Certain foods can exacerbate risk for PMS

FARGO -There may be a reason women say they crave chocolate around "that time of the month." Dietary iron may reduce the risk for premenstrual syndrome, according to a 10-year study of more than 3,000 women published online in The American Journa...

Battling PMS cravings
Junk foods and caffeine are tempting for women battling PMS, but healthy foods are better choices to help reduce symptoms. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

FARGO -There may be a reason women say they crave chocolate around "that time of the month."

Dietary iron may reduce the risk for premenstrual syndrome, according to a 10-year study of more than 3,000 women published online in The American Journal of Epidemiology.

And dark chocolate and cocoa powder are among the top 10 foods for iron content, according to, a nutrition website created by health analyst Paul House (though it does fall behind foods like dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans, nuts, and mollusks. And that's dark chocolate, not milk chocolate or other chocolates made with lots of sugar).

Studies show our diets affect more than our waistlines. Diet also affects how we feel, and that can be especially important when menstruation throws our bodies and emotions out of whack.

PMS and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a severe form of PMS) affect up to 20 percent of reproductive-age women, according the website of Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences and one of the authors of the study of minerals and PMS risk.


The most common symptoms are irritability, mood swings, anxiety, depression, breast tenderness, bloating and headaches.

Lots of research, still many unknowns

Dr. Stephen Linn, an OB/GYN at Essentia Health in Fargo, said PMS is one of those elusive topics where there's plenty of research but there are still more unknowns than knowns.

Basically, if people just take better care of themselves through diet and exercise almost every problem, including PMS would be better, he said.

Women should especially cut back on caffeine, salt, sugar, and alcohol, he said.

"It's kind of a paradox," Linn said. "On the one side of the coin we say to avoid all these things but for a lot of women that time of the month is when they crave all those things."

Reducing stress also helps, he said.

"Stress is the big wild card," he said. "Stress is the number one aggravator."


The PMS and minerals study also shows that potassium may increase PMS, Bertone-Johnson said.

Women consuming the highest potassium had a 46 percent increased risk of PMS than those consuming the lowest amounts, she said.

Foods with high potassium content include white beans, baked potatoes with skin, avocados and bananas, according to

Bertone-Johnson has also participated in studies that show dietary intake of 400 IU/day of vitamin D and 1200 mg/day of calcium from food sources reduces the risk of PMS by 30 to 40 percent.

Linda Bartholomay, manager of diabetes education and nutrition for Sanford Health, said omega 3 can also be beneficial.

"When you think about what happens to women with PMS, you think about the breast tenderness and the bloating, things that make us swollen and inflamed. Omega 3 fats can prevent that inflammatory response from being so big," she said

Mayling Kajiya is a New York strength and conditioning specialist who developed a natural PMS-relief supplement for women called Girl Uninterrupted. She said when women are about to menstruate, their progesterone and estrogen levels drop, affecting serotonin, a chemical manufactured in the brain that makes us feel good.

"If you tend to eat a lot of hormone-laced foods like chicken or even a lot of sugar you're going to throw your body's hormones off balance. When you throw your hormones off balance and then PMS comes along, which is already a hormone unbalancing event, your whole body goes haywire," Kajiya said. "If you don't have your food well planned out and make good choices, you're going to have much worse PMS."


But she cautions against taking too many supplements. Taking too much iron, for example, can be bad for your blood, she said.

Patients should with their doctor before taking herbal supplements.

Kajiya recommends eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, staying away from caffeine, and exercising, which increases serotonin and dopamine levels, she said.

The PMS supplement Kajiya created has amino acids that increase serotonin levels, she said. Girl Uninterrupted is meant to be taken one supplement a day five days before menstruation or, as Kajiya said, "whenever you feel crazy." It sells for about a dollar a supplement and is available on her website,

Cindy Kloeckner, director of nutrition programming and co-owner of Total Balance fitness center in Fargo, encourages her clients to eat whole foods and avoid anything prepackaged.

"Our bodies work best with what they were designed to eat in the first place," she said.

She's heard from clients who've been amazed at how their PMS has changed after they changed their diets, Kloeckner said. Their moods used to be all over the place and their eating was out of control, but after moving to a whole-foods diet, their PMS disappeared, she said.

"It is essential for us to understand that we can enormously impact what happens hormonally," she said. "Our bodies are building things all the time. You have to have the right materials coming in."


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

5 examples of food to eat before and during menstruation


Beans (except white beans)



Whole grains

*Also drink plenty of water


5 examples of food to avoid before

and during menstruation

Soda and other sugary drinks


Chips and other processed "junk" foods

Coffee and other forms of caffeine

High potassium foods like white beans, baked potatoes with skin, avocados, and bananas

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