Bloating. Fatigue. Cramps. Moodiness. Almost all women are familiar with at least one of the symptoms of PMS, and have dealt—or are still dealing—with them on a regular basis. And while your first instinct may be to reach for the medicine cabinet when you’re in pain, the kitchen cabinet might be a better option.
“Most women assume that taking medicine is the only thing they can do to alleviate their PMS symptoms, but making lifestyle changes and being proactive in the days before your period arrives can sometimes help minimize the severity of your symptoms,” explains Teresa Marlino, MD, OB/GYN at Paoli Hospital.
Below, Dr. Marlino offers a few dietary changes you can make to keep PMS symptoms in check.
Avoid salty foods
Salty foods, like chips and crackers, can make you retain water and feel bloated at any time of the month, but especially during your period. Substitute your favorite salty snacks with options like unsalted popcorn or pretzels, instead, to give you the crunch without the added salt.
Avoid sugary foods
Seeking out any chocolate you can get your hands on ahead of or during your period? That’s normal, says Dr. Marlino.
“Sugary foods boost the levels of serotonin in your brain, which make you feel more relaxed and happier. It’s a mood-booster…until your next craving,” she says.
Instead of reaching for a candy bar, try something with protein to keep you fuller longer, like toast with peanut butter.
Stick to water
If you enjoy a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine with dinner, this week may be the week to hold off. Both caffeine and alcohol can alter your mood and energy level during your cycle, so your best bet is to stick to good old water.
Another benefit to water? Drinking it regularly can help prevent bloating, which neither caffeine nor alcohol can offer. If you simply can’t go without caffeine or alcohol, limit your intake to drink per day.
Eat calcium-rich foods
You’ve probably heard that foods that are rich in calcium, like soy milk, yogurt, orange juice, and cheese, are good for your bones, but did you know they can help curb PMS symptoms, too? Research has shown that those women who ate more calcium-rich foods had less severe PMS symptoms.
Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
These are good for you at any time, but especially when you’re trying to keep PMS symptoms in check. Look for plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, and whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal.
Although making dietary changes may be enough to minimize your symptoms, some vitamins have also been shown to help improve PMS symptoms, including folic acid, Vitamin D, magnesium, Vitamin B-6, and Vitamin E. Talk to your physician about whether these may be appropriate for you.
In addition to making changes to your diet ahead of your period, remember to make other healthy lifestyle changes, too, says Dr. Marlino.
“It’s common to not feel like exercising, but exercise can actually help improve circulation and metabolism and boost your mood, all of which can improve PMS symptoms. All you need is 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise to reap the benefits,” she explains.
Sleep, she says, is also important. Make sure you’re getting eight hours of sleep per night and try other relaxation techniques like massage, to ensure you’re keeping stress under control.
If you’ve made lifestyle changes and taken over-the-counter medications to cope with the pain but still have very painful symptoms, your doctor may be able to offer alternative treatment options.
“PMS pain is very common but, for some women, it can be more painful than it is for others. If yours is preventing you from going about your daily routine or leaving you in severe pain, there are other treatment options available,” says Dr. Marlino.
If you're PMS pain is extremely painful, make an appointment with your OB/GYN to talk about your treatment options. Main Line Health gynecologists provide expertise in a wide range of services, including contraceptive services, care during perimenopause, and preventative care in the post-menopausal years. Visit our website to learn more about our OB/GYN services.