Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a term used to describe a number of symptoms to collectively occur between ovulation and the onset of the menstrual cycle. There have been around 150 different symptoms associated with PMS, but hopefully no one gets them all at the same time! Some of the more common symptoms include:


  • Abdominal bloating
  • Breast swelling
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Increase in appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Acne
  • Joint pain and/or backache
  • Pelvic pain
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation before period, diarrhoea during)
  • Palpitations
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Altered libido
  • Nervous tension and mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Tearfulness
  • Confusion
  • Aggression
  • Lack of concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Insomnia or excess sleepiness

A large segment of the female population will experience at least one or 2 of these symptoms, and PMS symptoms have been shown to decrease occupational productivity, lower health-related quality of life, increased dependence on pharmaceutical drugs and healthcare, affect athletic and academic performance, interfere with interpersonal relationships and daily living activities. A subgroup of women with PMS, estimated to be around 3-8%, may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of the syndrome. More amplified symptoms include irritability, anger, internal tension, dysphoria and dark mood. These symptoms may have a profound effect on their lives and medical intervention may be required.

Diet and lifestyle factors can have a major effect on the occurrence of PMS. For example, have you ever found that your periods become more painful and heavy and the symptoms of PMS a bit more magnified after a particularly naughty holiday or at the other side of the festive period?


The following diet and lifestyle factors have been associated with an increased incidence and frequency of PMS symptoms:

  • Smoking. Research has shown that women experienced more symptoms and they were more severe if they were smokers.
  • Junk food. Some of us may crave junk food when we have PMS but a regular intake has been shown to increase the risk of experiencing PMS symptoms. This may be due to the inflammatory nature of junk food and the likelihood of high refined carbohydrate/trans fat/sugar/salt foods causing hormone dysfunction.
  • Alcohol. Associated with a moderate increase in the risk of PMS and the increase is more pronounced in heavy drinking. Alcohol increases the risk of PMS by altering levels of sex steroid hormones and feel-good neurotransmitters during the menstrual cycle.
  • Stress. Have you ever been through a very stressful time and noticed that your periods get a bit irregular or more painful or heavier? Stress can have a profound effect on our hormones and the occurrence of PMS via disruption in sex hormones and neurotransmission.


The following diet and lifestyle factors have been shown to reduce the incidence and frequency of PMS symptoms:

  • Fruit and vegetables. High in fibre, bioactive phytochemicals and antioxidants, and are shown to be protective against psychological, physical and overall PMS symptoms. Increased oxidative stress and reduced antioxidant capacity have been linked to PMS. Research has shown low rates of PMS in those who consume a predominantly plant-based diet and this may be attributable to the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agents provided by these plant foods.
  • Fibre. An adequate intake of complex, high fibre carbohydrates such as wholegrains has shown to be protective against PMS symptoms. This may be due to the high fibre diet nourishing beneficial gut bacteria that help to clear excess hormones from the body or balanced blood sugar and insulin helping to maintain hormone homeostasis.

When I work with my clients who are experiencing PMS symptoms, I note the symptoms they are experiencing and treat accordingly. I look for many of the factors listed above – do they smoke and/or drink, do they eat a high amount of junk food and how is their fruit and vegetable consumption? Could there be factors in their diet that could be spiking blood glucose and insulin which would have a knock-on effect on estrogen and progesterone? Are they experiencing a lot of stress or have they been through a particularly stressful time?

I also look at factors such as vitamins and minerals e.g. calcium, magnesium and vitamin D have been shown to improve symptoms of PMS.

The right diet and lifestyle changes for you can make PMS a thing of the past.

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