[custom_frame_center shadow=”on”]pms premenstrual syndrome[/custom_frame_center] If you’re a woman, you know all about premenstrual syndrome (PMS). If you’re a man, there’s every chance you do, too. The crazy mood changes and crippling cramps affect us all. We bring you the nitty-gritty about PMS and how best to cope with it.

From mood swings to the munchies: What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of psychological and mood swings that occur after a woman has ovulated and generally pass when her period starts. However, at least half of reproductive-age women experience painful cramps that begin shortly before the start of menstrual flow and continue for several days. The culprit is the hormone progesterone, which increases after ovulation (about halfway through the monthly cycle) to prepare the lining of the uterus for a fertilised egg. However, if no egg is implanted, levels of both progesterone and oestrogen drop about seven days before a period starts. Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins trigger the uterus to start contracting and expel its lining. Prostaglandins are linked with pain and inflammation. And that’s when the uncomfortable symptoms start.

The most common mood-related symptoms are irritability, depression, crying, oversensitivity and mood swings. The most common physical symptoms are bloating, fatigue, back and joint pain, tender breasts, acne, food cravings and headaches.

pms cravings

PMS is linked with cravings for cake, ice cream and even the vinegar from pickles!

Easing the pain

Many women resort to over-the-counter painkillers to neutralise PMS’s aches and pains, but these may have side effects and don’t treat the underlying reason for menstrual cramps occurring.

Diet makes a difference

Research shows that women who follow a healthy diet, cutting out sugary and salty foods, alcohol and caffeine seem to fare better than their less careful counterparts. Those women also know that some foods can actually help balance hormones, improve mood and diminish water retention:

Foods high in calcium and vitamin D

Researchers are not entirely sure why calcium and vitamin D should help ease PMS symptoms, but a long-term study of 3000 women showed clearly that those who consumed four servings of low-fat milk or yoghurt a day were 40 percent less likely to develop PMS symptoms than women who had just one serving a week.(1) (Women who drank full-fat milk and yoghurt showed a higher incidence of PMS symptoms.) What is clear is that PMS sufferers have higher levels of oestrogen and lower levels of calcium than women who are symptom-free.

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium and also decreases the production of prostaglandins. However, as high doses of this vitamin are dangerous, we advise that you consult your medical practitioner before taking it. The best way to optimise your vitamin D levels is via controlled exposure to the sun.

Beat blues and bloating with magnesium

Magnesium is a really important mineral. It gives you energy, supports your nervous system, builds healthy bones and teeth and relaxes muscles. It helps your body make better use of nutrients such as calcium, iron and zinc. It’s not clear how magnesium affects PMS, but the mineral is vital for the production of dopamine – the mood-boosting hormone. Magnesium also balances adrenal and kidney function, helping to get rid of bloating. You’ll find magnesium in wholegrain products, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach (learn to like these raw as about 30 percent of their magnesium content is lost during cooking) and shellfish. You can have too much magnesium though, so chat to your medical practitioner before taking supplements in case they are contraindicated.

B vitamins may help

In one study, researchers who followed more than 2000 women for 10 years found that the subjects who ate foods high in thiamine (vitamin B1), such as pork and Brazil nuts, and riboflavin (vitamin B2), in eggs and dairy products, were less likely to develop PMS. Taking supplements didn’t have the same effect.(2)

Complex carbs

Fibre-rich complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain breads and cereals can keep your blood sugar even, which may ease mood swings and food cravings. Enriched wholegrain products also have the PMS-fighting B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin.

The role of supplements

Flora Force has a range of herbal remedies designed especially to support the female hormonal system and to ease the discomfort of PMS and painful periods. Phyto-mone™ (to reduce pain and ease heavy bleeding), Dong Quai (which has phyto-oestrogenic properties and is especially helpful for women who suffer from both PMS symptoms and painful periods) Buchu (for pain and bloating) and Mexican Wild Yam (to relieve cramps and pain).

Other natural remedies include chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), which increases progesterone release, and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), which helps relieve various premenstrual and menstrual issues such as breast tenderness, mood swings and fluid retention.

Studies also suggest that supplements containing the following vitamins and minerals may reduce PMS symptoms: folic acid, vitamin E and vitamin B6.
Check with your medical practitioner before taking any supplements in case they are contraindicated.

Stress relief

PMS can cause tension, anxiety and irritability, so it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with stress. Different strategies work for different women. Try yoga, meditation, massage, listening to music or relaxing with friends. Sleeping well helps too.


It’s been drummed into us that exercise is good for our health. Well, it’s a fact. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day (every day, not just when PMS symptoms strike) will boost your mood, re-energise you and help with cramps. Take a brisk walk at lunchtime or walk the dog after work. You may not feel up to it, but you will definitely feel the benefits.

When the problem is severe

Some women suffer PMS symptoms so severe that their lives are disrupted. This condition, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), is usually experienced by women who have a history of depression, mood disorders or trauma. They may suffer panic attacks, crying spells, insomnia or even suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately, many of the same strategies that relieve PMS can be effective against PMDD.


Acknowledgements & Photo credits


  1. Bertone-Johnson ER, Hankinson SE, Bendich A, Johnson SR, Willett WC, Manson JE. Calcium and vitamin D intake and risk of incident premenstrual syndrome. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165:1246–52. (PMID:15956003)
  2. Chocano-Bedoya, PO, Manson, JE et al. Dietary B vitamin intake and incident premenstrual syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2011; 93(5):1080–86.

  1. Photo of girl with PMS courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  2. Photo of wmoen eating ice cream courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net