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Nutritional Approach to Premenstrual Syndrome

Written on 04th Jan 2013

Nutritional Approach to Premenstrual Syndrome


Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual syndrome is a common disorder affecting women of reproductive age and characterised by the occurrence of a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms during t can include


  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Bloating
  • Backache
  • Breast tenderness & swelling
  • Food cravings
  • Headache
  • Weight gain
  • Depression


Although the exact cause of PMS is not completely understood, it is believed that hormonal imbalances in the 2 main female reproductive hormones - oestrogen and progesterone, cause changes in many body systems, including brain function, triggering the emotional and physical symptoms experienced.


Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

A well-balanced diet is essential to help body to adapt automatically to the monthly fluctuations in hormone levels


Gorge on fruits and vegetables

Try to increase your level of fresh vegetables and fresh fruits, aiming for 2-3 servings of fruits a day and 4-5 portions of vegetables making sure to include different coloured fruits and vegetables every day. Focus on the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, rape, black and brown mustard, turnips and swedes, celery, bell peppers, parsley, chamomile and peppermint) which are rich in specific phytochemicals which assist the body to regulate the activity of oestrogens and prevent your body absorbing toxic forms of oestrogens.


Include phytoestrogens in your diet on a daily basis

Phyto-oestrogens are plant molecules that are similar to the oestrogens produced in our body, although they are generally much weaker than our own oestrogen so they can have a modifying influence in the body.  Oestrogen is a growth hormone and is responsible in the body for building breast tissue and the endometrial lining of the womb.  It also has a regulating effect on the cells that breakdown bone as well as having a positive influence on our feel good brain messenger called Serotonin.  If oestrogen levels are too high phyto-oestrogens may reduce their effect by blocking the receptor with a weaker message, or if oestrogen is low they can support the body by providing slightly higher or increased  oestrogen level.  Phytoestrogens can be found in


  • Seeds - flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.
  • Fruits – apples, cherries, pears, cranberry, dates, pomegranate, plums.
  • Vegetables – broccoli, carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, asparagus, runner beans, green beans, aubergine.
  • Legumes and pulses – soybeans, lentils, haricot beans, broad beans, kidney beans, lima beans mung beans, black eye beans, chick peas, bean sprouts, peanuts.
  • Herbs – sage, wild yam, borage, astragulus, liquorice, ginseng


Increase fibre from good sources (not bran). Fibre binds oestrogen so that it is excreted more efficiently, it helps to keep your blood sugar stable and it encourages the elimination of toxic waste products.

Drink plenty of fluids

Drink loads of water as it encourages the elimination of old hormones from your body and help with your bowel movements. Aim ideally for 1.5 litres of non caffeinated, non alcoholic, non fizzy fluids a day Remember that by the time your body tells that you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.


To instil a bit of variety, try herbal teas (camomile, peppermint, dandelion, fennel...), fruit teas, lemon juice in hot water, Rooibos tea. Replace coffee by water-processed decaffeinated coffee, dandelion coffee, chicory or barley based coffee alternatives. Choose organic brands as much as possible.


Support your liver

The liver plays an important role in maintaining hormone balance by detoxifying oestrogens which are no longer needed or which are of the harmful type. A compromised liver function may therefore result in reduced detoxification and could contribute to any hormonal imbalances


Reduce alcohol

Alcohol compromises the liver ability to work efficiently leading to compromised oestrogen clearance which contributes to oestrogen excess. Alcohol intake also increases both natural & synthetic oestrogen levels in the body and will play havoc with your blood glucose levels. It is therefore important to limit your consumption of alcohol to 1 small glass and have at least 3 alcohol free days per week – and NEVER drink alcohol on an empty stomach


Cut out caffeine

Caffeine is found in the drinks such as coffee and cola, and in lesser degree in tea and chocolate. Besides depleting the body of vital minerals and vitamins, which are important for healthy hormone balance, caffeine places an extra burden on the liver function. Caffeine is also known to increase breast tenderness. Replace caffeinated drinks by alternatives such as herbal tea, Rooibos tea, dandelion coffee, barley or chicory.


Essential fatty acids (EFAs)

Essential fatty acids, and more specifically omega 3, are essential for general health. Moreover, EFAs are also an essential component that our body needs to reduce the inflammation process, significantly helping to prevent cramps and pain associated with the menstrual cycle


It is therefore important to ensure that your diet provide enough of these essential fats with the following dietary sources:



Oily fish:

Salmon, mackerel, sardine, pink trout, herring, pilchard or anchovies – To optimise your level of essential fats from fish, buy wild or organic fish instead of farmed fish

NB: Because of their high level of mercury, avoid deep-water fish such as shark, swordfish or marlin and limit tuna to 2 portions per week

Nuts and seeds:

Walnuts, linseeds, hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds are of particular interest but almonds, sunflower seeds or other nuts and seeds are fine too 

Vegetable oil:

Flaxseed and hemp oil

NB: Do not use these oils for cooking and store them in the fridge to preserve their quality  

Nut butter:

Walnut, almond or pumpkin butter, tahini  


Avoid red meat

Red meat is inflammatory and its high saturated fat contain has been shown to be a factor in producing more oestrogens. For this reason it is better to avoid it completely and limit your intake of animal foods in general, but including the beans and legumes.

Moderate intake of fish can be beneficial, especially oily fish – and if you want to include other animal foods chose chicken or eggs, lean and organic where possible.



Avoid dairy products

Just like red meat, dairy products stimulate the inflammatory mechanism and increase the concentration of the hormone oestrogen in the body. The foods that you should avoid include milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as cream and ice cream. Choose healthy alternatives to milk readily available nowadays (rice milk, soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, quinoa milk, oat milk) and make sure you eat plenty of other calcium-rich foods:


Up your magnesium intake

Magnesium is involved in many different processes in the body, and has been shown to be a natural tranquilizer therefore preventive against many of the PMS symptoms such as anxiety, tension, cramps and menstrual migraines.



Dark green vegetables:

Kale, collards, pak choi, turnip greens, bean sprouts, watercress, beet greens, broccoli, spring greens, spinach, rhubarb

Nuts & seeds:

Almond, chestnut, walnut, sesame seed, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts


Soybeans, mung beans


Apples, figs and lemon  


Another way of benefiting of the positive effects of magnesium is to regularly indulge in Epsom salt baths. Rich in magnesium which can easily be absorbed through the skin, Epsom salts will have an anaesthetising effect on the central nervous system, loosing up muscle contractions and helping to relax


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