Let’s talk about how to reduce your PMS by understanding nutrition for PMS. In my last post, we talked all about the reasons why we get PMS – for most women, that’s usually some combination of nutrient deficiencies, stress, and hormonal imbalances, with the additional possibility of low serotonin and possible thyroid issues.
I hope you came away from that post with the pretty clear idea that the foods you eat can either improve PMS or worsen it (not to mention be the reason you have it in the first place). A nutrient-poor diet with lots of highly refined and processed foods, not enough fibre, too many crappy fats (like hydrogenated fats or processed fats) and too much sugar, combined with unmanaged stress = PMS.
And nobody actually WANTS PMS. So if you’re looking to say farewell to losing two weeks out of the month to bad moods, weepiness, sore breasts, acne, and more, then please consider these steps to reduce your PMS:
#1: Increase intake of phytoestrogens and work on estrogen dominance (if that’s an issue for you).
Phytoestrogens are natural estrogen-like substances found in legumes, flaxseeds, whole grains, and vegetables, as well as soy products (and we’re talking organic, high-quality soy like tempeh, edamame, or tofu). They are weaker than regular estrogen, but that’s a good thing – they bind to estrogen receptors and crowd out other estrogens like the stronger xenoestrogens from outside sources. Here’s a great Lara Briden post if you’d like to know more. And while we’re on the topic of hormonal balance, because hormonal balance is a big part of dealing with PMS, remember that supporting your hormones requires supporting your liver. Check out these two posts for the full scoop on how to generally eat to support your liver and how to specifically optimize its detoxication efforts.
And of course, do all the things that help with estrogen dominance.
#2: Seek out a nutrient-dense diet and ditch as much of the crap as you can (without driving yourself crazy).
I know, I know, this is a very general recommendation and one I would make for ANY health concern, but it’s just as relevant here. Processed foods, sugars, caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated fats, soft drinks, etc. can all worsen PMS, because they contribute to all of the root causes – hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, poor fibre intake, inflammation. They also worsen symptoms like water retention and mood swings/irritability. Nutrient-dense options include leafy greens, lots of vegetables including those from the Brassica family (broccoli, Brussels spouts, cauliflower, kale), high quality protein (both plant and animal sources), some fruit (like blueberries, cranberries, raspberries – we love those antioxidants), and whole grains, and heck, maybe even some sea vegetables like nori or wakame (see #10).
And remember that eating a nutrient-dense diet also includes eating to support a healthy gut microbiome. Check out this post on glowing skin and a healthy gut microbiome for info on eating to support your gut.
And lastly, don’t make yourself crazy. The point of eating a healthy diet is to feel BETTER – not to add stress. So give it your best, but remember that stress management is also a big part of the plan to reduce your PMS. Becoming obsessed with clean eating is counterproductive to the ‘stress reduction’ part of the approach.
#3: Focus on healthy carbs to support serotonin.
Low glycemic complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, gluten-free whole grains, beets, parsnips, lentils, and more, can help to increase serotonin levels (one of the root causes of certain PMS symptoms is LOW serotonin) and enhance mood as well as prevent sugar cravings.
Note that you can also boost serotonin with exposure to full spectrum, gentle sunlight. That’s right, a little early morning sunlight on your face, hands, and arms can do wonders. We’re talking gentle sun here – not the rays blasting at noon. Try a little meditation on your deck/balcony in the morning, maybe a little journalling. Just a few minutes of gentle sunshine.
#4: Try natural diuretics for water retention.
If you struggle with water retention/bloating before your period, try adding in some of the foods and herbs that naturally support your kidneys and body in getting rid of excess water. These include: celery, parsley, grapes, asparagus, dandelion, watermelon, and cucumber, as well as fennel. Try this juice made with watermelon, cucumber, and fennel! My personal favourite option is a tall glass of water with a few tablespoons of cranberry juice – the real no-sugar-added stuff, not the Ocean spray beverage stuff. Bonus: the cranberry juice is also helpful if you struggle with UTIs (again, get the real stuff).
Eating less processed food in general will help with water retention too. Processed foods are often higher in sodium, which can lead your body to hold on to extra fluids.
#5: Focus on fibre, lots of fibre. Get that poop chute (yes, I went there) going.
Lots of ladies find that PMS brings bloating and also some constipation, which, let’s face it, never makes anyone feel good. And quite frankly, constipation is problematic on its own – we want our bodies removing waste regularly and comfortably. Here’s a little more info for you if constipation is something you struggle with.
Fibre can be the answer, but make it nice, gentle soluble fibre, so that you are also being kind to your colon and minimizing potential gut upset. Soluble fibre is available in apples, prunes, figs, oats, chia seeds, and flax seeds, among others – think of things that make a gel when mixed with water. Here’s a great recipe for a lemon chia seed pudding – it uses yogurt, but if you’re dairy-free, just swap for coconut yogurt/coconut milk.
Also as always, focus on fruits and vegetables. This is a key part of supporting your body’s natural detoxification efforts, helping out your liver, improving gut health, and more. If you struggle with IBS or other gut issues, obviously this doesn’t apply carte-blanche to you, but the overall idea is to maximize plant-based foods for healthy fibre.
#6: Eat to Reduce Inflammation (to help balance those prostaglandins).
In the root causes of PMS post, we discussed prostaglandins – short-acting compounds in the body that help send messages and enact certain outcomes, like the uterus contracting to shed its lining during menstruation. We noted that prostaglandings could be anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory and that while they all serve an important, healing role in the body, PMS can be worse when we have too many of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.
To promote balance, it can be beneficial to follow a general anti-inflammatory diet. Other steps that can help include reducing dairy fats and animal fats, which can contribute to the making of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Lara Briden often recommends specifically reducing/avoiding cow dairy – read more to see if that might be right for you.
In addition, it can also help to increase consumption of anti-inflammatory fats (which support the making of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins) like fish and flax oil, salmon and fatty fish, chia seeds, walnuts, flax seeds, and so on.
Chronic inflammation is a problem for almost ALL health concerns, so trying to be mindful of eating more anti-inflammatory foods while reducing the pro-inflammatory foods is a health foundation that will serve you for more than just PMS.
#7: Minimize caffeine, soft drinks, alcohol, and chocolate.
These products can worsen anxiety, mood issues, and destabilize your blood sugar (which also contributes to mood issues). And while studies are still investigating if alcohol can DIRECTLY be tied to PMS, it seems to me the indirect links are clear: alcohol can deplete your body of important nutrients, and it’s hard on your liver (which is important for hormonal balance), so I would err on the side of avoiding/minimizing it, especially if you’re trying to reduce your PMS.
That said, I firmly believe small amounts of dark chocolate (80% or darker; maybe 70% if you need an easier place to start) can be beneficial. Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium and iron, not to mention antioxidants. So avoid the milk chocolate sugar-laden stuff and go right to the hard (dare I say, medicinal?) stuff.
#8: Consider some key nutrient supplements.
If you’re working on following an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet and you’re still struggling with PMS, maybe supplementation can help. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it can be difficult to get enough of everything we need through food. Consider these options and see if they help:
- Magnesium: studies estimate that most women are deficient in this all-purpose but super important mineral. Magnesium can help with aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, breast tenderness, blood sugar balance, constipation (FYI it has gentle laxative capabilities, so don’t go starting with a double dose) and general hormonal balance. Ask your health food store for the best quality that they recommend.
- Vitamin B6: vitamin B6 is considered an all-purpose superstar for PMS, one that helps on almost all PMS fronts (even the Globe and Mail suggested it as an option). Lots of PMS supplement formulas contain B6 and there’s nothing wrong with trying one of those formulas to see if they work for you. B6 is also a natural diuretic and can help your kidneys clear water. Extra B vitamins in the form of a B complex can also help with anxiety.
- Zinc: zinc is anti-inflammatory (it’s super helpful for acne and for managing general inflammation – see #6) and it’s also important for general hormonal balance. Zinc deficiency can worsen PMS.
- Omega 3 fatty acids or EFAs: some kind of essential fatty acid oil (flax oil, evening primrose, fish oil, algae oil) is generally helpful for managing inflammation (helpful for those prostaglandins!), helping with mood and anxiety, and supporting healthy hormones. I think a basic fish oil or algae oil (if you need a vegan option) is a good place to start. I’ll hopefully be posting more soon on flax oil and evening primrose, so stay tuned for that.
Note we’ll be talking about botanicals and other supplements for PMS (like chaste tree) in an upcoming post, so don’t fret that you aren’t seeing them here yet.
#9: Consider seed cycling or oil cycling to help optimize your cycle hormones.
Seed cycling is a nifty and gentle whole-foods trick. Try and it and see if it works for you! The idea is that estrogen is more influential during the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle, and progesterone more influential during the last two weeks. Certain seeds contain fats, fibres, and compounds that most benefit either estrogen or progesterone. So, you can help your body and your hormones by consuming those seeds at targeted times of your cycle.
A program might look like this:
- During Days 1-14 of your cycle, consume 1 tablespoon of (ideally freshly ground) flax and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds (ground is great, but whole is also fine) per day.
- During Days 15-28 (or until your flow starts), consume 1 tablespoon of (ideally freshly ground) sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds (ground is great, but whole is also fine) daily.
You could try adding the seeds/grinds to smoothies, yogurt, salads, and so on. You can also ‘boost’ this program by taking a fish oil during Days 1-14 with your flax/pumpkin seeds, and evening primrose oil during Days 15-28 with your sesame/sunflower seeds.
Here’s a great article with some more details, if you think this sounds intriguing.
#10: For breast tenderness, don’t forget about this food group
If sore breasts are part of your PMS frustrations, consider eating more sea vegetables. They are rich in iodine and often breast tenderness means that you aren’t getting enough of this mineral (it has to do with estrogen and iodine’s influence on the estrogen receptors in your body, and particularly, in your breasts).
Supplementing with iodine can be tricky and if you’re thinking you want to go that route, please consult with a health practitioner first. In this case, starting with food sources is probably best.
And those food sources are seaweeds! Check out nori, wakame, kombu, arame, and so on. Maybe some seaweed salads, homemade sushi, miso soup, and so on. Get creative!
#11: Manage stress in any way you can & sometimes, just SLOW THE F*** DOWN
Sorry for the bleeped out profanity, friends. But seriously. We’re all just rushing around too much. We’re too busy, and we’re too stressed. The menstrual cycle is just that – a cycle – and that means it has natural ebbs and flows. We feel vibrant and extroverted in the first half; we feel contemplative and like turning inward in the second half. A cycle means we can’t necessarily go at the same speed at all times. At some times, we might need a little more support, and a little more quiet. PMS might be the body’s way of asking for just that.
So consider incorporating in your life, especially during the pre-period time, things like: sleep, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and regular gentle movement/exercise like walking. These are important health fundamentals for any ol’ time and particularly important for managing stress and giving your body a little time-out and support during the days before your period.
TO SUM IT UP:
Here’s the quick summary on using nutrition to help reduce your PMS:
- eat more plant-based foods including lots of fruits and vegetables
- make sure you’re getting enough fibre particularly the soluble kind
- follow an anti-inflammatory diet
- incorporate key supplements like magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc
- add sea vegetables to your diet
- try seed cycling to optimize your cycle, and
- manage your stress and slow down, especially in the few days before your period
And a last quick thing to remember: remedying PMS is possible but not necessarily easy.
It will take investigation, some trial and error to discover what works best for your body, and lots of patience.
Don’t feel discouraged if you never reach the golden mecca of an entirely pain- and symptom -free menstrual cycle – that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Any reduction in your PMS pain is a win. It’s a win for those few days before your period, and it’s a win for all of the rest of your days too, because every step you take to address PMS is a step taken to improve the health of your entire body.
© Emily Joldersma, R.H.N. Eat Well, Live Vibrantly
Looking for more ways to reduce PMS while building a foundation of health? Grab a free copy of my e-book here. It’s all about easy daily actions for clear skin, balanced hormones, and vibrant living.