An iron-rich diet lowers the risk of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (1).
The study is one of the first to investigate whether dietary mineral intake is linked with PMS. The diets of more than 3,000 American women were analysed, with women completing three food frequency questionnaires over a 10-year period. After 10 years, 1,057 of the women were diagnosed with PMS while 1,968 of the women were free from the condition. The researchers then compared the diets of the women with PMS with the diets of the women with no symptoms. The researchers adjusted for factors known to affect PMS such as calcium intake.
The results showed that non-heme iron intake is linked to a lowered incidence of PMS. Non-heme iron is the iron found in plant foods and supplements, rather than iron from animal foods. Senior research Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson said that the women who consumed the most non-heme iron from both foods and supplements had “a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of developing PMS than women who consumed the lowest amount of non-heme iron”. The results also showed that women with the lowest iron intake were almost twice as likely to suffer with PMS compared to women with the highest intake.
“The level of iron intake at which we saw a lower risk of PMS, roughly greater than 20 mg per day, is higher than the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron for pre menopausal women,” Bertone-Johnson says.
The researchers also suggested that iron may be related to PMS because it is involved in producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood.
While iron supplements may of course be helpful to ensure adequate intake, it’s important to ensure that good dietary sources of iron are included each day. Good plant-based sources of iron include pulses such as lentils, beans and chickpeas, nuts and seeds, dried apricots and leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Iron-fortified cereals are another rich source. Adding citrus fruit or a glass of orange juice is also helpful as Vitamin C boosts iron absorption.
Another mineral was also highlighted by the study as significant in its influence on PMS. “We also saw some indication that high intake of zinc was associated with lower risk” Bertone-Johnson explains. The level of zinc linked to a lower risk of PMS was greater than 15mg each day which again is higher than the RDA.
Zinc is needed for the proper action of many hormones and it can also lower levels of hormones such as prolactin which are implicated in PMS.
Ensuring a good intake of zinc through the diet means eating zinc-rich meats such as venison, beef and turkey, while vegetarians should emphasise foods such as yoghurt, spinach, mushrooms and oats. Zinc from plant sources is less well-absorbed and so vegetarians may benefit from a zinc supplement to ensure adequate intake. It should be noted, however, that excessive levels of zinc can be detrimental to health and should only be taken under the supervision of a health practitioner.
More research is needed in this area to confirm the results of this study. In the meantime, however, ensuring an adequate intake of both iron and zinc seems a sensible measure for those who suffer with PMS.
1. Patricia O. Chocano-Bedoya, JoAnn E. Manson, Susan E. Hankinson, Susan R. Johnson, Lisa Chasan-Taber, Alayne G. Ronnenberg, Carol Bigelow, and Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson. Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2013 DOI: 10.1093/aje/kws363.
In our efforts to remain healthy and youthful there is a lot of talk about antioxidants, omega oils, calcium and several other nutrients and yet we may have overlooked the missing link in our diets, the mineral magnesium.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and can be found in the teeth, bones and red blood cells. In fact half is found in bone and the rest in soft tissue in the body. The body jealously maintains about 1% of its magnesium within the blood making blood tests notoriously difficult to identify a deficiency (1). Magnesium is our most interactive mineral. It is essential for numerous biochemical reactions carried out within the body (over 350 in fact – more than iron and zinc combined) and interestingly the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are identical to those found in old age and include low energy levels, irregular heartbeat, clogged arteries, migraines and headaches, heavy metals build-up, high blood pressure and insulin resistance (2).
A study published in 2005 (3) showed that a staggering 70% of the US population may be magnesium deficient and 19% didn’t even reach half the Recommended Daily Allowance, which has just been raised to 360mg in the UK. People at serious risk of magnesium deficiency include the elderly, diabetics, children, those on low calorie diets, those over-indulging in alcohol and those engaged in heavy exercise and stressful lifestyles.
Modern Western diets
Unfortunately modern farming methods have depleted the soils and artificial fertilizer favours certain minerals over others. Over processing food depletes magnesium levels as does increasing the shelf life of food. Did you know that we lose over 80% of the magnesium in wholegrain flour when we convert it into white bread? In fact, magnesium levels in our diet are half what they were hundred years ago. Foods rich in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, nuts, wholegrains and dark green vegetables but these rarely feature within our daily staple diet. In addition our calcium intake has never been higher (4). Asian and African populations have a dramatically lower intake of calcium with little incidence of osteoporosis. Their magnesium intake however is at least double that of Western diets.
Magnesium deficiency develops over time so we often only notice problems when we experience changes due to age, the menopause or when our body is under stress.
Low Energy & Fatigue
Magnesium is a key mineral in the enzyme processes that convert food into energy and several studies show that individuals with low magnesium levels use more energy and therefore tire quickly. Magnesium is critical for both the synthesis and secretion of insulin so diabetics are often found to be deficient in magnesium (5).
PMS & Hormonal Imbalances
Sufferers of PMS have significantly lower levels of magnesium suggesting a clear association. In fact research by Dr David Thomas showed sufferers of severe PMS will tend to have common elements within their diet consuming only a quarter of their necessary magnesium but almost 80% more dairy and a staggering 275% more sugar (6)!
The inability to sleep may also be linked to magnesium deficiency. If you find it difficult to sleep or find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with muscle spasms, cramps or stiffness you may benefit from higher levels of magnesium (7).
Although calcium is the most abundant skeletal mineral it is very poorly soluble on its own. It requires sufficient hydrochloric acid (quantity of which reduces as we age) magnesium and vitamin D in order for it to be absorbed into the bone. Calcium that is not made soluble cannot enter the bone and settles in soft tissue such as joints, muscles and in arteries as cholesterol plaque (8).
Cramps & Spasms
Magnesium is essential for the proper function of muscles. Calcium is responsible for the contraction phase of muscles whilst magnesium is needed for the relaxation phase. Cramping at night and irritating twitches in the eyelids are often clear signs of magnesium deficiency. Restless Leg Syndrome, a poorly understood neurological disorder, responds favourably to magnesium chloride rubbed into the muscles (9).
Many studies indicate that there is a relationship between headaches, migraines and low levels of magnesium in the bloodstream. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels, encouraging normalised oxygen flow to the brain (10).
Anxiety, Nerves & Irritability
A deficiency in magnesium can result in the symptoms of anxiety and irritability since magnesium is required for the manufacture of adrenal stress hormones.
Kidney stones, one of the most painful urinary disorders, have beset humans for centuries. A kidney stone is a hard mass of chemicals from urine. The most common type of kidney stone contains calcium oxalate. Studies indicate that magnesium helps prevent recurrence of calcium oxalate kidney stones due to its effects on solubilising calcium in urine (11).
Magnesium is necessary for the elasticity and dermal protection of the skin and low levels will reduce skin cell health (12).
Magnesium absorption through the skin
Our intestines are simply not efficient at absorbing relatively large doses of magnesium from supplements and increasing the intake simply results in diarrhoea. Absorption is dramatically reduced with poor digestive efficiency, particularly as we age or when unwell. This is why hospitals will always favour a slow, gradual supply (IV drip) rather than an oral supplement.
Magnesium chloride is the form favoured by our bodies as it is the result of all other magnesium compounds being exposed to the hydrochloric acid in our stomachs. Magnesium chloride is in fact the result of evaporation of sea water. As pure and as simple as that and it is perfectly suited to absorption through the skin. Cardiff University has just completed the first clinical trial to produce evidence that magnesium is excellently absorbed through the skin (13). And an earlier trial in 2010 showed that the body could remineralise five times faster by skin application than by oral supplementation (14).
This week (6th – 12th June 2011) is National Tampon Alert Week which is aimed at raising awareness about the potential symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) to women who use tampons. Alice Kilvert Tampon Alert is a UK registered charity which was set up to raise awareness of TSS after Alice Kilvert from Manchester died from tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome at the age of 15 and is the founding organisation for Tampon Alert Week.
Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by a strain of staph, the bacterium Staphylococcus Aureus which can be fatal if not treated immediately (1). A toxin is produced which is absorbed into the bloodstream and this toxin very rapidly overwhelms the individual’s immune system which can compromise and attack the body’s vital organs (2). Toxic Shock Syndrome doesn’t necessarily just affect women who use tampons; it can affect both men and women of all ages, however disturbingly over half of all cases (3) are women using a tampon.
– Early symptoms may include headache, and/or sore throat, aching muscles and high temperature.
– Followed by vomiting, watery diarrhoea, a red rash, confusion and dizziness and very low blood pressure.
– Only one or two symptoms may occur and they do not necessarily occur all at once and may not persist.
If you suspect you are suffering from TSS, you should remove your tampon and seek medical assistance immediately.
The best way to avoid TSS is not to use a tampon overnight and not to keep it in for any longer than 8 hours. Always wash hands before and after use and use the lowest absorbency for your flow. Ideally, use sanitary wear that is made from natural cottons and fibres rather than synthetically treated ones which may contain bleaches and other chemicals.
A possible healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternative might be to use a menstrual cup. Products like the Mooncup and the Femmecup are reusable, non-disposable menstrual cups used instead of tampons and sanitary-wear which do not contain bleaches, deodorisers or absorbency gels. They are made with medical grade non-allergic silicone and will not cause irritation. Ani Richardson has previously written about the use of menstrual cups for women who suffer with vaginal thrush, vaginosis or vaginitis so it is not just TSS that menstrual cups may help prevent.
For more information on TSS, the Tampon Alert leaflet can be read and downloaded here.
(1) University of Illinois, McKinley Health Centre (2) tamponalert.org.uk (3) national-awareness-days.com