Here’s What You Should Eat to Relieve PMS Symptoms

What is PMS, anyway? As women’s bodies prepare for what Game of Thrones fans have started calling the Red Woman, many experience premenstrual syndrome, or the notorious PMS. In fact 75 percent—even upward of 90 percent—of women say they get PMS symptoms at some point in their life, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1).

PMS presents itself through many different symptoms in the several days leading up to a period, says Dr. Lia Wrenn, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has a background in nutrition.

But it’s unclear what actually causes PMS, Wrenn says, noting that experts think it may be linked to hormones and chemical changes in the brain during the second half—luteal phase—of the menstruation cycle.

PMS Symptoms

Women can experience a laundry list of symptoms during PMS, but often they dissipate when their period actually starts, Wrenn says.

These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Bloating—often called period bloating
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Breast tenderness

Wrenn says that taking an antidepressant in the week leading up to PMS can be really helpful in managing mood, anxiety, and depression symptoms. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether this treatment approach is right for you.

But according to experts and research, diet and regular exercise can play a huge role in preventing and managing symptoms (2).

6 Diet Tips for PMS Relief

Increase Calcium and Vitamin D Intake

It’s important for women to have a diet rich in calcium, both for bone health and to reduce PMS symptoms. A 2005 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who had a high intake of calcium and vitamin D experienced a reduction in PMS symptoms (3).

Foods high in calcium are not hard to come by, even for vegans. Wrenn recommends dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), soy-based products, beans and lentils.

While the best source of vitamin D is from sunlight, there are foods that can help women meet their intake recommendations.

Wrenn recommends sardines—their tiny bones are rich sources of vitamin D—and salmon. Other foods include fortified milk and orange juice, and eggs.

Decrease Salt Consumption

Diets high in sodium don’t do any favors for women who experience bloating, breast tenderness, or swelling during PMS. Drinking more water can actually help reduce bloating, Wrenn says. She also recommends avoiding frozen meals and dining out, which are huge culprits for salt bombs.

Embrace Complex Carbohydrates

The C word, the complex kind, anyway, is high in fiber, which doesn’t spike blood sugar, can improve mood, and keep things regular. That’s especially important for women who experience GI symptoms and constipation, Wrenn says.

She recommends steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes, and whole grain breads. These foods are also good for heart health and can help with weight management.

Don’t Forget B Vitamins

When coming from whole foods, versus a supplement, research has found that the B vitamins thiamin and riboflavin can decrease the risk of experiencing PMS symptoms (4). It’s thought that these B vitamins can ward off feelings of fatigue that are common during PMS.

Wrenn keeps coming back to salmon as an excellent source of nutrition—lean protein, vitamin D, and B vitamins. She also recommends adding leafy greens for a boost of thiamin and riboflavin.

Fight Anemia With Iron

It shouldn’t be shocking that women can become anemic—experiencing feelings of fatigue and lethargy—due to their periods. A period is, after all, monthly blood loss. Wrenn says consuming iron-rich foods regularly can help prevent women from becoming anemic, noting that anemia doesn’t happen after just one cycle; it’s cumulative.

Reach for foods like spinach, broccoli, kale, pumpkin seeds, lentils, lean protein, and red meat—in moderation.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

Because sleep disturbance is a PMS symptom, backing off from regular consumption of alcohol and caffeine can give you much-needed shuteye, Wrenn says.

That doesn’t mean you have to swear off the good stuff forever. Just limit caffeine intake to the morning, giving your body time to settle down in the afternoon and leading up to bedtime.

As for alcohol, even one evening glass of wine could cause sleep disturbances. Experiment with what works for you, and consider laying off during the week leading up to your period.

What strategies have you used to manage PMS symptoms? Let us know in the comments!

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