Can nutrition really improve premenstrual and menstrual symptoms? In detail, which products are useful and which are not at each stage?
Diet is one of the pillars of maintaining health, which is why it is considered an important tool for managing premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. The benefits of food will be enhanced if it is accompanied by a healthy lifestyle. An adequate diet is useless unless it is accompanied by the practice of exercise, stress management, a good night’s rest, etc.
For example, it would be reductionist and wrong to think that eating blueberries (a food rich in anti-inflammatory substances) will reduce menstrual cramps. I wish it worked like this, but no, it’s not that simple. What really matters is the set of foods that make up the diet, not the consumption of food in isolation.
Knowing this information, and knowing that a dietary mix is important, we could say that a food-based diet can help improve premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. Frequently consumed foods will be: vegetables, fruits, legumes, tubers, fish, eggs, olive oil, nuts, etc. And for occasional consumption or those that we should avoid, there will be foods rich in refined sugar and flour, such as industrial pastries, sugary soft drinks, sweets, etc.
Feeding in the premenstrual and menstrual phases
The premenstrual and menstrual phases of the cycle can be accompanied by various symptoms that affect the quality of life of many women (menstrual pain, swelling, fluid retention, breast tension, emotional lability, migraine, etc.). The causes of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) remain unknown, despite this, the strongest hypotheses indicate that in addition to hormonal fluctuations, there may be nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin B6, magnesium and calcium.
Frequent menstrual symptoms are usually associated with underlying inflammation: dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps), diarrhea, pain radiating to the lower back and legs, and in more severe cases, nausea and vomiting may occur.
If there is a nutrient deficiency, the first step is to correct it, either through supplementation or by encouraging the consumption of foods rich in the deficient nutrient.
What foods should be promoted to improve PMS and menstrual symptoms?
The current scientific evidence, although limited, is that the consumption of certain foods and supplements may help improve symptoms during these stages.
Complex carbohydrates: Consumption of carbohydrates from sources such as vegetables, tubers, whole grains, legumes, etc. during the premenstrual phase is associated with a better mood. One possible explanation is that carbohydrate intake can increase brain serotonin levels, resulting in feelings of well-being.
Foods rich in zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral with many beneficial effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antidepressant effects. Some foods rich in zinc are shellfish, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or oats.
Foods rich in magnesium. Magnesium supplements are considered effective in preventing menstrual cramps, PMS, and menstrual migraines. This mineral helps reduce fluid retention and mood swings associated with PMS. We find it in nuts, seeds, legumes and green leafy vegetables.
Foods rich in B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), cobalamin (B12). They are required for the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters involved in premenstrual symptoms. Food sources of vitamin B are whole grains, legumes, fish, meat, etc.
Foods rich in vitamin B6 deserve special mention as it helps regulate mood swings and fluid retention during menstruation and premenstrual periods. We find vitamin B6 in: fish, chicken, bananas, potatoes, nuts and legumes.
Calcium-Rich Foods: Including foods such as dairy products, sardines, or green leafy vegetables can help reduce PMS symptoms, as deficiency has been linked to worsening symptoms.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D Vitamin D plays an important role in hormonal regulation. It can be obtained from sun exposure (90%) and 10% from foods such as oily fish (salmon, herring), mushrooms exposed to the sun, butter or fortified foods.
Fiber intake: For example, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, which can regulate blood glucose levels and reduce the occurrence of food cravings that often occur in the premenstrual phase, including due to the physiology of insulin resistance that occurs in this phase.
Iron-Rich Foods: Iron loss due to bleeding can occur during menstruation. Eating iron-rich foods such as liver, shellfish, legumes, spinach, and fortified cereals can help replenish iron stores.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce inflammation and menstrual pain. We find them in oily fish such as salmon, walnuts, and flax or chia seeds.
What foods should we avoid?
Foods rich in sugar and unhealthy fats should be consumed, if we choose to do so, from time to time, regardless of the phase of the cycle in which we are. However, in the premenstrual and menstrual phases, its restriction will be more interesting, as it can aggravate the symptoms.
Foods rich in sugars and fats: We will avoid excessive consumption of simple sugars or saturated fats, because this is positively correlated with the development of premenstrual syndrome and increased inflammation. Examples of such foods are sugary soft drinks, industrial baked goods, pre-cooked meals such as pizza or lasagna, chocolate, marmalade, etc.
Salt: Reducing intake can help minimize fluid retention and bloating during the premenstrual and menstrual phases. In addition to adding salt that you can use in cooking, we have again focused on processed foods that can be high in salt, such as the pre-cooked meals already mentioned.
Caffeine: May increase PMS symptoms and breast tenderness. Caffeine intake should be limited, especially if the woman is susceptible to its stimulant effects.
Alcohol: not recommended in any phase of the cycle and even more so in the premenstrual and menstrual phases. Alcohol is toxic and can increase inflammation and worsen symptoms during these stages. Zero recommendation for alcohol.
Thus, in order to avoid premenstrual symptoms, it is recommended to eat a diet that is dominated by fresh foods, avoid foods rich in simple carbohydrates or saturated fats, salt, alcohol, and stimulant and sugary drinks, and combine this with a healthy lifestyle.
If you notice, a diet that seems to improve premenstrual and menstrual symptoms isn’t all that far off the diet that would be recommended to the healthy population in general. Logically, after all, as we have already noted, there are no miracle foods, no superfoods, no specific diets for each phase of the menstrual cycle. It is important to emphasize that dietary intervention should always be personalized, context and nutritional needs may vary from one person to another.
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