Dear Joyous Reader,
Especially the ladies who are experiencing the dreaded PMS, I have joyous news for you! Over the next few weeks I'm going to share natural solutions for your most common PMS symptoms:
- Food cravings
- Digestive problems, specifically constipation
- Mood Swings: Irritability, anxiety, depression aka feeling "unjoyous"
- Weight gain and water retention
Today's post is all about food cravings which affect approximately 33% of all PMS sufferers according to Natural Guide to Women's Health. This means a lot of you feel like a raving cookie monster 7 to 14 days prior to your period. Unfortunately, there is no one single cause of PMS, understanding your own unique imbalances is the key to addressing your symptoms. In this post I will review the causes, key nutrients, foods to eat (plus joyous recipes), foods to avoid and lifestyle factors.
The Estrogen and Serotonin PMS Connection
Although it is no entirely understood, the fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle may play a role in decreased levels of serotonin. Studies have been unable to confirm the exact role estrogen plays in levels of serotonin but it is believed that the two work in direct concert with each other.
Serotonin is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that is responsible for keeping appetite in check and helping you feel calm and peaceful.
This means when one rises/falls the other one follows. As part of their dependent relationship, estrogen increases the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin as well as improves the efficiency of serotonin receptors, making serotonin more readily available to your body. In turn, serotonin allows for adequate levels of estrogen to be produced by the ovaries.
If estrogen (as well as other important hormones) are in balance then the relationship between hormones and neurotransmitters can live happily ever after and reduce your PMS symptoms. Although, this isn't a catch all cure for everyone and further studies must be concluded to support these claims, but balancing estrogen levels is a good place to start.
Causes for food cravings during PMS:
- Low serotonin: Serotonin is nature’s mood regulator and natural appetite suppressant. When serotonin levels drop during PMS this causes cravings and emotional instability. Stress, more specifically the hormone cortisol causes serotonin levels to drop as well. Keeping serotonin levels adequate is key to keeping cravings in check. Furthermore, tryptophan is an amino acid and the precursor to serotonin. In order for this amino acid to cross the blood brain barrier and convert to serotonin, glucose is required. This creates intense sugar cravings in order to replace low serotonin levels experienced during PMS.
- Imbalance in the body’s regulation of insulin (hormone that regulates sugar) and cortisol (stress hormone).
- Low omega 3 fatty acids: Deficiency in PGE1 (beneficial prostaglandin) can cause low blood sugar with sweet and food cravings.
- Stress: The sudden increase and then dropping down of estrogen levels in the body during PMS triggers the release of cortisol. When there is an increased cortisol level in the blood, the appetite is stimulated and cravings ensue.
- Estrogen/progesterone ratio: When this ratio increases there is a significant decline in endorphin levels. When endorphin levels are low this can affect your mood and make you crave carbs for a boost.
Nutrients to help relieve food cravings:
Supplements are supplemental to good nutrition!
- Chromium helps insulin do a better job by aiding in the uptake of glucose into cells. Without it, insulin is less effective and glucose cannot enter cells and sugar cravings ensue because of the body’s perceived lack of sugar.
- Food sources: Romaine lettuce, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, corn, sweet potato, apple, eggs.
- Magnesium is involved with the regulation of glucose, insulin and the neurotransmitter dopamine. If you don't have enough magnesium in your diet, you may experience cravings for chocolate and sugar to replace low levels of dopamine “the pleasure neurotransmitter".
- Food Sources: legumes, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, molasses, pumpkin seeds, coriander, dill, raw cacao and cumin.
- Important for carbohydrate and protein metabolism, aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Vitamin B6 has the ability to increase the synthesis of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
- Essential for liver detoxification of estrogen.
- Food sources: whole grains, beans, nutritional yeast, molasses, spinach, crimini mushrooms, asparagus and kale.
- Required for balancing blood sugar levels by increasing insulin response, carbohydrate metabolism and improving glucose tolerance.
- Food Sources: oysters, crimini mushrooms, spinach, summer squash, asparagus, collard green and pumpkin seeds.
IMPORTANT: Talk to your natural healthcare practitioner about dosage recommendations.
Foods to eat plus recipes:
Eat protein at breakfast to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings, plus provide essential amino acids to build neurotransmitters.
Recipes: Banana Protein Bake or Overnight Strawberry Chia Pudding, page 157 in my book
Fiber-rich foods are particularly important in maintenance or restoration of healthy estrogen levels as fiber aids in the elimination through bowel movements of excess estrogens.
Recipes: Apple Beet Carrot Quinoa Slaw or Apricot Oat Granola Muffins, page 139 in my book.
Eat complex carbohydrates to help stabilize blood sugars, increase fiber and boost serotonin production.
Recipes: Raw Recipe: Apple Avocado Collard Wraps or Arugula Pesto on gluten-free Pasta, page 245 in my book.
Eat tryptophan rich foods such as turkey, chicken, potatoes, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, turnips, collard greens and seaweed. Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP which is then converted to into serotonin.
Recipes: Roasted pumpkin soup with cumin and nutmeg or Turkey Burgers with Walker's Spicy Brussels Sprouts, page 233 in my book.
- Ditch the coffee. Caffeine causes a further imbalance in the regulation of cortisol and blood sugar, inhibiting the liver’s ability to manage serotonin, estrogen and progesterone.
- Good riddance booze! Alcohol consumption in PMS phase aggravates symptoms by interfering with the liver’s detoxification ability (results in the inability to remove excess hormones) and by causing imbalances in blood sugar levels. This increases cravings for sweets and promotes fatigue and headaches. Alcohol inhibits gluconeogenesis (the formation of glucose from fatty acids and proteins rather than from carbohydrates), promoting reduction of blood sugar.
- Be cautious of red meat* and dairy. Animal fats found in meat and dairy products increase production of harmful inflammatory prostaglandins (PGE2 & PGF2) that aggravate PMS symptoms. *If you do eat red meat, choose organic and grass-fed as it will have a higher ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 making it less inflammatory.
- Avoid baked goods (unless made by you without refined-sugars). Sugars and refined carbohydrates because they result in a quick spike in blood sugar levels followed by a dramatic drop, creating increased cravings and thus a vicious cycle.
- This one's a no-brainer: Refined foods offer little to no fiber which slows down elimination and can make you constipated, elevating levels of estrogen.
- Move that sexy booty! Mood affecting neurochemicals, serotonin & dopamine, are depleted during PMS. You can restore them either through nutrients from food or by getting adequate exercise & participating in activities that make you feel good. Getting 30-60 minutes of exercise each day is the healthiest way to keep these mood regulating chemicals in check and avoid the cravings.
- Get a daily dose of Vitamin G. This stands for "greenspace" which is known to prevent anxiety and depression both of which can make you crave more sugars.
- Keep junk food out of your house! As the old saying goes...
Gather healthy recipes that you can whip up to curb your cravings when they strike. My book has a perfectly balanced 10-day meal plan to get you on track. In addition, the 10-day detox has plenty of ideas and recipes that will help facilitate detoxification.
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Additional info and sources:
- The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health- Dr. Sat Dharam Kaur, ND, Dr. Mary Danylak-Arhanic, MD & Dr. Carolyn Dean, ND, MD page 241. 2005
- Premenstrual syndrome | University of Maryland Medical Center
- University of Maryland Medical Center
- Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Michael T. Murray N.D.
Special thanks to my intern Heather