Is your diet influencing PMS?
Talk to any of the women in your life and chances are they’ll be familiar with the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In fact, a meta-analysis in 2014 reported that, worldwide, nearly half of all women struggle with the symptoms of PMS – ranging from 12% of women in France to 98% of women in Iran.
Mood swings, bloating, acne, and headaches are just a few of the less-than-pleasant side effects of our monthly cycle. But can we change this with our diet?
“Even though it’s become normalised, it’s important to remember that the symptoms of PMS aren’t normal,” says Emma Ellice-Flint, a nutritional therapist based at the Newson Health Menopause and Wellbeing Centre. “The female reproductive hormones affect many other organs too, including the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the liver and the brain. This is why diet has such an important role to play.”
Here, Emma explains some of the ways that diet can influence PMS symptoms, with advice for supporting your health.
Support your liver with fibre
Fibre is often spoken about in relation to our digestion and gut health, but it also has a big influence on our hormones too. Government guidelines recommend that we should eat around 30g of fibre a day. Despite this, the average person only consumes 18g, which – believe it or not – could be contributing to a number of health problems, including PMS. It’s also interesting to note that women with endometriosis who eat higher amounts of fibre report 40% fewer symptoms.
“Fibre is important in regulating PMS symptoms because of its action on the GI tract and the organs surrounding it, including the liver and the pancreas,” explains Emma. “The liver is naturally detoxifying the body, eliminating toxins. These are toxins that are naturally produced by our body, as well as those that come from our external environment.”
These toxins also include excess sex hormones – including estrogen. Having too much circulating estrogen can actually cause the symptoms of PMS. Luckily, fibre can help.
“If you have plenty of fibre in your diet, it helps to draw the toxins out from the liver, ready for elimination from the body,” explains Emma. “It keeps the liver happy. You’ll notice you have a lot more energy and it can help to alleviate PMS symptoms.”
You can enjoy fibre from a number of different plant sources – including vegetables, fruit, legumes and wholegrains – so there’s plenty of ways to top up your fibre levels. Having at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day (ideally more vegetables than fruit) is fundamental to the functioning of the gut and supporting the liver. The happier your liver, the more efficient it will be in removing toxins that can contribute to PMS symptoms.
How fibre lifts your mood
Along with supporting your liver, fibre also works to keep your good gut bugs happy.
Speaking of elevating your mood, green leafy vegetables can work wonders for our mental health.
“Leafy greens contain folate,” says Emma. “High amounts of folate in the diet have been known to help protect against depression. They also contain beneficial phytonutrients and prebiotic fibre. These help in the production of serotonin and dopamine, our brain’s happiness chemicals.”
Enjoying leafy greens – including spinach, chard, cavolo nero, rocket, watercress and leafy green herbs – helps to support your microbiome while lifting your mood. It’s a wellbeing win!
Relieve pain with omega-3 oils
We often think of omega-3 oils in relation to their effects on our brain health, but they’re also an effective pain reliever too. Numerous trials report on the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 oils, with one 2006 study finding that omega-3 supplementation had the same effect as taking ibuprofen for pain. It stands to reason that incorporating more omega-3 in your diet could lessen the painful symptoms associated with PMS.
“The best source of omega-3 is seafood,” says Emma. “But this can be a bit of a minefield. You need to ensure the fish has been sustainably caught. Plus, fish contain mercury and other toxins, which may also affect our hormones.”
Vegetarian sources of omega-3 include seaweed, chia, flax and hemp seeds. These plants contain the oils that get converted into omega-3 once we eat them.
“Supplementing omega-3 can be good too,” says Emma. “Do your research on the company that’s making them first. Ensure that they don’t use any filler oils, the supplements don’t contain mercury and that the brand is 100% sustainable.”
Balance your hormones with soy
Soy grows all over the world and is a fantastic plant-based protein source. Plus, as Emma explains, it also plays a role in regulating the effect of oestrogen in our body.
“Soy contains phytoestrogens in good amounts,” she says. “These are plant-based compounds that mimic oestrogen in the body. These phytoestrogens work by binding to the estrogen receptors on our cells and producing a weak estrogenic effect.
“It can be beneficial to women who want to enhance their estrogen, but also effective for those who want to bring their estrogen levels down. This is because it binds onto the estrogen receptor. This blocks the way for the more aggressive estrogen, that the body naturally produces, to have a stronger unwanted effect.”
Incorporating more soy into your diet can be useful in reducing the symptoms of PMS – just ensure that you buy organic.
“Soy can be full of pesticides if you’re not careful,” adds Emma. “It can be heavily sprayed with glyphosate. This may well have a disruptive effect on our hormones.”
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