New research published on Tuesday in the American Journal of Epidemiology from the Nurses Health Study II at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found a correlation between diet and PMS. The Nurses Health Study II is a lengthy, wide-scale study which examines diet and lifestyle on health.
The researchers examined the mineral intake of 3025 women ages 25 to 42. Those women found to be eating a diet with the highest levels of iron from vegetarian sources (called nonheme iron) had the lowest levels of PMS at the end of the study term. The researchers also found that higher levels of zinc may also play a role in PMS prevention.
Researchers estimate that PMS affects 8-15 percent of women during their reproductive years, causing breast tenderness, depression, anxiety, abdominal bloating, appetite changes and other symptoms that can interfere with daily life.
Traditional thought among most dietitians and nutritionists has been that heme iron (from hemoglobin sources) from meat and poultry is a superior source of iron, yet this study found no reduction in PMS with red meat or poultry intake.
Some nonheme sources of iron include: legumes (lentils, kidney beans, black beans, etc.), grains, most nuts and seeds, and green vegetables like green beans, peas, and spinach.
The researchers speculate that iron may help reduce PMS symptoms because it is involved in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood.
The study found that the risk of developing PMS was lowest among women who consume more than 20 milligrams of iron daily, an amount that may require concerted effort to obtain from diet alone.
Because iron and zinc can be toxic in high doses, it is important to have your levels tested periodically if you’re supplementing with these minerals.
While low dietary iron and zinc are factors in the development of PMS, they are not the only ones. Vitamin B6 and essential fatty acids are often beneficial to reduce symptoms of PMS; however it may take a month or two of increasing the amounts of these nutrients to observe changes in PMS symptoms. Chasteberry (also known as Vitex) and the Chinese herb Dong Quai have also been found to be helpful for PMS.