PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, typically starts a week or two before the onset of menstruation, with symptoms including cramps, moodiness, insomnia, headaches, abdominal pain, water retention and bloating, and tender breasts. Often the root cause is biochemical; a condition of excess estrogen and a progesterone deficiency. “Occurrence of [PMS] symptoms represents an abnormal response to normal hormonal changes,” according to the lead investigator, Peter J. Schmidt, M.D., and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health.1 Medical conditions such as food allergies, heavy metal poisoning, endometriosis and candidasis, as well as emotional upset, also may be contributing factors.
Deficiencies of important nutrients ultimately affect the body’s ability to control mood, fluid balance and inflammation. We approach the alleviation of PMS by treating the whole body: replenishing vital nutrients, regulating hormone function and removing toxicity.
Foods that aggravate PMS and cramping
Unfortunately the foods you may crave may be the culprits behind your symptoms. Avoiding the following as much as possible will help minimize PMS difficulties.
- Alcohol- interferes with hormone balance, exacerbates cramps
- Chocolate (typically a magnesium deficiency causes this craving: see food suggestions below)
- Tea, coffee, refined sugar (all cause blood sugar to spike and plummet, aggravating mood swings- caffeine also increases abdominal pain)
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (such as corn, canola, peanut, and sunflower) — for example, oils found in potato chips — should be excluded as these interfere with hormone production and key prostaglandins
- Diet sodas- interfere with hormonal balance
Our world today is full of xenoestrogens, estrogenic compounds found in plastics and other man-made products. These chemicals are endocrine disruptors and can throw your hormones out of balance. Some things you can do to avoid xenoestrogens:
- Carry your water in glass containers or stainless steel instead of plastic
- Store food in glass, stainless steel, or waxed paper. If you must use plastic, wrap the food in waxed paper first to minimize contact with the plastic.
- Use natural cleaning solutions such as vinegar and baking soda whenever possible. Another great solution is Norwex, a line of cleaning cloths,mops and more that uses antimicrobial silver woven into each cloth to sterilize and clean any surface in your home using only water. Go to www.norwex.com to learn more.
- Avoid feedlot-raised animal products and farmed seafood like the plague! These products are pumped full of synthetic estrogens and growth hormones and will further tip you into estrogen dominance.
- Avoid soy unless it is fermented
Food that help alleviate PMS symptoms (all items organic, wild caught, sprouted, pastured)
Foods rich in particular long-chain fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, B complex, calcium, magnesium can greatly relieve PMS symptoms.
- Fatty Acids: sardines, salmon, egg yolks, mackerel, virgin coconut oil, flax seed, algae-derived DHA
- Calcium: salmon, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, bone broths, sesame seeds, kelp, watercress, broccoli, raw dairy, almonds, Brazil nuts
- Magnesium: pastured beef, dark green leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, nuts, brown rice, blackstrap molasses, kelp, bananas
- Vitamin E: olive oil, broccoli, raw nuts, pecans
- Vitamin D: the sun, oily wild-caught fish
- Vitamin B6: Lentils, peas, alfalfa, bananas, blackstrap molasses, brown rice, peas, cashews, turkey, oats (soaked overnight), cabbage
- Pantothenic Acid: brown rice, lentils, sunflower seeds
Diuretic foods (to alleviate bloating and breast soreness) include watermelon, parsley, celery, and asparagus. Dandelion and chamomile tea also are helpful for bloating.
Exercise. Daily exercise (even 15 minutes) helps balance hormones, increase your oxygen intake, relax muscles and release toxins. Find something you enjoy and do it consistently. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you stick with it.
Stress relief. Several daily relaxation methods, such as meditation, decrease cortisol and epinephrine levels in the blood and help to balance your biochemistry, including the reduction of inflammatory chemicals. The relaxation response suggested by Dr. Herbert Benson has been shown to significantly relief MS within three months of regular practice.2
The Glutamate and Copper Connection to PMS
High estrogen leads to high glutamate and high copper levels, requiring more progesterone, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc to balance out progesterone and GABA levels. Estrogen, copper and glutamate are constricting, while magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and are relaxing. See the diagram here from Nutrition Genome to understand the process more, and how it relates to numerous health disorders.
Supplement Recommendations for PMS and Cramping
If you are taking an oral contraceptive, it may be depleting important nutrients. Oral contraceptives reduce the body’s ability to absorb folate, significantly reduces B12 levels, alters the ability to absorb and properly utilize vitamin C, increases vitamin K in the blood, decreases the absorption of zinc and increases the urinary secretion of it, increases iron levels, and decreases copper levels.
A deficiency in progesterone is one of the most common causes of PMS symptoms.
If you are on an oral contraceptive, it is important to normalize depleted folate and B12 levels. Folate is one of the most important nutrients for healthy DNA and cancer prevention. Vitamin B6 assists in reducing estrogen to normal levels and is a natural diuretic. Pantothenic acid in B complex acts as a stress reliever.
Contains vitamin A, D and omega-3’s. Long-chain fatty acids instigate the release of anti-inflammatory substances known as prostaglandins. Vitamin D supports the production of estrogen and has been used successfully to treat PMS. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with infertility, breast cancer and menstrual migraines.3
Magnesium aids in reducing stress and help with proper muscle function, thereby helping alleviate cramping and nervous tension.
Zinc is needed to offset high copper levels and produce GABA.
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 5, “The Menstrual Cycle” and Chapter 17, “Nourishing Ourselves with Food.”
1. New England Journal of Medicine, 22 January 1998.
2. Goodale, I., Domar, A., Benson, H., 1990. Alleviation of premenstrual syndrome symptoms with the relaxation response, Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 75(4):649–89.
3. Byrnes, Stephen, BA, MA, DR(AM),Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts,, Winter 2000.