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Video: Tips to help you manage PMS

TODAY contributor
updated 6/24/2007 10:00:52 PM ET 2007-06-25T02:00:52

Many women with PMS define their monthly nutrition needs in terms of their cravings for anything salty or chocolate. Although indulging in chocolate-dipped pretzels might seem like a fantasy come true, they won’t improve your mood or reduce the bloat. There are many better options…

First, try to limit your intake of salt, alcohol and caffeine:

  • Salt and salty foods. PMS causes bloating and water retention. Salt can cause bloating and water retention. Ergo, salt can make those problems of PMS worse.
  • Alcohol. Premenstrually, alcohol can cause increased breast tenderness. Also, alcohol can lower blood sugar, which may make typical PMS mood symptoms worse. If you cannot totally avoid alcohol premenstrually, at least try not to drink to excess.
  • Caffeine. Some research suggests that the effects of caffeine are magnified premenstrually, leading to greater breast tenderness, more nervousness and potentially more irritability. If these side effects sound familiar, make an effort to limit the amount of caffeinated coffee and tea you drink one week prior to menstruation.

On the other hand, go out of your way to include foods rich in calcium, magnesium, manganese and vitamin B6. And be sure to enjoy a daily cup of chamomile tea. Here’s the scoop:

Compared with women who don’t have premenstrual symptoms, researchers have found some women with PMS have lower blood levels of calcium around their time of ovulation. And when PMS sufferers take 1000 to 1200 milligrams of calcium supplements daily, their mood and bloating improve after just a few months. I consider calcium-rich foods an absolute must for women with PMS.

Best foods for calcium: Low-fat and nonfat dairy foods, including yogurt (low-fat/nonfat), milk (skim, 1% reduced fat milk), cheese (nonfat/low-fat), and low-fat ice cream; broccoli and kale; and other calcium-fortified foods.

Just as was found with calcium, some women with PMS seem to have lower blood levels of magnesium compared with women who did not have PMS symptoms. Women with PMS who ate ample magnesium-rich foods had better mood and less water retention than women who did not get enough magnesium. It is thought that magnesium might help regulate the activity of serotonin, the so-called feel-good neurotransmitter.

Best foods for magnesium: Pumpkin/sunflower seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, wild salmon, cashews, quinoa, potato (with skin), soybeans, beans, amaranth, peanuts, peanut butter, brown rice, and whole-grain bread.

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is one of the necessary ingredients required by the body to manufacture dopamine, one of the mood neurotransmitters. Research into the effects of vitamin B6 on PMS have been mixed — some show that taking supplements reduces irritability, depression, and breast tenderness, while others don’t find any effect at all. Although the research on supplements is a bit confusing, I highly recommend eating vitamin B6-rich foods because they seem to have helped many of my clients with PMS.

Best foods for vitamin B6: Fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, chick-peas, wild salmon, lean beef, pork tenderloin, chicken breast, white potatoes (w/skin), oatmeal, banana, pistachio nuts and lentils.

Manganese is found in minute quantities in foods, but that’s OK because we don’t need a lot to stay healthy. If you eat a relatively balanced diet, you’re probably getting enough manganese. But blood levels of manganese vary throughout the menstrual cycle, so it is not surprising that this mineral might be involved in PMS. A handful of studies have suggested that manganese, in combination with calcium, may reduce the irritability, depression and tension associated with PMS. Therefore, I encourage you to go out of your way to incorporate manganese-rich foods, specifically around the time of your PMS.

Best foods for manganese: Pineapple, wheat germ, spinach, collard greens, pecans, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oats and raspberries.

Drink chamomile tea.
Premenstrually, chamomile tea may be particularly helpful because it contains properties that relieve muscle spasms, and may therefore help reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. In addition, chamomile seems to reduce tension that may lead to anxiety and irritability.

Joy Bauer is the author of the No.1 New York Times best-seller, Joy Bauer’s Food Cures. For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com 

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