Exercise, diet & periods
Diet and exercise bring a range of health benefits as well as improving your experience of having periods.
Studies have found that women who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer menstrual pain, cramps and mood disturbance. We are not certain why exercise is helpful for PMS but studies demonstrate that exercise can release ‘happy’ hormones such as serotonin and endorphins, which may explain the benefit.
A growing body of evidence suggests diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, calcium and vitamin D, and low in animal fats, salt and caffeine may reduce the risk of troublesome PMS symptoms. Avoiding salt can help reduce fluid retention, abdominal bloating, breast swelling and pain. High caffeine intake can cause irritability, poor sleep and menstrual cramps.
A healthy diet is high in vegetables (five serves daily), fruit (two serves per day), nuts, seeds, fish (up to three servings per week) and other sources of omega-3 foods such as flax or chia seeds, low-fat dairy food, proteins such as legumes and eggs, and a variety of wholegrains such as rice (brown, basmati, doongara), traditional rolled oats, buckwheat flour, wholegrain breads (rye, essene, spelt, kamut), wholemeal pasta, couscous, millet or amaranth.
Lean meat (red meat or chicken) is an important source of iron and protein, especially for women with heavy periods. Avoid saturated fats such as butter, cream, bacon and potato chips; limit salt and caffeine. Drink more water and herbal teas such as chamomile.
Increase your intake of calcium-rich foods such as nuts, low-fat dairy products, fish with bones such as salmon and sardines, tofu, broccoli and bok choy.
Many women take supplements such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids to help with symptoms of PMS; however, not all supplements have been shown to help. Below is a list of supplements for which studies have demonstrated some scientific evidence for benefits, although with all of them, more research is required. Check with your doctor to ensure there are no risks with you trying these supplements. Some supplements may interact with medication.
Vitamins B6 and B1
- May help with PMS.
- Reduces pain, cramps and mood disturbance.
- Do not exceed 50 mg of vitamin B6 daily or 100 mg vitamin B1.
- Best if combined as a multi-B vitamin, not as single nutrients.
- Avoid high doses of vitamin B6 (more than 50 mg per day) and prolonged use, as this can cause nerve toxicity such as tingling, burning and shooting pains.
Vitamin E (natural alpha-tocopherol)
- May help reduce pain and menstrual blood flow.
- Dose: 200 IU vitamin E daily; commence two days prior to periods and continue for three days from onset of periods.
- May cause gut upset.
- Avoid high doses over 400 IU daily.
- May help regulate your cycle, relieve muscle pains, improve moods.
- Dose: 1000 IU daily or more; check with your doctor, who will advise a suitable dosage for your needs.
- Vitamin D toxicity is rare and may occur when taking very high doses of vitamin D. This results in raised blood calcium levels leading to feelings of malaise, loss of appetite, feeling thirsty, constipation or diarrhoea, abdominal pain and muscle weakness, fatigue, confusion.
- Relieves menstrual cramps.
- Improves premenstrual mood changes, especially irritability and anxiety.
- May help with muscle relaxation, muscle cramps and sleep.
- Dose: 300 mg one or two times daily (best taken at night with calcium).
- May cause diarrhoea and loose stools; reduce dosage if this occurs.
- May cause palpitations.
- Avoid if you have renal problems.
- May lower blood pressure and cause heart arrhythmia, drowsiness and weakness in high doses.
- May help with PMS.
- Reduces menstrual cramps, fluid retention, mood disorders and food cravings.
- Dose: 1200 mg daily.
- May cause constipation and flatulence.
- Avoid if you have renal disease or suffer high blood calcium levels.
- May interact with blood pressure and heart tablets.
- May help relieve menstrual pain, cramping, depression.
- May aid immune system.
- Dose: 30 mg one to three times daily.
- May cause nausea, gastrointestinal upset, metallic taste in mouth.
- Avoid long-term use.
- May relieve menstrual pain, cramping, depression.
- Dose: 1 g taken one, two or three times daily.
- May cause nausea and gastrointestinal upset.
- In high doses, may ‘thin’ period blood (this may be useful if you suffer dark, thick menses).
- Avoid if allergic to seafood.
- See also Adolescent Girls for tips on staying well during your adolescent years
- See also The Middle Years for tips on staying well during your middle years
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