Several studies have confirmed that premenstrual syndrome symptoms can be significantly reduced by eating certain nutrient-dense foods.
Minerals and PMS
The most recent study, from researchers at the University of Massachusetts, followed 3,025 women for ten years, while reviewing their dietary intakes specific to minerals. The researchers assessed their mineral intake by calculating the mineral levels using food frequency intake questionnaires, which were given three different times during the ten year period.
The research found that those women who ate the highest amounts of foods containing nonheme iron had a 36% reduced incidence of PMS. Those who ate the highest amounts of foods containing zinc had a 31% reduction in PMS incidence.
As far as dosage, the researchers found the iron intake levels were higher than the current RDA: “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 premenopausal women, which is 18 mg per day,” stated the researchers.
Dietary zinc intake that associated with lower PMS incidence was also higher than the RDA, as the researchers noted zinc intake linked to reduced PMS at “greater than 15 mg per day, was also higher than the current recommendations of 8 mg per day.”
Foods with higher amounts of iron include most nuts (cashews, almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts), squash, beans, leafy greens, soy and whole grains.
Foods with higher levels of zinc include wheat and wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and squash, peanuts, cashews, yogurt, garbanzo beans and almonds.
The study was led by Dr. Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson, an associate professor at University of Massachusetts in the Epiedemiology department of the School of Public Health.
“PMS and PMDD affect up to 20% of reproductive age women and are associated with levels of impairment comparable to those of other major affective disorders,” she writes. “The most common symptoms of PMS and PMDD include irritability, mood swings, anxiety, depression, breast tenderness, bloating, and headaches in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. While many pharmaceutical treatments for PMS and PMDD have been evaluated, all have significant limitations and none has a reported efficacy greater than 60-70%. Because of the substantial limitations of available treatments, it is important to identify ways to prevent the initial development of these disorders.”
Other research led by Dr. Bertone-Johnson has revealed other nutrients associated with PMS. She led a study published in 2011 that found diets with higher levels of thiamine and riboflavin were associated with reduced incidence of PMS. Those with higher (fifth) levels of riboflavin intake between two and four years prior to, had 35% lower incidence of PMS than those with the lowest intake levels (lowest fifth).
This effect was not seen among those who took higher levels of these two important B vitamins using supplements: “We observed a significantly lower risk of PMS in women with high intakes of thiamine and riboflavin from food sources only.”
Foods with higher amounts of riboflavin include almonds, peppers, soy, leafy greens, wheat and wheat bran, sesame seeds, tomatoes and spirulina.
Foods with higher levels of thiamine also called vitamin B1, include sunflower seeds, almonds, rice, wheat and wheat bran, lima beans, broccoli, potatoes, peas and oats.
In another study from the University of Massachusetts by Dr. Bertone-Johnson and associates, found that higher levels of vitamin D and calcium in the diet also significantly reduced the incidence of PMS.
Those with the highest levels of vitamin D also had 31% reduced incidence of PMS, while those with the highest levels of calcium in the diet (averaging 1283 milligrams per day) had a 30% decreased incidence of PMS. Once again these results were seen among food sources. Not surprisingly, low-fat milk was also associated with reduced PMS incidence.
While dairy is considered one of the highest sources of calcium (including cultured dairy such as yogurt and kefir), broccoli, peas, figs, beans, molasses, sesame seeds, almonds, soy, oranges, oats and others are also significant sources of natural calcium.
Sunshine, of course, is the easiest and most natural way for getting sufficient vitamin D levels.
As for other factors influencing PMS, Dr. Bertone-Johnson and associates found in another ten year study that weight gain related directly to moderate to severe PMS incidence. In this study, for every 1 kilogram per meter-squared increase in BMI came a 3% increase in PMS. After other known factors were removed, weight gain was associated with greater incidence of back pain, cramping, swelling and others related to PMS.
In another study, Dr. Bertone-Johnson and associates found that current smokers had double the risk of severe PMS symptoms, while those who smoked during their younger years had even higher incidence.
Chocano-Bedoya PO, Manson JE, Hankinson SE, Johnson SR, Chasan-Taber L, Ronnenberg AG, Bigelow C, Bertone-Johnson ER. Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome. Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Feb 26.
Chocano-Bedoya PO, Manson JE, Hankinson SE, Willett WC, Johnson SR, Chasan-Taber L, Ronnenberg AG, Bigelow C, Bertone-Johnson ER. Dietary B vitamin intake and incident premenstrual syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):1080-6.
Bertone-Johnson ER, Hankinson SE, Bendich A, Johnson SR, Willett WC, Manson JE. Calcium and vitamin D intake and premenstrual syndrome. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jun 13;165(11):1246-52.
Bertone-Johnson ER, Hankinson SE, Willett WC, Johnson SR, Manson JE. Adiposity and the development of premenstrual syndrome. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2010 Nov;19(11):1955-62.
Bertone-Johnson ER, Hankinson SE, Johnson SR, Manson JE. Cigarette smoking and the development of premenstrual syndrome. Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Oct 15;168(8):938-45.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.