As researchers get closer to pinpointing the biological factors of premenstrual syndrome, the race is on to tame it.
Health experts have trotted out a variety of pills and powdered potions, even Prozac, as potential remedies for irritability, anxiety and headaches. But some women are finding relief with a much simpler prescription: food.
Cravings, especially for sweets, are a well-known component of PMS. But women can handle their cravings in a way that reduces symptoms, said Joanne Mentzel, a registered pharmacist with the Women's Health America group in Madison, Wis. The group of pharmacists specializes in women's health issues, especially PMS and menopause.
Bingeing is not the answer. Some women try to hold out against a craving but eventually yield to it with a flurry of eating. An onslaught of sweets then sets up blood-sugar swings, worsening the symptoms of hormonal changes. Even foods considered healthful, such as fruit and juices, can have too much sugar.
"They may think they're eating well, but they're really putting themselves back on the roller coaster," Mentzel said.
Other women stand so firm against cravings that they end up not eating enough. "You need to snack in order to maintain your blood-sugar level," Mentzel said.
The solution is to space out food during the day, avoiding the highs and lows, she said. PMS sufferers should try eating three smaller meals supplemented with three snacks scheduled at midmorning, midafternoon and evening.
Done carefully, eating more won't increase weight gain, Mentzel said. In fact, this program can help avoid overeating.
"By eating the small amounts during the day, you're not going to get those cravings where you feel you have to gorge yourself," Mentzel said.
The important concern for the between-meal snacks is to cut the sugar - including naturally occurring sugar - and to concentrate on protein and complex carbohydrates.
For women with troubling premenstrual symptoms, the time to pay close attention to diet falls between ovulation and menstruation. No question it's a serious commitment, Mentzel said.
"It's half a woman's life, basically," said Mentzel.
A hotline for help
The Women's Health America group in Madison, Wis., has a national hot linefor questions about PMS, menopause and other women's health issues: 800-858-3980. Its Web site is: www.womenshealth.com.
Suggestions for eating out:
Women who eat at restaurants a lot or who regularly attend parties and work functions can still stick to the program to control PMS cravings, says Joanne Mentzel, a registered pharmacist with Women's Health America.
* Don't hold back on food to prepare for a big meal out. Instead, keep up your snack/meal regimen and have a snack of protein and complex carbohydrate before you go.
* Mindful of your goals about sugary and rich foods, ask the restaurant to prepare your meal the way you want, such as using less sugar or butter and oils.
You can ease PMS symptoms by controlling when and what you eat, Women's Health America says. One key is eating snacks, but they should be low-sugar and high in protein and complex carbohydrates. If sweets or fruit are a must, they should be eaten with the meal instead of as a snack.
Low-sugar peanut butter on wheat crackers
Vegetables like carrots and broccoli
Dark leafy vegetables
Shaved turkey breast
Low-fat mozzarella cheese
Soy products, such as tofu
Whole grains and cereal
Decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea. Avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine
Sweet vegetables like corn and beets
Foods containing tyramine, an amino acid that can trigger headaches by a series of reactions that constrict, then expand, blood vessels: That includes luncheon meats; aged cheese; very ripe citrus fruits; leftover hamburger and shrimp (research shows that some foods that would otherwise be tyramine-free, such as hamburger or shrimp, contain tyramine when left in the refrigerator.
From wire services
Pub Date: 5/24/98