Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Make This Your Resolution: Learn To Reduce PMS Symtoms

If you're like me, and I'm guessing if you're female you probably are, you get PMS. I can pretty much track exactly when my PMS is going to start, and it actually begins around week two of my cycle (sorry for any males reading this, but please read on because you can give your wife, girlfriend, mom, etc. this information! Of course, approach the topic with caution.....). So I guess for me the term "PMS" is sort of a misnomer because it's really "PPMS", as in "Pre-Premenstrual Syndrome". Some of my most common symptoms include;

Bloating after even the littlest bit of salt

Moodiness and agitation (ask Nick, he'll explain that better....)

Cravings and increased hunger


Zits and face redness

As a dietitian I like to find ways that food and/or supplements can help alleviate symptoms of many things, such as PMS (and of course IBS....see the low FODMAPs diet). Today I want to give you a rundown of how I prepare for the dreaded one (or two) weeks a month during which I can be a monster.

Do you see the black dots? These are my worst days during my cycle. I mark them each month as a reminder to start specific supplements and to add specific foods to my diet during that week and the week before (in other words, the first and second week of my cycle).

: The following is not a prescription for a PMS cure. This is simply what I do and what works for me. The following recommendations may or may not work for you. Please consult your physician or registered dietitian to get recommendations for your personal needs.

The first and second week of my cycle I do the following:

1) I start taking extra calcium and vitamin D (1000 mg calcium, 400 IU vitamin D). This is on top of the calcium and vitamin D I get in in my multivitamin and from food, as well as the 1000 IU vitamin D I take every day.

Why calcium? Some studies have shown that women who suffer depression and "bad moods" as part of PMS have low calcium levels. Low calcium levels can lead to an increase in Parathyroid Hormone (PTH), which can have a negative effect on serotonin levels.

Why vitamin D? Ok, so the studies are pretty weak when it comes to vitamin D and PMS, but one study did show that an increase in vitamin D helped decrease women's PMS symptoms. To be honest, I take 1000 IU vitamin D every day anyway, I just take the extra D because most calcium supplements contain vitamin D.

2) I start taking 250 mg magnesium everyday, which is in addition to the magnesium I get in my multivitamin (20 mg).

Why magnesium? Studies have shown that up to 360 mg mg/day can improve mood and reduce water retention in women. Magnesium may also reduce menstrual migraine. I do not take 360 mg/day, as you can see, but the amount I take seems to be working. Lately I've been toying with the idea of taking magnesium every day of the month.....

3) I increase my intake of foods that are a good source of magnesium. I don't take 360 mg magnesium from supplements (as was used in the study mentioned above) so I make up for it by adding more almonds, soy, yogurt, greens, and beans to my diet. These are all foods that are good sources of magnesium.

Source: iStockPhotos

4) I increase my intake of foods that are a good source of vitamin E. Vitamin E is found mainly in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. I eat more almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and vegetable oils as a way to boost my vitamin E.

Why vitamin E? Some studies have shown improved mood, decreased food cravings, and decreased PMS-related anxiety among women who take 400 IU vitamin E/day for three cycles. I personally do not agree with vitamin E supplements because of the possibility of a pro-oxidant effect. In fact, I steer clear of any single antioxidant supplement and try to only get my antioxidants from foods. Who knows if my increase in vitamin E from foods actually helps my PMS, but I refuse to take vitamin E supplements. I do, however, get 30 IU (100% DV) from my multivitamin. I think that's plenty.

5) I decrease my sodium intake. This is a no brainer. During the first two weeks of my cycle I feel like any extra sodium I consume makes me swell like a blowfish. I already have a very low sodium diet, but I try not to eat out a lot during this time because that's where I tend to overdose on the sodium (it's impossible not to when you eat out).

Source: iStockPhotos

6) I exercise, without fail. This needs no explanation, right? Exercise provides so many wonderful benefits, but most importantly it keeps me happy and energized, which is imperative during those two weeks.

I have yet to find a food that can decrease the amount of zits I get on my face, but I really don't think any one food can prevent that one. I do use benzamycin, which helps a lot. And as for the increased sleepiness I have a simple solution, a bit more caffeine. Like I said, this is what works for me and you may or may not agree with that one. I still stay under 400 mg caffeine, which seems to be a safe amount.

QUESTION: What are your PMS secrets?


  1. I wish I had some...but I do now! My worst days are the week before. I'm going to try to add more magnesium - I didn't know that!

  2. When I switched to a vegetarian diet 3 months ago I noticed a drop in my PMS symptoms. After reading this I understand why. You mentioned several of the foods I'm regularly eating now. I still gain a few pounds but my skin is clear and my fatigue is non-existenat.

  3. Hallelujah! Great post. =)

    I find that clean eating helps my mood in general, but I try particularly hard to avoid sugar during PMS (tough, I know), because it seems to wreak havoc on my emotions.

  4. Very interesting post! I actually don't get bad PMS symptoms at all, not to say I am never moody or bloated haha because I am but they don't seem to be related to my cycle at all. On a positive note, I do many of these things you were talking about naturally including taking calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D and avoiding too much salt. I'll have to look at my multi vitamin to see how much Vitamin E I am getting. Wait, I shouldn't say I do these things "naturally" I should say already, based on what you have told me to do haha

  5. Magnesium...improve mood? I'm on my way to vitamin store!
    VERY informative post, Candid! I take 2000IU D during the winter months then 1000IU during the summer, I had it checked only 1 month ago and I was WNL...woohoo!

  6. Hey Gina,
    Try some fenugreek seed powder(you can find it in capsule form) in most health stores. In Ayurveda, fenugreek is said to be great for women-from increasing the milk in lactating mother's to minimizing the symptoms of PMS to helping painful cramps during periods! I used to soak the seeds in buttermilk/yogurt and have it back in India-not a very tasty option though :(

  7. Sugar has to go. Without it, life (and PMS) are so much better!

  8. I didn't know about the magnesium, and am totally going to get on taking that vitamin C to see if it works! I get the same exact reactions and moods each month, but mine are 9 days before my actual period comes and lasts for 4-5 days. It makes me MISERABLE and I feel sorry for my bf! I agree on the salt front though; I already have a very low sodium diet because of my digestion problems so the slightest bit and BOOM! I'm a balloon. :(

  9. Great tips and I am glad you found something that works for you. My trick is that I skip my cycle every other month. I get very bad cramps, and this has resulted in having to miss work in the past, so I skip. I discussed this with the doctor and I use a regular BCP (not the seasonal ones or any of the newer ones) and after the 3 weeks of actual pills, I skip the placebos and go right into another pack. Since I do this with my doctor knowing, she writes my prescription to allow for more than 12 packs in a year. Then the next month, I don't go right into a new pack and instead take the placebos (mind you I don't actually take them, I just wait the week that they are to be used for). So I only get my period 6 times a year. I tried to go off 2 months, get it 1 and so on, but I learned my body will NOT go for this, and I will um leave it at that! This helps me significantly because I do not get those PMS symptoms as often and it does seem to be lighter now when I get it less times a year.

  10. my PMS starts in the third or fourth week of the cycle, depending if the length of that cycle. I usually feel bloated, constipated and sleepy. I never did anything to combat it, but I think I will try to do some of your tips to see if it works for me, thank you Gina for sharing it! :)

  11. Hey Gina,
    I took the capsules after I delivered and it worked in increasing my milk supply, so I'm guessing it should work for the other probs too. Anyway-if you have an Indian store near by,you can buy the fenugreek seeds too(we use it in cooking). You could try sprouting the seeds and adding that to your salads. It's also supposed to help diabetics in controlling their sugar levels(there are a couple of studies on that happening in India).

  12. i prepare by letting everyone know they should leave the house for the next week. there's nothing stopping me from going ape shit on anyone and i can't be blamed for any actions i take during the course.

  13. omg this post is just what i needed! i am a pms monster (ask my boyfriend). i can use any tips that help - thank you!

  14. This brings back memories of a paper I wrote for Belury's women's health class. ;) I do a lot of the same things...try to eat cleanly, avoid to much chocolate (which I think causes me to break out), drink lots of water, and exercise. :)

  15. Great post, I think post importantly you've identified when you start to feel PMS so you can incorporate your remedies. I posted about PMS eating We overlap a lot but B6, Rhodiola and probiotics are things I've found to help as well. We have to get the word out you don't just have to be a lunatic and deal with it.

  16. Great post Gina, and I love how you mark your pills to remind you to take your supplements/eat certain foods. Genius! As I've gotten older, my PMS symptoms have gotten better, but, opposite of you, without fail, I have horrible insomnia 1-2 nights before my period starts. Also, I might get a migraine right before every other month. I take regular magnesium which does seem to help.

  17. How awesome that you figured out what works for you I am past all the PMS at this point in my life.

  18. Thank you again for your flawless service, and I look forward to working with you in the future.