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A Nutritional Approach to Treating PMS

A woman has an estimated 450 periods over her lifetime (1) Did you know that around 85% of women experience at least one PMS symptom? PMS or premenstrual syndrome is a group of symptoms that a woman can experience before her period. Although not all women are impacted by their PMS, it’s estimated that 20% to 40% have difficulties as a result.

PMS symptoms can range from changes in mood (irritability, anxiety, depression) to insomnia, fatigue, headaches, breast tenderness, water retention, acne, and digestive symptoms (bloating, changes in bowel movements). These symptoms can last for a few days up to two weeks. Let’s do the math; most women have a period every 28 days. That means women with PMS who suffer for one to two weeks out of every cycle aren’t feeling well 25 to 50% of the time. Yikes, that’s a considerable portion of their life! As you may know yourself, or know through women who suffer from PMS, it can significantly impact quality of life.

Unfortunately, PMS has been normalized and even expected as just part of being a woman in our culture. PMS is not normal! It’s a sign that your hormones are imbalanced. The menstrual cycle and hormonal fluctuations are what make us uniquely women. They should be cherished, not dreaded. It shouldn’t have to feel like we’re cursed, but for many women it does. Let’s change that.

The conventional treatment for PMS is to give birth control pills and/or antidepressants to women who suffer from PMS. Although these medications may provide temporary relief by suppressing symptoms, they do not fix the underlying problem. What happens when you stop the medications? Your symptoms come back. The other issue is these drugs can cause nasty side effects. Birth control pills notoriously cause low libido and can also cause changes in mood (wait, isn’t this one reason why they are given?), headaches and weight gain. The other problem I have with birth control is that if you try and get off of it, you may have new symptoms that you never signed up for, referred to as post-birth control syndrome.

As you may have already guessed, antidepressants aren’t any better. They can also cause low libido, weight gain, upset stomach and fatigue. They can also be challenging to stop taking.

The good news is there’s another way. I’ve helped countless women resolve PMS without birth control or antidepressants. How? By using functional medicine to understand and treat the underlying cause. You can heal your PMS, too. As with most modern ailments, the first place to start is with food - removing problematic foods and adding medicinal foods. We are what we eat. Food significantly impacts our hormones, our ability to detox and overall well being.

Here are my top nutrition tips to combat PMS and balance your hormones.

Foods to eat more of

Cruciferous veggies: these are the broccoli family and includes broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, collards, and bok choy. These particular vegetables are rich in a sulphur compound that helps the body safely detox hormones. Have one of these foods daily.

Root veggies like carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes: these are rich in vitamin A which helps your body process hormones. They are also filling and can help satisfying sugar cravings and curb premenstrual mood swings. The fiber in root vegetables also improves digestion (especially helpful for bowel changes from PMS) and detoxification.

Ground flax seeds are rich in lignans which are polyphenols that are antioxidant and protect from excess estrogens. They also are also rich in omega-3 fats and both insoluble and soluble fiber which feeds beneficial bacteria and improves digestion/elimination.

Other seeds: pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower are rich in zinc and other minerals necessary for fending off PMS. Have at least 1 tbsp of either. If you’ve never tried it, sunflower seed butter is delicious

Healthy fats: Hormones are made from fat, eating too little fat, or the wrong kind can cause hormone imbalances. Additionally, every cell in your body is encased in a cell membrane that is made of lipids (fats). Eating healthy fats is essential to healthy cell communication. Eat healthy fats with every meal. Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, olives, and oils (coconut, avocado, olive).

Probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.), cultured hormone-free dairy or nut milk based yogurt and kefir, and kombucha. Probiotics support a healthy micro-biome which plays a role in detoxification and estrogen metabolism. Eat these daily.

Drink red raspberry leaf tea. Red raspberry leaf has long been used as a women’s tonic. It’s helpful in relieving PMS and painful cramps. Have a cup daily or at least during the second half (luteal phase) of your cycle which occurs after ovulation up until you start your period. I like this brand.

Eat your veggies! I’m sure you saw that one coming. I’ve said it before, but it never gets old. Eat at least 5 cups of produce per day (7 is even better) in a variety of colors. Vegetables give you vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also feed your probiotics - a healthy gut is essential for hormone harmony.

Foods to avoid

Foods that contain hormones: this includes conventionally raised meat and dairy products. Instead, buy organic and grass fed. Yes, organic and grass-fed are more expensive, but you do get what you pay for. If cost is an issue, then eat less! Substitute meat for other sources of protein like legumes, nuts, seeds, and eggs. It’s also important to be mindful of the quality of meat when you’re eating out. If it’s not grass fed or organic, choose a vegetarian option.

Added sugar and high fructose corn syrup: sugar highs and lows can affect your mood and elevated insulin, the blood sugar hormone is pro-inflammatory and stresses your liver. Optimal liver function is necessary for hormonal health.

Bad fats which include hydrogenated fats and industrially processed vegetable and seed oils (soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola). These over-processed fats cause inflammation, oxidative damage and consuming these fats in excess can cause an imbalance with healthy omega-3 fats.

Processed foods: because of all the above reasons, processed foods should be avoided.

Caffeine: if you experience breast tenderness or fibrocystic breasts, avoid caffeine - it can help tremendously.

Get your hormones tested

If you would like a more targeted and individualized approach, I recommend working with me, or your functional medicine practitioner, to get your hormones tested. When testing hormones, it’s crucial to measure estrogens, testosterone, progesterone, cortisol, DHEA, pregnenolone and cholesterol levels. When I check hormones, I also evaluate how well you are detoxing your hormones.

Peace, love & hormone harmony,


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