PMS – Pass My Shotgun!

by Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

May 30, 2016


  • Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is characterized by increased mood irritability in women
  • PMS food cravings and mood swings are due to hormonal imbalance
  • All women experience PMS
  • Mood elevation can only be achieved through a fit & healthy lifestyle


  • Let’s break it down… Documented PMS signs and symptoms include food cravings, bloating, fatigue, sleep disturbances, mood swings and anxiety, breast tenderness, abdominal cramps and disturbances. The intensity varies from woman to woman
  • Numerous physicians, clinical dieticians and nutritionists do in fact attribute this stray from norm to various hormonal changes in the body. Yet there aren’t any credible, controlled studies to provide evidence for the argument. Nevertheless, the primary culprits cited include Oestrogen, Progesterone, Cortisol and the feel-good neurotransmitter Serotonin to logically rationale the spectrum of symptoms & signs experienced by many women
  • Not really… I definitely don’t experience the full spectrum of the syndrome nor is mine anywhere higher than 1-2 out of 10 on the intensity scale. If PMS is in fact due to hormonal changes then it wouldn’t be wrong to state that those on contraception would not experience ‘PMS’. But this in fact is not the case for both women on contraception AND those whove undergone menopause
  • Lesser known is another secret ingredient – sunshine! Sun exposure assists in the manufacture of Vitamin D in our bodies, which in itself is a mood enhancer. 


  • The pro of PMS that each and every symptom can be combatted and put away for good. Bet you, dear reader, can predict how but even so – by eating wholesome foods and through exercise. Rather than crashing after eating processed, sugar foods, opt for fiber-rich, complex carbohydrates and fats like sweet potato, oats, nuts, salmon and fruits. It’s also important that at meal times to incorporate a good chunk of lean protein into your diet either through eggs or chicken, turkey and white fish. Working in conjunction, these foods will stabilize and elevate mood and keep you satiated for longer periods. Also, be sure to drink 8-10 glasses of water daily because this is key in decreasing water retention and bloating. Exercise is the secret ingredient to combat PMS lethargy. I know it’s difficult to push past the cramps and the tiredness but armed with a balanced, healthy diet and adequate sleep, exercise will work wonders in warding off PMS. It’s also wise to cut down on the caffeine and alcohol intake; they do your irritability and sleep cycle no favors and are detrimental in the face of PMS.


  • PMS is a reality and for some of us it can be an extremely trying time in the month. The yo-yoing of emotions and ‘period pain’ push many women to giving into cravings. The severity varies from woman to woman but at some point we’ve all rummaged into our kitchen cabinets for a sugar high or a savory indulgence. This is promptly followed by a wave of guilt made only worse when it exacerbates the pre-existing bloating. It’s a vicious cycle, which becomes quite the uphill task to break out off. Cue weight gain and body image issues … 

My Take

When it comes to the male gender and their smirking response to PMS, my reply is often haughty and laded with irritation, “No uterus, NO opinion!”


That being said, I must admit to having little or no patience for women who use this time of the month as an excuse to laze out of the daily routine and its challenges. My patients and clients alike have always been met with a stern, cold glare if they’ve ever tried. I adopt quite a solider-like attitude and indeed wage a crusade against Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS). But I realize I have gotten off quite lightly – I neither suffer from mind-numbing cramps that trigger ‘Psychotic Mood Swings’ nor do I develop a voracious appetite for sinfully calorific eats and go on a ‘Perpetual Munching Spree’.


 I am of the thinking that ‘cravings’ were born from an aggressive form of marketing by food manufacturers. We’re conditioned to think that we require certain foods to make it through mood disruptions. For instance, a break-up has become synonymous to a woman drowning herself in pints of ice-cream and a woman PMS-ing is depicted as sporting baggy clothing, in front of a television, digging into candied treats and a giant bag of nacho chips.


Chocolate craving in particular seems to be a learned behavior. The high-fat, high-calorie combination fulfills a hedonistic desire that has been essential for survival through food scarcity. One, which triggers a release in dopamine, the main reward chemical in the brain and increases blood Serotonin levels. On the flip side, there is weight in the hormone-fluctuating-cause of PMS …


Oestrogen and Progesterone levels fluctuate during a woman’s menstrual cycle. In particular when Oestrogen levels oscillate Cortisol, another hormone produced by the Adrenal glands does too. “If blood Cortisol levels are high, the body’s fight and flight response is initiated and the metabolic demands increase i.e. need for fuel” says Pamela Peeke (MD MPH), Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (Baltimore). This would point to why we reach for carbohydrate-laded, fatty foods like bagels with cream cheese and croissants and potato chips.


But it doesn’t end there! With the Cortisol spike, often comes a Serotonin dip. Less of the ‘happy substance’ paves the way for a vast majority of women to drown their sorrows in criminal quantities of sugar through consumption of processed foods like candy bars and sweet treats. Simple sugars are metabolized quickly and they offer that quick happy fix one seeks. Sixty minutes later, once the sugar has been cleared from the bloodstream, you’re desperately craving some more and thus begins a roller coaster of irritability, anxiety, and more sugar cravings. What is actually required to stabilize the Serotonin levels is an amino acid called Tryptophan and this is found in animal and soy protein.


Personally, I have found myself more inclined to stuffing-my-face with spicy, savory foods. A few PubMed research articles have suggested that this aspect could point towards a nutritional deficiency (more evidence is necessary for a clear link). The type of salt one chooses is crucial so opt for sea salt and water rich vegetables, as these are high in the full spectrum of minerals one’s bodies require. Some women find themselves craving meat, perhaps in the form of a hearty, juicy steak; Iron deficiency! By all means help yourselves ladies, but opt for a grass-fed and leaner cut of the animal. For vegetarians consume foods like spinach and broccoli and even liquid Chlorophyll from plants. This is because Chlorophyll is chemically identical to that of Heamoglobin save for one molecule – instead of Iron it contains Magnesium which itself is phenomenal in alleviating PMS symptoms.


In fact, Magnesium is cited as THE reason a whopping 70+ percent of women reach out for chocolate to soothe their PMS-ing souls.  Cocoa beans are rich in Magnesium and antioxidants and good quality dark chocolate, 75% or greater cocoa content can be instrumental in decreasing symptom severity. Steer clear of milk chocolate as it has little or no Magnesium and therefore not much benefit. Additionally, eating chocolate releases pleasurable endorphins from the brain and give us that sugar fix we year for, further elevating mood.  


So, are menstrual cravings real? Yes, of course, because they happen and are a reality for many of us. They’re not, however, real in the sense that they’re this unavoidable thing that you can’t escape succumbing to just because you’re a woman. There are two components to emotional eating – the feelings triggering the craving, and the food actually being craved. You have to address the feeling triggering the craving – are you sad? Are you bored? Lonely? Stressed? Frustrated?  Understand that none of those feelings can be truly assuaged by food. The only feeling that can be managed properly by food is “hunger,” and even then by now you should know better on which foods to self-medicate with, not forgetting a huge side of exercise ;-)

Dr. Daamini Shrivastav


Dr. Daamini Shrivastav

Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.
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