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What your PMS symptoms are telling you about your body's needs?

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

The time has come again, that dreaded week before your period, when even jogging bottoms feel uncomfortable, you want to shout at the next person that speaks to you, and a spot the size of mars decides to inhabit your chin. But what exactly is PMS, and why are these symptoms happening? Read on to find out why and what you can do about these unwanted symptoms.

What is PMS?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is an intense, and often distressing, time that occurs in the luteal phase of your cycle (the time between ovulation and menstruation). In this phase, your body goes through a flurry of hormonal and physical changes.

Common symptoms of PMS include mild psychological discomfort, bloating and weight gain, breast tenderness, swelling of hands and feet, aches/pains, sleep disturbance and changes in appetite (1). 90% of women report one or more PMS symptoms (2) and chances are you’re in that percentage. The good news is, these symptoms can be eased with nurturing foods, and you may even have some of these items in your fridge!

Water retention

Changing levels of oestrogen and progesterone may contribute to water retention (build-up of water and salt in the body) before and during your period (3). At this point of the cycle progesterone levels are falling to allow the uterus lining to break down.

What can I do to ease this?

  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated and add more water-rich food to your diet, such as cucumber, pineapple and asparagus.

  • Potassium rich foods, such as bananas, dark leafy greens, tomatoes and sweet potatoes can decrease sodium levels, which have been shown to reduce water retention (4).

  • Magnesium rich foods can also help such as pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans (5).

  • Although we may feel lethargic, some gentle exercise, such as yoga or walking, can help ease the discomfort (6). It’s important not to overdo it though!

  • Keep salt, caffeine, alcohol, and refined carbohydrates to a minimum.

Breast tenderness

Breast tenderness before menstruation is associated with high levels of circulating oestrogen. A lack of fibre, and the consequential constipation, can contribute to circulating levels of oestrogen (7).

What can I do to ease this?

  • To prevent constipation, increase fibre rich foods, such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. The RDI of fibre is 30g (8), but most of us are not reaching this target.

  • Omega 3 has also been found to be beneficial for reducing breast tenderness (9). Try oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, or plant-based sources, such as walnuts and flax seeds

Low mood and anxiety

Low mood, anxiety and teariness are common symptoms of PMS. This change in mood associated with falling levels of oestrogen and progesterone and the accompanying drop in serotonin (10).

What can I do to ease this?

  • A lot of women experiencing mood changes crave chocolate, but your body may be craving magnesium. This can enhance mood and reduce anxiety (11). Good sources include; green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and collard greens, nuts such as almonds and cashews, seeds, like flax, pumpkin and chia, legumes and wholegrains. And yes, chocolate, horrrahhhhh! But to get the benefits of the magnesium you will need to consume chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa solids (and in moderation of course!)

  • Omega 3 also plays a role in reducing psychological symptoms, as well as helping with some of the lesser known symptoms of PMS, such as concentration difficulties.

  • Some studies also suggest vitamin c can reduce psychological symptoms of PMS (12). Try citrus fruits, peppers, berries and potatoes with their skins on for full health benefits.


Prostaglandins are released when the uterus is shedding its lining. This is an immune response to protect the body, but high amounts, can cause inflammation. Higher levels have been associated with cramping and other symptoms like headaches, nausea and diarrhoea (13).

What can I do to ease this?

  • Incorporate lots of ant-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains.

  • Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties (14) and can be added to things like scrambled eggs, rice, roasted vegetables and soup.

  • Magnesium is known to relax muscles, so may help with cramps and headaches (15) though it's best to check with your GP or health practitioner before taking any new supplements

  • Reduce the inflammatory response by avoiding processed foods.

Sleep disturbance

Sleep disturbance is common before menstruation, and also during. There is no conclusive cause as to why this is, but factors such as changes in hormones and increased temperature, caused by progesterone, may be at play (16). In turn, this can lead to fatigue both physically and mentally.

What can I do to ease this?

  • Add some melatonin rich kiwis in the evening. This can aid sleep (17). Other rich sources of melatonin include tart cherries, grapes and strawberries.

  • Low zinc levels can make PMS symptoms worse, including sleep quality (18). Add some more zinc with shellfish, cashews, seeds such as hemp, pumpkin and sesame and meat.

  • Herbal teas, like chamomile may be effective in calming the body ready for sleep (19).

  • Some studies suggest tryptophan may aid in sleep (20). Good sources of tryptophan include bananas, dates, peanuts, yogurt and turkey.

  • It may seem obvious, but avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, refined sugar and alcohol after the morning. The effects of caffeine can last up to 12 hours (21).


Disrupted sleep plays a big role in fatigue, along with hormonal changes. It’s so tempting to reach for cakes and biscuits to get that sugar buzz, but unfortunately that buzz is short lived.

What can I do to ease this?

  • Our brains need glucose to function, but make sure you focus on slow releasing carbohydrates with a mix of colourful fruit, veg and wholegrains.

  • Make sure you’re getting enough Omega 3, as it is very important for brain function and concentration (22).

  • Keep track of your water intake.

  • Consume more iron rich foods like green leafy vegetables, fortified foods and small amounts of red meat.

  • Think about increasing your Vitamin C intake from sources such as peppers, citrus fruits and parsley, not only does it help with the immune system, it’s antioxidant values mean it contributes to normal energy function too (23).

General symptoms

You’ll probably have noticed that there are some all-around bad ass vitamins and minerals out there helping to fight PMS symptoms, but there are a couple more that deserve a mention, including calcium and vitamin D. These have been found to be effective in some general PMS symptoms (24,25). Good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, calcium enriched tofu, and fortified foods.The main source of vitamin D is from the sunshine, and the NHS recommends supplementing with 400iu of Vitamin D a day between October and March to keep your bones and muscles healthy (26)

For more information on PMS and tips on more natural solutions to PMS, check out my FREE eBook here.

Want more support?

If you’re looking for real solutions that get to the root of your problems, not just more medications that don’t really give you your health (or body!) back, then you're in the right place. Book in for a free 30-minute discovery call and let’s chat about working together.


1) Dennerstein, L., Lehert, P., Backstrom, T. C and Heinemann, K., 2009. Premenstrual symptoms – severity, duration and typology: an international cross-sectional study. Menopause International, 15, 120-126.

2) Winer, S. A., Rapkin, A. J., 2006. Premenstrual disorders: prevalence, etiology and impact. Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 51 (4), 339-347.

3) Stachenfeld, N.S., 2008. Sex hormone effects on body fluid regulation. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews, 36 (3), 152-159.

4) Gallen, al., 1998. On the mechanism of the effects of potassium restriction on blood pressure and renal sodium retention. American Journal of Kidney Disease, 31 (3), 19-27.

5) Walker, A. F., De Souza, M. C., Vickers, M.F., Abeyasekara, S., Collins, M. L. and Trinca, L. A., 1998. Magnesium supplementation alleviates premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention. Journal Women’s Health, 7 (9), 1157-65.

6) Dehnavi, Z.M., Jafarnejad, F. and Goghary, S.S., 2018. The effect of 8 weeks aerobic exercise on severity of physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome: a clinical trial study. BMC Women’s Health, 18 (1).

7) Kwa, M., Plottel, C.S., Blaser, M. J and Adams, S., 2016. The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 108 (8).

9) Sohrabi, N., Kashanian, M., Ghafoori, S. S and Malakouti, S.K., 2013. Evaluation of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: "A pilot trial". Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 21 (3), 141-146.

10) Joffe, H. and Cohen, L., 1998. Estrogen, serotonin, and mood disturbance: where is the therapeutic bridge? Biological Psychiatry, 44 (9), 798-811.

11) Botturi, A. et al., 2020. The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 12.

12) Tully, L., Humiston, J. and Cash, A., 2020. Oxaloacetate reduces emotional symptoms in premenstrual syndrome (PMS): results of a placebo-controlled, cross-over clinical trial. Obstetrics & Gynaecology Science, 63 (2), 195-204.

13) Proctor, M. and Farquhar, C., 2006. Diagnosis and management of dysmenorrhoea. British Medical Journal, 332.

14) Singletary, K., 2020. Turmeric: Potential Health Benefits. Nutrition Today, 55.

15) Parazzini, F., Di Martino, M. and Pellegrino, P. Magnesium in the gynaecological practice: a literature review. Magnesium Research, 30 (1), 1-7.

16) Sharkey, K. M., Crawford, S. L., Semmie, K. and Joffe, H., 2014. Objective sleep interruption and reproductive hormone dynamics in the menstrual cycle. Sleep Medicine, 15 (6), 688-693.

17) Nodtvedt, O., Hansen, A., Bjorvatn, B. and Pallesen, S., 2017.The effects of kiwi fruit consumption in students with chronic insomnia symptoms: a randomized controlled trial. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 15 (2), 159-166.

18) Jafari, F., Tarrahi, M.J. and Farhang, A,. 2020. Effect of zinc supplementation on quality of life and sleep quality in young women with premenstrual syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 302 (3), 657-664.

19) Hieu et al. 2020. Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials and quasi-randomized trials. Phytotherapy Research, 33 (6), 1604-1615.

20) Lieberman, H. R., Agarwal, S., Fulgoni III, V.L., 2016. Tryptophan Intake in the US Adult Population Is Not Related to Liver or Kidney Function but Is Associated with Depression and Sleep Outcomes. The Journal of Nutrition, 146 (12), 2609-2615.

21) Walker, M. (2018). Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. Penguin Random House, London.

22) Cook, R.L. et al. 2019. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids status and cognitive function in young women, Lipids in Health and Disease, 18 (1).

23) Tardy, A., Poutea, E., Marquez, D., Yilmaz, C. and Scholey, A., 2020. Vitamins and minerals for energy, fatigue and cognition: a narrative review of the biochemical and clinical evidence, Nutrients, 12 (1), 228.

24) Jarosz, A.C. and El-Sohemy, A., 2019. Association between Vitamin D Status and Premenstrual Symptoms. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, 119 (1), 115-123.

25) Karimi, Z., et al., 2018. Treatment of premenstrual syndrome: Appraising the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to calcium supplement plus vitamin D. Psych Journal, 7 (1), 41-50.


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