, high-quality dark chocolate (80% cocoa or higher), pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, beans and legumes, whole grains and eggs.
Vitamin B6 -  beef, chicken, salmon and other fatty fish, whole grains, fortified cereals, soybeans, avocados, baked potato with skin, bananas, and peanuts.
Fiber - aim for at least 30 grams of fiber every day to help you keep your hormones in check. Fiber is a necessary part of eliminating excess estrogen from the body as well as keeping your digestion moving smoothly. Incorporate fiber-rich foods like chia seeds, apples, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, celery and broccoli (just to name a few!).
Water - It's also important to drink plenty of water, especially when eating a fiber-rich diet. Drinking plenty of water to reduce bloating and helps prevent constipation. A quick guide for how much water you such drink daily, is half your body weight in pounds. That means if you are 130 lbs, the minimum you should drink is 65 oz. You’ll need more depending on the temperature and your exercise level, but this is a good starting point.

Supplements for PMS

Supplements can play a supporting role in reducing PMS symptoms but think of them as just that - a supporting role. Making necessary diet changes should be your top priority. The supplements can just give you an extra boost. Just a reminder to always check with your doctor before starting any new supplements.

Dong Quai and Chasteberry - these are two excellent natural herbs to support female hormone health and alleviate PMS symptoms, including cramps. Dong quai is sometimes referred to by herbalists as a “uterine tonic”. It helps balances estrogen levels and replenishes blood flow to help relax the uterus. Chasteberry has a similar nickname, “the women’s herb”. It has been used for centuries to treat PMS and other hormone-related conditions. You can find dong quai and chasteberry in Moody Bird.
Vitamin D - it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D in your diet. However, spending at least 20 minutes of unprotected time in the sun daily can make up for this. If you aren’t getting this much sun, it’s a good idea to supplement. Plus, research shows that Vitamin D reduces the production of prostaglandins, the hormones the trigger your uterus to contract.
Remember the important nutrients we talked about earlier? While you may want to consider supplementing with those nutrients, especially if you aren’t eating many of the foods that are good sources of those nutrients. You may want to consider a daily multivitamin or B-vitamins, 600mg of calcium carbonate with at least 1000 IUs vitamin D daily, and 400mg of magnesium oxide.

Lifestyle plays a role

In addition to nutrition, lifestyle can play a huge role in your PMS symptoms. Making both nutrition and lifestyle adjustments can make the biggest impact on reducing your PMS symptoms while creating a balanced lifestyle.

Exercise - exercise has been shown to increase endorphins, which improve your mood and decreasing feelings of fatigue. While exercising may feel like the last thing you want to do, even 20 minutes can help! Get some fresh air and take a walk, take a yoga class, or if you’re up for it something more intense like a spin class or weights.
Small frequent meals - bloating and slowed digestion can make you feel very uncomfortable. Try eating small frequent meals to help improve your digestion. To avoid becoming overly hungry and having your blood sugar crash, it’s important to eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
Stress management - stress can impact the intensity of your PMS symptoms. Including exercise, deep breathing, yoga or journaling are just a few ways to help you manage stress. Since we are all different, it’s important to find what works best for you!

Bottom lineYou aren’t alone in experiencing monthly PMS symptoms, but it doesn't have to be this way! Making nutrition and lifestyle adjustment can help reduce your symptoms and create a more balanced lifestyle. While it’s important to make nutrition and lifestyle changes first, supplements can play a supporting role. Getting an extra boost from herbs and nutrients you may be lacking may be the missing piece for giving you PMS relief. PMS symptoms can be rough, but remember your period is your power. Show yourself a little extra self-care this time of the month and embrace your monthly flow.

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