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Managing Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Can Diet Modification Help?

For about 5 days every month, R, a 20-year-old undergraduate, would experience breast tenderness, headaches, indigestion and bloating. She would have certain food cravings and would sometimes gain one to two kilograms in weight prior to her menstrual period. She often felt exhausted, listless and irritable. These symptoms rapidly subsided soon after her menstruation began. R is suffering from premenstrual syndrome or PMS.

Diet and PMS

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a common disorder in women of childbearing age. It has a negative impact on the mental and physical health of women. Despite much research, the exact cause of PMS is still not known. However, studies have shown that healthy food choices and a balanced diet can help relieve some of the symptoms.


The following vitamins have been found to be helpful in easing PMS:

Vitamin B-6: It helps the body use serotonin, a brain hormone, which may ease depression. Vitamin B-6 is found in chicken, fish, potatoes, eggs, and carrots.

Vitamin D: Research studies have shown that increased intake of vitamin D helps PMS symptoms by reducing tissue inflammation. Vitamin D is found naturally in foods like sardines and salmon.

Vitamin E: This may reduce headache and breast tenderness. It is found in nuts such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts and in green leafy vegetables.


The following minerals have been found to be helpful in easing PMS:

Calcium: This may ease mood swings, headache, bloating, and irritability. It is found in dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Almonds, beans, soymilk and tofu are also good sources of calcium.

Magnesium: This may relieve bloating and breast tenderness, and is found in many foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

Iron: An increase in iron intake before and during menstrual period will replace the iron lost in the menstrual blood . Iron-rich foods include red meats e.g. beef.


Complex carbohydrates like whole-grain bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and buckwheat noodles are good choices. They raise blood serotonin levels and help manage mood swings. As these foods enter the bloodstream gradually, they cause only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which then keep food cravings under control.


Increasing water intake of 1.5 to 2 liters a day helps reduce bloating and aid in digestion.

Foods to avoid

Some foods can make PMS symptoms worse. These include

  • Salt: Fast food or processed food, including canned foods, are often high in salt. A study in Taiwan has shown that excess consumption of junk food was associated with higher incidence of PMS.

  • Refined sugar: Sweets and candies can aggravate PMS symptoms.

  • Caffeine: Caffeine can disrupt sleep, which makes PMS symptoms harder to cope with. It can also cause breast tenderness. Limiting chocolate and caffeinated drinks, such as coffee or soda can help.

  • Alcohol can induce depression and disrupt sleep. Many kinds of alcohol are also high in sugar. The severity of PMS symptoms appears to be reduced if one limits the intake of alcohol.

With diet modulation and lifestyle changes, R’s PMS symptoms improved though they did not disappear completely. She feels happier as she is able to cope with PMS better now.


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