Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is an uncomfortable reality for nine out of ten women. Research suggests the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS result from hormonal imbalances. These symptoms include bloating, depression, fatigue, tender breasts, constipation, appetite changes, back or joint pain, and weight gain. Although our society widely accepts PMS as an unavoidable affliction, scientific research is steadily uncovering connections between diet and reproductive health. While conventional treatments include over-the-counter medications that can include a host of adverse side effects, safe and effective PMS relief could be as close as your refrigerator or cupboard.

Nutrient Deficiency and PMS

Women who regularly experience PMS symptoms are usually not obtaining sufficient nutrients from their diets. As the female body prepares and sheds its uterine lining with each menstrual cycle, this deficiency may manifest through PMS-related maladies. Increasing consumption of health-enhancing whole foods can provide your body with resources to combat menstrual woes and boost overall vitality.

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Plant-Based Foods

Research indicates women who consume primarily plant-based meals experience fewer PMS symptoms. A crossover study by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine noted participants who followed a low-fat, vegan eating regimen found remarkable relief from PMS. Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, and seeds is a safe, natural way to obtain bioavailable nutrients that strengthen the reproductive system. Green vegetables contain high amounts of minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium that help calm emotions. These nutrients also reduce spasms. Dark green, leafy plants provide vitamin K, which is necessary to help curtail excess bleeding. These foods are also a source of fiber which helps maintain hormone balance.

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Extensive research suggests calcium may help diminish PMS symptoms like depression, tiredness, cramps, and cravings. A study headed by the University of Massachusetts found consuming calcium-rich foods decreases the risk of PMS by up to 40 percent. To reap the benefits of this essential mineral, increase your intake of dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale), and kefir.

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Vitamin D

Your body cannot absorb calcium without vitamin D. The University of Massachusetts joint study reported participants with PMS experienced fewer symptoms after increasing their daily intake of this nutrient. Wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and eggs are among the best sources of vitamin D. You may also obtain vitamin D from fortified dairy products.

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Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 contributes to several functions within the body, such as eliminating excess estrogen and facilitating magnesium absorption. A 1988 study concluded women who received daily vitamin B6 supplementation experienced remarkably milder monthly symptoms. This nutrient can help reduce the psychological symptoms of PMS such as irritability, moodiness, and anxiety, as well as physical issues like bloating. Vitamin B6 is present in poultry, eggs, fish, fruits (except citrus), and potatoes.

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Magnesium is vital for promoting bone growth and regulating mood. Menstruation depletes magnesium levels, which prompts mood swings and unhealthy cravings. Researchers find women with low magnesium levels experience more severe PMS symptoms. Replenish your supply of this essential nutrient with green leafy vegetables, brown rice, beans, and nuts. A 3.5-ounce serving of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao solids can provide over half of the recommended intake of magnesium and other PMS-fighting nutrients. Even this small amount may increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain to help heighten mood. Excessive amounts of chocolate may be counterproductive to alleviating menstrual discomfort, however.

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Potassium can reduce water retention, bloating, and fatigue. The University of California discovered this mineral might help some women find relief from menstrual cramps, a common symptom of potassium deficiency. Bananas, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, potatoes, tomatoes, salmon, and poultry all provide a significant amount of potassium, and when people get the mineral naturally from dietary sources, it appears not to produce any side effects.

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Manganese helps the body absorb calcium and stave off depression and mood swings. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report, as well as research from the University of Maryland, show a correlation between low manganese and PMS. Brown rice, chickpeas, and fruits, most notably pineapple, are rich in this trace mineral.

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Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

Research suggests polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) may inhibit the prostaglandin effect that promotes inflammation, menstrual discomfort, and muscle contractions. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that women whose diets included high amounts of omega-3s had less severe PMS symptoms. Green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, and flaxseed are great sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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What Not to Eat

Certain foods may increase PMS symptoms and should be avoided, especially in the two weeks before your period. The Journal of Reproductive Medicine states consuming foods and beverages high in sugar is associated with the recurrence and severity of PMS. Reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates, salt, caffeine, and alcohol can help reduce the duration and intensity of many PMS symptoms.

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