PMS: Using food as a medicine

Premenstrual syndrome is the term used to describe a range of somatic and psychological
symptoms a woman may experience in the luteal phase of her cycle, often extending into
the first few days of her bleed.

There are a whopping 150 or so symptoms that may be experienced during PMS, however
the most common somatic symptoms are –

  •  Headaches, breast tenderness and swelling, abdominal pain and swelling, back pain,
    weight gain and fluid retention, change in bowel habits, fatigue, food cravings, sleep
    disturbance, joint pain and skin breakouts

While common psychological symptoms include –

  • Irritability, depressed mood, anxiety, tearfulness, mood swings and decreased self-

Symptoms can range in severity and can be absolutely debilitating, requiring time off from
work, pain relief and other interventions.

However, you do not need to suffer. It is possible to breeze through your periods. In fact,
this is how it should be!

PMS symptoms can be due to a few different factors and should be investigated and
addressed in a holistic manner.

Perhaps the most common driver is an imbalance in the sex hormones estrogen and
progesterone, which may look like either an estrogen excess and/or sub-optimal
progesterone levels.

This may be due to poor clearance of estrogen via the liver and gut, nutrient deficiencies,
chronic stress, chronic inflammation, blood glucose dysregulation, exposure to endocrine-
disrupting chemicals, and poor sleep.

PMS can be managed naturally with lifestyle modifications, self-care, diet, supplements and
appropriate herbal remedies.

Using food as medicine can effectively address some of the drivers noted above, making up
the cornerstone of a holistic treatment approach.
So, let’s put a spotlight on how to make healthy choices to help you sail through that luteal
phase with ease.
Foods to avoid

  • Inflammatory foods: sugar, wheat, vegetable oils and cow’s milk/milk products are
    inflammatory to the body. Chronic low-grade inflammation can suppress ovulation,
    and decrease sensitivity of progesterone and GABA (a neurotransmitter with
    calming, anti-anxiety and sleep-promoting effects). Furthermore, cow’s dairy can
    trigger a histamine response, which will manifest with symptoms such as headaches,
    migraines, digestive upset, anxiety and brain fog
  • Alcohol: alcohol is also high-histamine and likely to create similar symptoms as other
    histamine-rich foods, such as dairy, fermented/aged foods and packaged meats.
    Alcohol consumption has also been linked to decreased progesterone levels in
    menstruating women
  • Caffeine: caffeine consumption can exacerbate PMS. As a diuretic, it promotes the
    excretion of calcium, low levels of which are associated with a range of PMS
    symptoms including agitation and irritability
  • High salt foods: foods high in sodium (salt) such as processed and packaged foods
    (instant noodles, I’m looking at you) will exacerbate fluid retention
    Foods to embrace

Embracing a low glycemic index (GI) Mediterranean style diet rich in a diverse range of
fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fish is most beneficial.
Following a low GI diet will stabilize blood sugar levels and curb food cravings, making you
less likely to over-indulge in those sugary biscuits.

A balanced, low GI Mediterranean style diet by virtue is anti-inflammatory, though actively
seeking out potently anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric, saffron, berries, green tea
and fatty fish will provide polyphenols, antioxidants and essential fatty acids to keep
circulating prostaglandins in check, reducing pain, swelling and tenderness.

To support the liver and detoxification of the widespread xenoestrogens we are exposed to
(think herbicides, pesticides, cleaning products, plastics, cosmetics), include cruciferous
vegetables daily such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale.
Ensuring you eat enough dietary fibre is also beneficial, as dietary fibre helps to clear excess
estrogen from the body via a bowel movement. Adult women should be aiming for 25g fibre
per day.

Foods that support the production of serotonin can help stabilize your moods. The amino
acid tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, so aim to include food sources such as bananas,
beans, fish, lentils, oats, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans (tofu, tempeh) and turkey.
Furthermore, aim to include the following for extra support:

  • Foods rich in magnesium: magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, dark
    chocolate, whole grains, nuts and seeds and legumes. Magnesium’s role in
    preventing and alleviating PMS is extensive
  • Foods rich in vitamin B6: fish, organ meats, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, avocado,
    bananas, egg yolk, legumes, oatmeal and more. B6 is another key nutrient to safely
    alleviate PMS and depressive symptoms

Both magnesium and vitamin B6 are also required to convert tryptophan to the feel-good
hormone serotonin. Sometimes food-based sources of these particular two nutrients aren’t
quite enough, so supplementation may be needed.

Hopefully that inspires a healthy and therapeutic market shop! Food as medicine can truly
make the world of difference.

If you are in need of extra support, please consult with a registered Naturopath or Medical

Naturopath Lauren Glucina
BNatMed, AdDipNutMed