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Can Eating Carbs Help You Manage PMS Symptoms Worsened By COVID-19-Related Stress?

It should come as no surprise that the stress of the pandemic may be affecting Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms, which include changes in mood, sleep, appetite and energy. This is especially true as research suggests that PMS may be exacerbated by extraneous stress.

What Are The Most Common PMS Symptoms?

For those who experience it, the symptoms of PMS, which typically lasts between one and ten days may appear as early as in the teen years and continue until the onset of menopause. The severity of the symptoms vary by individual and can also vary from one month to the next.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, symptoms of PMS can include crying, irritability, anxiety, confusion, lack of focus and concentration, depression, disrupted sleep, food cravings, breast tenderness, bloating, and weight gain.  

Serotonin, Antidepressant Medications & PMS

While the neurotransmitter serotonin doesn’t appear to be related to many of the physical changes of PMS, such as bloating, it does appear to be responsible for many of the behavioral changes associated with PMS. Many women who experience a more severe version of PMS, referred to as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (“PMDD”), have used antidepressants like Sarafem (or Prozac), Celexa, Zoloft, and Paxil to increase serotonin activity in the brain. They are fast-acting medications that can be helpful when taken up to two weeks each month.  

Why You Crave Carbs During PMS & Times Of COVID-19 Stress

Yet most women turn to carbs, both sweet and starchy, when they experience premenstrual syndrome. Is it possible that they are eating these foods because they taste good or is it simply because consuming carbs can increase serotonin activity and help them feel better?  A study examining the effects of consuming carbohydrate or protein (the latter prevents serotonin synthesis) found significant benefits to mood, concentration, and cravings only after carbs were consumed.

What these findings suggest is that PMS symptoms, such as increased appetite and negative behaviors related to mood, could be lessened by eating carbs, especially for sufferers with mild to moderate symptoms. But is this approach effective when the typical PMS stress is exacerbated by COVID-19-related stress, such as isolation, boredom, anxiety, financial concerns, working from home with children, parenting through online learning, etc.?

What To Eat To Boost Serotonin To Help Lessen PMS Symptoms & COVID-19 Stress

On really difficult PMS days, we recommend that you enjoy a nutritious breakfast, which includes foods high in protein. For those foods that are high in calcium such as high-protein yogurt, we suggest incorporating nutrient-dense fruit such as berries, bananas or oranges.

By lunchtime, you could be experiencing an increase in PMS symptoms, so we recommend consuming complex carbs, such as sweet or white potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, lentils, beans, couscous, farro, pasta or oatmeal. The serotonin synthesis that follows eating these foods can help lessen the symptoms of COVID-19 stress and PMS.   

If the stress increases in the late afternoon, you may experience some pretty strong cravings for sweet carbohydrates. While it may not be ideal from a nutritional standpoint to give in to these cravings, you may be doing more damage to your mood by ignoring them. Simply accept what is happening for you and have the carbs your brain needs to reduce the stress you are experiencing.

What’s not to love about toaster waffles with maple syrup for dinner? No, this is not an ideal meal to eat nightly from a nutrition standpoint. However, it may make sense for a woman who is experiencing significant stress during PMS.  

We’d love to hear from you. Do you experience PMS? How are you holding up in this current climate? What are your favorite serotonin-boosting carbs during this time of month? 

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