Coping with PMS Dietary and Nutritional Strategies

Bronwen Berlekamp, RN, MS, FNP, is a Nurse Practitioner at
New England WomenCenter

The majority of women in the United States suffer from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) at some time in their lives, and about 10% find their lives severely impacted by their symptoms. Research shows that, while some people do benefit from medications, most women get relief of PMS symptoms through simple changes in their daily habits.

I've gathered the following dietary strategies from various PMS researchers. I find them very helpful in my daily work with women, and I hope you find them useful in your own life.

Strategy 1: Eat small, frequent meals.
The "3-hourly diet" was pioneered by British physician Katharina Dalton, one of the earliest PMS researchers. She found that women who ate a complex carbohydrate every three hours felt marked relief of PMS symptoms. Other PMS experts emphasize the importance of eating small amounts of protein along with the complex carbohydrate. The specific recommendations are as follows:

Strategy 2: Increase complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are carbs that break down to glucose more slowly than simple carbohydrates such as sugar. They include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and peas. Complex carbohydrates provide more nutrients and fiber than simple carbs, providing sustained energy and nourishment over a longer period of time.

Strategy 3: Increase water intake
Drinking 8-12 glasses of water during the PMS phase can help reduce bloating by boosting the elimination of salt and water.

Strategy 4: Reduce simple sugars
Simple sugars hit the bloodstream quickly in the form of glucose. This can cause a quick burst of energy and boost in mood, but may be followed by decreased energy and a blue mood. Anything that includes white sugar falls into this category. Highly refined grains, such as white flour, are also converted quickly to glucose, so they should be avoided. (This means white bread, pasta, pastries, white rice). Boosting complex carbohydrates (see Strategy 2) and eating small frequent meals will decrease your cravings for sugary foods. But be patient, it can take several days for your cravings to subside. Once they do, you may be amazed at the difference in how you feel.

Strategy 4: Reduce alcohol
Alcohol exacerbates PMS symptoms in a number of ways, primarily through its effects on blood sugar. If you can't cut out alcohol entirely, choose drinks with lower alcohol content during the PMS period.

Strategy 5: Reduce caffeine
Caffeine makes PMS symptoms worse for many women, and is particularly known for increasing anxiety. If you love coffee, try mixing caffeinated coffee with a decaf brew.

Strategy 6: Observe the effects of meat, dairy and salt on your PMS symptoms
PMS diet guidelines are inconsistent when it comes to meat, dairy and salt. Some recommend against, while others recommend them as important sources of protein and nutrients. It's worth looking at the effects of these foods on your individual PMS symptoms, and limiting them if they make you feel worse.

Strategy 7: Make changes slowly
Change only one thing at a time. Begin with shifting your eating schedule to eat every three hours. Then try substituting complex carbohydrates in for simple carbs. This will likely reduce your interest in simple carbs. Take a look at your new diet and at how you feel. If you feel there's still room for improvement, consult a health care provider or nutritionist to develop a specific strategy for yourself.

Strategy 8: Make eating pleasurable
Discover PMS-healthy foods that taste good to you. If you can, find a way to enjoy the process of choosing, preparing and eating food that is supportive of your body. This can be an important source of self-nurturance, which is vital to feeling your best.

New England WomenCenter is a woman-centered health care practice founded in 1997. The Nurse Practitioners of New England WomenCenter provide gynecologic care for women of all ages with a caring, respectful approach.




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