Food cravings and PMS

Food cravings are an addictive symptom of the premenstrual syndrome

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
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An introduction to cravings and PMS

You may be able to stick to a healthy and disciplined diet for most of the month and then in the few days running up to your menstrual period, you suddenly find yourself devouring that large box of chocolates, or craving the fatty package from your local fish and chip shop.

For women suffering PMS, food cravings rank amongst the most common and troublesome symptoms. Your appetite appears to have increased and you become anxious and stressed with these out-of-character feelings.

Why does PMS cause food cravings?

Your appetite is regulated by naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain, most notably dopamine, serotonin and cortisol. These are influenced by the levels of female sex hormones which fluctuate before each period, resulting in dramatic changes to your appetite.

Additionally, eating foods high in unrefined sugar causes your blood sugar levels to fluctuate further, leading to an increase in appetite and yet more cravings.

One of the most common cravings is chocolate, and there is a logical explanation for this. Read my article on eating chocolate for period pain for more information.

What can I do to help myself?

Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is vital in being able to control food cravings.

  • A little exercise each day, even a short but brisk 15 minute walk, will increase levels of serotonin and decrease the level of cortisol in the bloodstream. This will help return your brain chemistry to normal, in turn reducing changes in your appetite
  • If you find that you are getting extremely hungry, even faint or dizzy in between meals, eat regular small healthy snacks such as some nuts or fruit throughout the day to help maintain your blood sugar levels
  • Eat regular meals. As a busy person, you might be tempted to skip breakfast (the most important meal of the day) or lunch – but this habit will only make you more likely to reach out for quick fixes for your sugar levels.

For more information, follow the link for the PMS diet.

Are there herbal remedies to help me?

In addition to self-help and dietary measures, there are a number of herbal supplements you can try:

  • As PMS is the root of the problem, a good starting point is the herb Agnus castus. Also known as Chasteberry or Chaste Tree, the fruit (berries) from this Mediterranean plant have been used for many years to help treat a variety of PMS symptoms – both physical ones such as period pains and bloating and emotional symptoms such as feeling irritable and being more prone to mood swings and stress.
  • In addition, fermented milk whey rich in L+ lactic acid has been shown to have the ability to control blood sugar levels and hence, food cravings. Take this, diluted in water or fruit juice, once or twice daily
  • Supplementation with chromium has also been shown to be beneficial.

What about conventional medicines?

Your doctor is unlikely to recommend treatments specifically for cravings as they are not the root of your problem. If the symptoms are severe, your doctor may suggest appetite suppressants or fat absorption inhibitors.

However, it is more likely that your doctor will look for a means of stabilising your hormones as this in turn will reduce other PMS symptoms. The most likely will take the form of hormonal treatment such as some types of prescribed contraceptive medication.

My PMS Journal

Keep track of your symptoms with our PMS Diary to identify patterns & help discover ways to minimise them.

Agnus castus


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A traditional herbal remedy used to relieve the symptoms of PMS
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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Women's Health advisor, I recommend Agnus castus to help relieve symptoms such as menstrual cramps, breast tenderness and irritability.

Learn more

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