PMS And Your Diet
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
So you can’t zip up your jeans, have sobbed your way through an episode of Eastenders and have just eaten a huge bar of Dairy Milk – and still want more! No, you’re not going mad! Chances are you’re suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a condition that affects many women in the week or so before their period.
According to the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS), around 90 percent of menstruating women experience some symptoms of an approaching period in the days before it actually begins. Fortunately, for most, pms symptoms are mild. But for around a third of women, PMS has a significant impact on their diet and physical and emotional wellbeing. And for one woman in 20, symptoms are severe.
But while men may joke that PMS stands for Psychotic Mood Shift or Perpetual Munching Spree, for women who suffer from the condition, it’s no laughing matter.
PMS Side Effects
PMS can cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms including:
- Feeling irritable, angry, anxious or depressed
- Mood swings, feeling emotional, crying and angry outbursts
- Feeling tired, low in energy or have problems sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Breast pain or tenderness
- Temporary weight gain and bloating
- Swollen ankles
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Headaches, backache or muscle and joint pains
- Food Cravings for certain foods, especially carbohydrates
- Skin problems such as acne
What are the causes of PMS?
Although the exact cause remains unclear, PMS seems to be linked to changes in levels of the female hormones – oestrogen and progesterone – during the monthly cycle.
One theory suggests that low levels of oestrogen and high levels of progesterone during the second half of the menstrual cycle suppress certain chemicals in the brain, possibly accounting for many of the symptoms that commonly occur.
In particular, the symptoms of PMS appear to be linked with a drop in serotonin in the brain. This neurotransmitter – often referred to as the ‘happy chemical’ – acts as nature’s own tranquiliser and affects our mood, sleep patterns and appetite. As a result, lower levels of serotonin during the second half of the menstrual cycle may prompt symptoms such as mood swings, poor sleeping patterns, tiredness, an increased appetite and food cravings.
Some research suggests levels of endorphins also drop in the second half of the cycle. These brain chemicals give us a natural ‘high’ and act as libido boosters, stress busters and painkillers. Consequently, low levels mean we’re more likely to feel stressed out, un-sexy and depressed, with a lower tolerance for pain!
Researchers believe an increased sensitivity to low blood sugar levels may result in symptoms, particularly those affecting mood and appetite. Other studies have indicated that deficiencies in certain nutrients in the diet such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin E and prostaglandins – hormone-like compounds found in most tissues in the body – may have a part to play.
But whatever the cause, there’s no doubting that PMS symptoms can make life miserable for sufferers – and have a major impact on any diet plan.