What Foods Can Help My PMS?

Aaaaaah! Cramping, bloating, tenderness, pain.  Sometimes irritability and sugar cravings too. These are the symptoms that tell loads of us that our period approaches.  Instead of reaching for the painkillers and chocolate, there just might be a cheap and easy way of making some of these symptoms more bearable next month.

But first – why do we get these symptoms at all? 

There seems to be no single cause of PMS symptoms, which is not surprising because your body is unique and pretty complex too!  What we do know is there are lots of factors when it comes to PMS.  Here's a few:

In the second half of your cycle, your hormone levels change (oestrogen drops, progesterone rises) when conception hasn't occurred.  This can prompt a flow of pro-inflammatory chemicals in your body, which causes inflammation, cramping, tenderness and pain.  

For some women, this can also result in more frequent and looser bowel motions (this can also be driven by cramping of the uterus, which can irritate the bowel). 

This change in hormone levels can even influence the levels of happy brain chemicals at play (namely, serotonin).  This can result in irritability, lethargy, depressed mood and also contributes to cravings (especially the chocolatey kind)

Sounds like lots of icky things caused by just a change in hormone levels, huh?

How sensitively you react to this natural hormone fluctuation in the second half of the cycle is entwined with, yep, you guessed it... individual factors, like current health, genetics, stress levels and sleep quality (just to name a few!).

The good news here is that given the right conditions, your body can produce anti-inflammatory chemicals to balance the pro-inflammatory ones! Aren't we clever?

Plus, you can directly affect the production of feel good hormones to balance out the PMS blues.  In the clinic, we use lots of different nutrients and herbs to alleviate PMS, but we always talk to our patients about the importance of diet choices for PMS because

  1. Dietary changes can make a real difference and
  2. Our goal is always to empower you with knowledge about your body!

When I went through my own health journey over a decade ago one of the things I was surprised to find was how incredibly different my PMS was when I moved from eating processed foods to wholefoods (you can read my health journey here).

The best anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet to reduce PMS symptoms;

  1. Nuts and seeds, especially flaxseeds (ground), pumpkin seeds, sunflowers seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and almonds
  2. Fish, especially salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut
  3. Linseed (flaxseed) oil, good quality olive oil, pumpkin oil (linseed and pumpkin should be used as dressing and smoothies only and not heated)
  4. Green leafy vegies (LOADS of them, as many as you can)
  5. Wholegrains like oats, quinoa, buckwheat
  6. Foods to limit to reduce PMS symptoms due to pro – inflammatory effects;
  7. Processed sugar (avoid) – cakes, biscuits, lollies, chocolate
  8. Red meat (limit)
  9. Processed foods (anything deep-fried, crackers, biscuits, chips, bread, most breakfast cereals)
  10. Dairy products (especially cold things, like ice-cream, which may intensify cramps)

We encourage paying close attention to how these foods may affect your PMS symptoms, and how reducing these foods for 2 weeks prior to your period might make your period more bearable!  (Your period is a reflection of your state of health over the previous 100 days, so eating like this for a few months will yield the best results!)

Of course, these are general recommendations and if your symptoms are severe you may need more than just dietary support.  Herbs are very powerful when it comes to influencing your hormones, and regulating inflammation, and if you're having particular trouble with your period then we bring out the big guns.

On that note...

Recognising that PMS could be part of your current state of health is important - because it's usually in hindsight that we attribute our mood and body changes to our period... once the red devil has appeared and we go "Ohhhhhh!!".  Also understand that PMS, as well as irregular and heavy/painful periods, is not how a "normal" period should be (even though most of us have resigned ourselves to the fact that a painful period is normal).  Uncovering what in your life is contributing to dreadful periods and their dreadful lead up is essential... this article will help get you started, but if you need anything more, just get in touch.

That’s the know, love, care difference at Verve.

Wendy Burke   (Nutritionist, Naturopath, Personal Trainer)