Eating more dairy could dramatically relieve PMS symptoms. That's if new research, featured on a recent episode of 'The Truth About Food' (SABC2, Fridays at 21:00), can be believed.
The results of a study conducted by the BBC indicate that drinking low-fat milk and eating low-fat yoghurt and cheese – all dairy products rich in calcium and vitamin D – helps some women to reduce their symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) by 80% or more.
Up to 80% of women in their childbearing years suffer from PMS, the symptoms of which can vary from slight irritability to depression, to reactions that are practically psychotic. Physical symptoms range from swollen breasts, headaches/migraines, fatigue, cramps and insomnia to a total breakdown of function – so much so that, in some cases, relationships and careers can be in danger.
Although a variety of nutrients (such as vitamin B6 and the omega fatty acids in evening primrose oil) have been shown to alleviate PMS symptoms, the idea that calcium and vitamin D may also help is relatively new.
An early study reported in 1998 by Thys-Jacobs et al (Krause, 2000) found that women who took 1200 mg of calcium a day for three months had significant reductions in PMS symptoms. Thys-Jacobs suggested that PMS could actually be a calcium deficiency or a malfunctioning in calcium metabolism.
In 2005, Bertone-Johnson and co-workers from the University of Massachusetts in the USA studied the calcium and vitamin D intakes of a very large group of women who had previously participated in the so-called 'Nurses Health Study'.
The researchers examined the calcium and vitamin D intakes of women aged 27 to 44 who developed PMS over a 10-year period (1 057 women) and of the controls who didn't develop PMS (1 968 women).
Bertone-Johnson and her team found that women who ate the most calcium (about 1200mg per day) were 30% less likely to develop PMS than women who only ate 530mg of calcium a day. Similar results were obtained for vitamin D intake, i.e. women who ate plenty of vitamin D (400 IU per day) had the lowest incidence of PMS.
The researchers concluded that "a high intake of calcium and vitamin D may reduce the risk of PMS." They also pointed out that calcium and vitamin D potentially reduce the risk of osteoporosis and certain cancers, so that even young women should be encouraged to increase their intakes of calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods.
The BBC study
The BBS researchers also tested women with PMS who ate what they called "The Double-D Diet" (Dairy and vitamin D). This diet contained up to four servings of low-fat dairy products a day and the participants were instructed to follow it for a period of 3 months. The women in the control group were given dummy or placebo pills for 3 months. The participants recorded their PMS symptoms and noted how severe these symptoms were.
At the end of 3 months, the group receiving active treatment in the form of plenty of low-fat dairy foods reported a dramatic reduction in PMS symptoms. Some of the women achieved PMS symptom reduction of up to 100%. On average, the symptoms improved by 30% (a similar finding to the results obtained by Bertone-Johnson and her team at the University of Massachusetts).
The control group in the BBC study did not experience a dramatic reduction in PMS symptoms.
Boosting your calcium intake
It's ironic that the majority of women, especially teenagers and young women, tend to avoid milk and dairy products because they view these foods as fattening.
Where this strange idea came from I don't know. Even full-cream milk only contains 3.3g of fat and 257kJ per 100ml (119mg of calcium/100ml). Low-fat or 2% milk contains 1.9g of fat and 208kJ per 100ml, plus 130mg of calcium. And, best of all, fat-free or skimmed milk contains 0.3mg of fat and 146kJ per 100ml and 123mg of calcium.
The same applies to yoghurt, with the fat-free version containing only a trace of fat and less energy than the full-cream version.
By selecting low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products you can ensure that you're getting all the calcium you require, without the fat or a high kilojoule content.
All dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese and other cheeses) are rich sources of calcium. Select the low-fat or fat-free versions if you're concerned about weight gain.
Vitamin D not a problem for SA women
South Africans are lucky in the sense that we get more than enough sun exposure, which helps our bodies to produce vitamin D.
Just remember that if you go out in the sun, you should always protect yourself with a broad-rimmed hat and sunblock (SPF 30+) that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, January 2008)
(www.bbc.co.uk/sn/humanbody/truthaboutfood/sexy/pms.shtml.; Krause's Food, Nutrition & Diet Therapy, 10th Ed. 2000. Eds. L K Mahan & S Escott-Stump. WB Saunders Co, Philadelphia; Bertone-Johnson, ER et al (2005). Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol 165(11):1246-52)
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