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PMS

Women’s Health: Tips to beat PMS cravings

Tips to beat PMS cravings

Why do women suffer with cravings when suffering with PMS?

As many as 85% of women experience at least one symptom of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), the disruptive physical and emotional changes that can strike anytime in the last 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle. A common symptom women suffer from is PMS related food cravings, which has the potential to sabotage your diet.

Fortunately, a better understanding of PMS in general and food cravings specifically can keep women from getting caught in a diet-destroying cycle. When food cravings do hit its generally for high fat sugary foods and/or salty foods; like chocolate, sweets, ice cream or crisps.

The hormonal ups and downs that occur throughout a woman’s cycle are the major culprits in PMS. As levels of oestrogen go up and down, so do levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And when cortisol levels are high enough, the body turns on its fight-or-flight response, a woman becomes more metabolically charged, and her appetite is stimulated. This, in turn, causes a woman to seek out carbs and fat, the fuels needed for the fight-and-flight response.

Other research has linked PMS to low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia that occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle.

Whether it’s blood sugar or cortisol levels that are out of whack, experts say eating huge servings of ice cream, chocolate and chips are the worst ways to bring levels back in balance. Proper nutrition and lifestyle habits will achieve a better balance, with long-lasting results.

Is there anything in terms of diet and lifestyle that a woman can do to reduce such cravings?

Eating a balanced diet containing complex carbohydrates, vegetables, protein and healthy fats is key in providing the body the nutrients required to balance symptoms associated with PMS. Healthy fat and protein in particular help to balance blood sugar levels as they have a slower digestion and make you feel fuller for longer. Foods high in essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 6, such as nuts, seeds and their oils will slow absorption of carbohydrates, stabilize the blood sugar and stop cravings in their tracks. Try a baked sweet potato with tuna and salad for lunch. Drizzle over an organic seed oil such as Udo’s Choice Ultimate oil blend for healthy fats.

Remember to drink plenty of water. 2 litres a day helps to flush the body out and reduce bloating.

It’s best to avoid all processed sugar if you are suffering from food cravings. Simple sugars increase insulin secretion, which lowers blood sugar. If insulin levels shoot up enough, your appetite for carbs and bad fats increases.

Lifestyle wise, you want to get plenty of sleep, with 8 hours per night being ideal. This will make you less tired throughout the day and more likely to exercise and make better food choices. Any form of physical activity should be done for 30 minutes a day, from swimming, brisk walks to jogging, activities that raise the heart rate will lower cortisol levels.

Are there any nutritional supplements that can help?

A well-rounded women’s multi-vitamin is beneficial to get all the nutrients one needs, as well as an omega 3 supplement that contains EPA/DHA, which will help with balancing female hormones.

Additionally, chromium is a mineral needed for blood sugar control and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Liquid chromium supplements are available. Take 1-2 drops under the tongue before each main meal.

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Iron and Zinc Intake Linked with PMS

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.

Juice
Vitamin C intake is linked with helping the absorption of iron

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.

References

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.

2.Image courtesy of topfer.

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