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Paleo’s Promising Effects on Menstrual Cramps, PMS, and PMDD

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
April 30, 2015
Paleo’s Promising Effects on Menstrual Cramps, PMS, and PMDD image

“I’m cranky when I have my period; I feel awful and I just want to stay home in bed.”

“I have such horrible cramps during my time of the month which puts me so on edge, I can’t stand to be around anyone. Every little thing drives me nuts!”

Do these sound familiar? No need to be sheepish, it’s more common than you think! In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85% of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom as part of their monthly cycle, and most of these women have fairly mild symptoms that don’t need treatment.

The 3 – 8%, however, have a more severe form of PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).1 A condition where serotonin may play a key role, its symptoms include2:

  • Feelings of sadness or despair, or even thoughts of suicide
  • Feelings of tension or anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings or frequent crying
  • Lasting irritability or anger that affects other people
  • Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
  • Trouble thinking or focusing
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Food cravings or binge eating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling out of control
  • Physical symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain

Individuals who exhibit five or more of these symptoms, in the week preceding menstruation are diagnosed with PMDD.

So what is the best way to address this potentially, albeit temporarily debilitating condition? According to the Office on Women’s Health Department of the US, the first means to handle the symptoms are to head straight to the meds both to treat pain as well as to regulate mood.3

They do acknowledge, however, some lifestyle changes that can help such as exercising, getting enough sleep, not smoking, and eating healthfully.4

Here we go. “Avoid salt, sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol.” Fair enough; makes total sense, right?

“Eat healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables… and whole grains” NO! Why does it always have to go back to eating whole grains? If you’re reading this post, it’s highly likely you’re already well-versed as to why and how grains are toxic to the body. But, can grains play a role in triggering or worsening symptoms? Absolutely.

One of the key features of a true Paleo diet is its low glycemic, anti-inflammatory approach to eating. When followed properly, your blood sugar is kept under control for optimal levels.

Susan M. Lark, MD, a clinician in Los Altos, CA, points out in her new book Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book: A Woman's Guide to Feeling Good All Month ,5 that research has linked PMS to a state of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, in the second half of the menstrual cycle and that women in these studies experienced a significant drop in blood sugar after eating, accompanied by edginess and irritability.

And what’s a great way to prevent hypoglycemia? How about consuming a diet ample in the amount and range of fats, wild proteins and an abundance of fresh, in season veggies?

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine6 suggests that the best way to control hypoglycemia is through a diet similar to that used to control diabetes mellitus and includes a reduction in simple sugars and a large intake of complex carbohydrates. Ring a bell?

If we couple these recommendations with the countless benefits of a Paleo diet, say goodbye to feeling grumpy, taking Motrin and simply not being yourself each and every month! Let your Paleo lifestyle be simply one more reason to stay on track.


[1] Songhai Barclift, M.D., Lieutenant Commander, HIV/AIDS Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

[2] American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
409 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20024-2188

[3] Office on Women’s Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

[4] Office on Women's Health. "Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Fact Sheet." Women's Health. US Department of Health and Human Services, 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

[5] Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book: A Woman's Guide to Feeling Good All Month by Susan M. Lark, MD

[6] The Physicians Committee. "Hypoglycemia and Diet." Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

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