avocado, dark chocolate, yogurt and granola

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, up to 80 percent of women of reproductive age may suffer from physical or emotional symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). As many as 35 percent have symptoms severe enough to disrupt their routine activities. Depression and anxiety are typical symptoms, usually surfacing anytime in the last two weeks of a menstrual cycle. PMS can worsen as a woman heads into perimenopause and menopause. Certain foods and drinks—like sugar and caffeine—can acerbate symptoms. However, other foods can help alleviate symptoms. Here are a few of them.

1. Low-Fat Yogurt

According to a study by researchers at University of Massachusetts Amherst, a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can lower the risk of developing PMS. “We observed a significantly lower risk of developing PMS in women with high intakes of vitamin D and calcium from food sources, equivalent to about four servings per day of skim or low-fat milk, fortified orange juice or low-fat dairy foods such as yogurt,” the researchers said. That’s about 1,200 mg. of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D. An eight-ounce cup of low-fat yogurt contains 448 mg of calcium, or about 45 percent of your daily requirement. It’s also loaded with protein, which controls blood-sugar levels, and essential amino acids.

2. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds have many nutrients that have been shown to reduce PMS symptoms. They’re chock-full of zinc (containing 23 percent of our daily recommended value in just one ounce), which Emily Deans, MD, calls an “essential mineral for resiliency” in her Psychology Today blog Zinc: An Antidepressant. The mineral also increases our ability to fight off inflammation, which can cause depression and anxiety. In addition, it’s rich in magnesium, our calming nutrient: According to a 2012 study in the journal Neuropharmacology, magnesium deficiencies induce anxiety, which is why the mineral is known as the original chill pill. Magnesium also helps reduce water retention that is often a symptom of PMS. Finally, a serving fulfills 85 percent of our dietary requirement for manganese, which has been shown to reduce irritability.

3. Avocados

A randomized, double blind study published in Reproductive Health evaluated the effectiveness of essential fatty acids to treat PMS. Women given a pill containing essential fatty acids, including oleic acid, over the course of six consecutive cycles had reduced PMS symptoms. Three-fourths of the calories of an avocado are from fat, mostly monosaturated fat, in the form of oleic acid. An average avocado also contains four grams of protein, higher than other fruits, and is filled with vitamin K, different kinds of vitamin B (B-9, B-6, and B-5), vitamin C, and vitamin E-12. Finally, they are low in sugar and high in dietary fiber, containing about 11 grams each.

4. Camomile Tea

Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs and has been used to treat a variety of human ailments including menstrual disorders and insomnia. Severe PMS can cause anxiety and sleep disruption, so the tranquilizing effects of chamomile tea are helpful to mitigate symptoms. Its sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Chamomile extracts exhibit benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity as evidenced in a study with sleep-disturbed rats. In a study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to the patients taking placebos. Camomile also helps relieve muscle spasms and can reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.

5. Dark Chocolate

PMS is usually associated with an increase in stress, which increases cortisol levels. Cortisol blocks progesterone from its receptors, causing more stress. That’s where dark chocolate is helpful.  In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Proteome Research, dark chocolate was found to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and help normalize stress-related differences in energy metabolism and gut microbial activities. Dark chocolate contains large amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid that works as a precursor to serotonin, and theobromine, another mood-elevating compound. It also has one of the highest concentrations in magnesium in a food, with one square providing 327 milligrams, or 82 percent of your daily value. The higher percentage of cocoa, the better.

6. Cashews

Studies show that magnesium levels fluctuate during a woman’s cycle, and that lower magnesium levels cause symptoms of PMS. In one study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research scientists demonstrated that a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6 helped with PMS symptoms. Cashews are a great source of magnesium, providing 44 percent of our daily requirement in just a half of a cup. Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine nuts have lots of magnesium, as well. Cashews are also high in calcium, another important nutrient to help with PMS.

7. Bananas

Bananas are rich in potassium, which can help relieve menstrual cramps before and during a menstrual cycle. Potassium is also good for mood. A 2008 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a high-potassium diet helped relieve symptoms of depression and tension in participants. It’s an important electrolyte (that we lose when we sweat) that regulates blood pressure and PH balance. Bananas also contain tryptophan, which increases brain serotonin and, according to some studies, can be an antidepressant for mild-to-moderate depression. The vitamin B6 in bananas helps convert the tryptophan into serotonin while soothing your nervous system. Bananas also have melatonin, which aids sleep and regulates our body’s natural rhythms, as well as iron, which can help fight the fatigue associated with PMS.

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Photos: Shutterstock; Jill Chen/Stocksy; Emoke Szabo/Stocksy


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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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