By Joan S. Kent

Diet isn”™t the only reason your students may suffer from PMS symptoms. But it could be a big one. If the women in your classes approach you for help with PMS (or even complain about it), you”™re in a great position to offer good advice.

Premenstrual syndrome includes a long list of symptoms and signs: anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, nervousness, angry outbursts, fatigue, fluid retention, bloating, weight gain, backache, cramps, headaches, joint pain, breast pain, insomnia, acne, and cravings. Whew.

Factors that contribute to PMS include hormone or neurochemical shifts, diet deficiencies, stress, and lack of exercise. (That last one certainly won”™t apply to indoor cycling students.)

Two important brain chemicals associated with PMS are serotonin and beta-endorphin. Both chemicals drop pre-menstrually — with interesting effects.

The first, serotonin, promotes relaxation, calm and satiety, the feeling that we”™ve had enough food. It can reduce depression, stress, anxiety, and pain. During PMS, the drop in serotonin can lead to irritability, pain, depression, mood swings, impulsivity, increased appetite, and cravings, especially for carbs.

Second, beta-endorphin reduces pain and emotional distress, while it promotes wellbeing, euphoria, and brain “reward”. When beta-endorphin drops during PMS, we feel more pain and have “low” moods and cravings, especially for sugars and fats.

Serotonin and beta-endorphin are strongly influenced by diet and exercise. How does repeated sugar consumption affect this?

Women with PMS tend to have higher intakes of sugar, alcohol, white flour, salt, saturated fat, caffeine, and dairy products. From the other side, PMS is linked with low levels of B vitamins, protein, essential fatty acids, and fiber. These dietary habits tend to be either/or. One cancels out the other.

Let”™s focus on high sugar intake. Sugar increases the intensity of PMS symptoms. It increases breast tenderness, congestion and pain; abdominal bloating; and swelling of the face and extremities. Sugar increases magnesium excretion, which in turn results in irritability, anxiety, depression, low brain reward, and insomnia.

Sugar triggers high insulin secretion. Insulin affects hormones known as prostaglandins (as explained in a previous post), and increases the ones that cause pain and inflammation. Sugar increases appetite for junk food, cravings, and hypoglycemia in people who are susceptible. Alcohol does these things, too, and can decrease serotonin besides. Not a good mix of effects from either of these substances.

The best plan is for your students to get off sugar (and alcohol, which is essentially the same thing health-wise). Recommend that they eat protein throughout the day, preferably with each meal and/or snack. They can replace sugar and white flour with complex carbs — sweet potato, quinoa, turnips, lentils, pumpkin and other squash, and vegetables — and eat unsaturated fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds) with each meal.

Supplements can help your students feel better. Flaxseed oil and fish oil capsules are good to take every day. Magnesium improves mood. B-complex can help restore healthful hormone and neurochemical levels. Vitamin D3 is needed for uptake of magnesium, as well as for calcium.

Make sure they keep coming to your classes. Working out at least 3-4 times a week relieves many symptoms, and is as important as all of the other suggestions combined.

Many other nutrition and supplement suggestions exist for dealing with PMS — not to mention making it through menopause without discomfort. I”™ll be back to cover these topics in future posts. Meanwhile, if your students could use help in ending sugar addiction, they can contact me at

Joan Kent

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