I’d faint from excruciating cramps – but I’ve learned to eat my way out of PMS

PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome describes the many annoying symptoms that a woman has to endure in the run-up to her period.

In fact, over 150 PMS symptoms have been identified, including physical symptoms (think breast tenderness and headaches) and physiological symptoms (mood swings, fatigue, and anger).


PT Lucy Gornall had incredibly painful period cramps that caused her to faintPhoto credit: Lucy Gornall
The pill helped with her PMS symptoms, but when she stopped taking them they came back, but she's since learned to manage them with diet


The pill helped with her PMS symptoms, but when she stopped taking them they came back, but she’s since learned to manage them with dietPhoto credit: Lucy Gornall

According to the National Association for Premenstrual Syndromes (NAPS), up to 30 percent of women experience moderate to severe PMS.

Around 800,000 women in the UK suffer from severe PMS.

If you’ve ever tried to fight PMS, including very mild PMS, you may have started taking birth control pills, used hot water bottles, taken acetaminophen, or even tried to sleep through the night.

But have you ever thought about the role your diet plays?

“From headaches and lack of energy to cramps and irritability, PMS symptoms are long and varied and affect up to 85 percent of women,” says Shona Wilkinson, senior nutritionist at DR.VEGAN, an ethical nutrition and supplement brand.

“Although many factors should be considered to manage symptoms, dietary intake should be high on the list.”

I started my period when I was 14 years old. During my teenage years, I would pass out every month from the pain of PMS cramps.

The pill helped eliminate this pain and I was PMS free for 11 years.

Then, after the pill, as my cycle settled into a rhythm, my PMS symptoms also found their rhythm.

Excruciating period cramps would come on for about half a day as soon as I started bleeding and my head would pound.

In the days leading up to my period, it felt like I had been hit by a bus; The exhaustion was extreme, and to top it all off, my sleep was virtually non-existent for about five days.

Oh, and of course there are the spots, the greasy forehead, the sore boobs, and the occasional outbursts of crying that just got annoying.

However, various lifestyle changes, including some changes in diet and supplements, have meant that my PMS has definitely subsided.

It’s not gone, but neither is it a patch of what it used to be.

These are the changes I made, plus some other expert tips that might just help you get on top of your PMS once and for all…

I take a vitamin B supplement for general PMS control

“Simple changes like adding a PMS supplement rich in B vitamins to your daily routine can help relieve common symptoms of PMS,” says Shona.

“Vitamins B2 and B3 help regulate the hormonal fluctuations that lead to oily skin and bloating, while vitamin B6 helps the body convert food into fuel, regulates the nervous system, and aids in the production of mood-boosting hormones like serotonin and dopamine. ”

I hit my iron for energy

Women tend to have low iron levels because iron is lost during menstrual bleeding.

It’s not for everyone, but chicken liver is chocka with iron.

I usually cook chicken livers with onions in the run-up to my period.

“Iron helps regulate our mood by participating in the production of serotonin, also known as the ‘happy hormone,’ so increasing iron levels may help calm some of the less physical signs of PMS like depression and lethargy.” , says Shona.

“It’s also especially important to eat some iron-rich foods after a particularly heavy period to help combat the body’s blood loss.”

Don’t feel like liver?

Shona recommends consuming other iron-rich foods like lentils, quinoa, or dried fruit before and during your period. Red meat also contains a lot of iron.

I eat oily fish three times a week to improve my mood

Sardines, mackerel, salmon… just some of the fish I eat regularly.

Coincidence or not, my mood is certainly less erratic than it used to be around my period.

“Omega 3 has been shown to help with serotonin production and availability, and people with an omega-3 deficiency may be at a higher risk of developing mental health problems,” explains Shona.

“Hormones like serotonin and dopamine play an important role in regulating our mood and helping us look positively at the day and what it has to offer.

“When levels of the hormone estrogen drop during PMS, serotonin and dopamine levels drop, which could explain why over 50 percent of women feel depressed leading up to their period.”

Shona adds: “Omega 3 is classified as an essential nutrient, which means it cannot be produced by the body and must come from your diet or from an omega-3 supplement.

“Great omega-3 food sources include oily fish if you’re not plant-based, or nuts, seeds, and olive oil if you are.”

I take zinc to soothe the skin

Period spots can be a real nuisance. However, studies have proven that zinc is essential for the normal functioning of the skin.

I started taking a zinc supplement a while ago and although I still get small pimples, the horrific, brutally large pimples seem to have taken a back seat.

Shona says zinc is great for brain health too.

“Zinc is an essential mineral involved in a number of chemical reactions in the brain.

“We need zinc to regulate the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

“Low zinc levels can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression, among other things.”

Zinc supplementation is useful, as are other zinc-rich foods such as shellfish, seeds, and nuts.

I don’t go a day without magnesium because of constipation

“Magnesium is required for more than 300 biomechanical reactions in the body, including both the release and uptake of serotonin by the brain,” says Shona.

Which could be another reason my mood isn’t as loopy as it used to be.

I also find that magnesium before bed can help overcome the PMS constipation that makes me super uncomfortable before my period.

A supplement can help. Just like food sources.

“Good sources of magnesium are nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains – try incorporating some into your daily diet and give your brain the helping hand it may need when struggling with PMS symptoms,” says Shona.

Chaste tree may help hormones

“One of the lesser-known but effective treatments for the symptoms of PMS is chasteberry, the fruit of chasteberry,” Shona reveals.

“Chasteberry has been used for years to treat PMS symptoms and works by rebalancing your hormones to eliminate common symptoms like mood swings and chest discomfort.”

Chaste tree is found in PMS supplements in capsule form and can even be drunk as a tea.

Load up on calcium to help with bloating

Research has found that calcium can help reduce water retention as well as other PMS symptoms like anxiety.

“Examples of calcium-rich foods include leafy greens like kale, spinach, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, kiwis, almonds, fortified non-dairy milk, and soy products like tofu and tempeh,” says Shona.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Eating the right foods isn’t always easy, as PMS can make us want to eat more junk.

“When blood sugar levels drop during PMS, cravings for high-sugar foods tend to increase, which in turn can worsen PMS symptoms like constipation, bloating and fatigue,” says Shona.

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Although it’s important to control food choices to relieve PMS, try not to stress yourself out even more by being too rigid.

But if, like me, you’re noticing positive PMS changes, then you might not even want to eat sugary, unhealthy foods around your period anymore!

Lucy now has her PMS symptoms largely under control thanks to diet and supplements


Lucy now has her PMS symptoms largely under control thanks to diet and supplementsPhoto credit: Lucy Gornall

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