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Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

and Chocolate

| Premenstrual Syndrome | PMS and Chocolate | Cures for Chocolate Craving |
| Go ahead and eat some chocolate | Controlling PMS Symptoms |

Premenstrual Syndrome
Excerpts from

Premenstrual Syndrome: PMS is a disorder characterized by a set of hormonal changes that trigger disruptive symptoms in a significant number of women for up to two weeks prior to menstruation. Often symptoms tend to taper off with menstruation and women remain symptom-free until the two weeks or so prior to the next menstrual period. These regularly recurring symptoms from ovulation until menses typify PMS, premenstrual syndrome.

Over 150 symptoms have been attributed to PMS.

Originally described in 1931 by an American neurologist, the grouping of symptoms has remained the same:

A- Anxiety: irritable, crying without reason, verbally and sometimes physically abuse, feeling "out of control", or Dr. Jekyl-Mr. Hyde behavior changes.

D- Depression: confused, clumsy, forgetful, withdrawn, fearful, paranoid, suicidal thoughts and rarely suicidal actions.

C- Cravings: food cravings, usually for sweets or chocolate; diary products including cheese, an on occasion, alcohol or food in general.

H- Heaviness or Headache: Fluid retention leading to headache, breast tenderness, abdominal bloating and weight gain.

The exact cause of PMS, headaches and depression are unknown. It is generally believed that PMS, migraine and depression stem from neurochemical changes within the brain.

The female hormone estrogen starts to rise after menstruation and peaks around mid-cycle (ovulation). It then rapidly drops only to slowly rise and then fall again in the time before menstruation. Estrogen hold fluid and with increasing estrogen comes fluid retention: many women report weight gains of five pounds premenstrually. Estrogen has a central neurologic effect: it can contribute to increase brain activity and even seizures. Estrogen can also contribute to retention of salt and a drop in blood sugar. PMS patients and migraineurs benefit from both salt and sugar restriction and a mild diuretic.

PMS and Migraine Diet
Depending on individual symptoms and their severity, individuals may take an active role in the management of PMS and premenstrual migraine by following these guidelines:

PMS and Chocolate

The following is from Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University’s health Q&A Internet site!

Dear Alice,

Why do I crave chocolate around my period? Is there some vitamin or mineral my body is craving I can take to ease my craving for chocolate? I eat about six candy bars a day when I go through my menstrual cycle.

The symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) vary from woman to woman. It sounds like you have been hit hard by the craving for sweet foods. Alice doesn't know why you crave chocolate around your period, nor do any of the researchers studying the causes of PMS have definitive answers as to why women experience a range of symptoms during the 7 to 10 days before their periods.

Can Alice tell you anything positive about curbing your chocolate cravings? You may just have to work hard at avoiding chocolate around this time, or find an acceptable substitute that will satisfy your craving for something sweet. It might help to reduce the number of candy bars gradually, replacing them with a different, healthier sweet, such as fruit or low-fat frozen yogurt.

If you are willing to put a little extra time and effort into solving this problem, keep a diary for a few months in which you record your feelings, physiological changes (including appetite), diet, and exercise habits. This may help you in pinpointing when the cravings begin so you will be prepared to control them. It may also highlight any other reasons (e.g., mild depression) that may explain your increased cravings for chocolate.

It is best to eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, and veggies), and to avoid, as best you can, sugar, salt, alcohol, and caffeine, before and during your period.  (Thin for Life concept) By all means, give a multi-vitamin a try.  (Thin for Life concept) A regular exercise routine helps to ease the symptoms of PMS, too. (Thin for Life concept)

Women & Chocolate from Web Excerpts

Why are women more addicted to chocolate then men? The answer may lie in hormones. Chocolate eating in women may be an unconscious attempt to keep hormone levels more steady. Women report that they have a an increased frequency of craving for high fat, pleasant tasting food including chocolate around their menses. This may be due to the higher levels of progesterone at that time. Progesterone is a female hormone that is important in ovulation and in the menstrual cycle. Progesterone is thought to induce fat storage and a drop of the level of fat in your blood may prompt a craving for fat.

Because chocolate cravings may be influenced by a deficiency in magnesium, that this may be why some experience an increase in chocolate cravings during PMS.

Researchers say the same alkaloid compounds found in alcohol are also present in chocolate.

The PMS and Food Connection
Excerpts from Health A to Z

Among the most aggravating physical changes that may occur with PMS are weight gain and food cravings, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has done extensive study on brain chemistry and PMS treatment.

Chocolate and chips are at the top of the list when women say they experience PMS food cravings. Food cravings associated with PMS are not the result of a nutritional deficiency, Wurtman says.

"It's a brain deficiency," she says. "It's a real phenomenon, provoked by changes in the brain when one's hormones are changing. The one chemical that drives all of this is serotonin. One way you can make serotonin is by eating carbohydrates. But you don't have to eat chocolate or potato chips to do that any more than you need to drink champagne to satisfy your thirst."

Marla Ahlgrimm, a registered pharmacist and co-author of the book Self-Help for Premenstrual Syndrome, notes that women typically reach for high-fat or sweet foods because they're a quick way to raise serotonin and endorphin levels. "It's not the only way or the best way," she says. "A snack of complex carbohydrates will do the same thing and may also allow the hormone progesterone to be metabolized fully."

Cures for Chocolate Cravings

PMS and Chocolate

TV may cure chocolate cravings
Jocelyn Lowinger
ABC Science Online


Chocoholics might conquer their cravings by watching a flickering, untuned television for a few seconds, Australian research suggests.
Cravings are triggered when people conjure up vivid mental images of a desired food or activity, Kemps says from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

These latest findings back the theory that looking at randomly flickering images interferes with the production of these vivid mental images. This would reduce their clarity, and so reduce the intensity of the cravings, she says.

The PMS and Food Connection
Excerpts from Health A to Z

"A lot of women crave sugar, salt, fatty foods. Sugary foods are a big one," agrees Susan M. Lark, M.D., a faculty member at Stanford University and author of Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book: A Woman's Guide to Feeling Good All Month. "They eat the wrong foods; they eat Oreos or an ice cream bar or chocolates. That just makes it worse." The result is a quick upswing in your blood-sugar level; followed by a rapid decline - and then you're hungry again.

It sounds counterintuitive but foods can help relieve PMS cravings, says Lark. When PMS cravings strike, she suggests fighting back with grains and beans, tuna on a piece of rye crisp or a rice cake.

"If you want to slow down absorption of the carbs, add a little oil like mayonnaise or almond butter," Lark says. "That will really cut your craving."

The rule of halves

Perhaps the best way to cut down on PMS cravings is to change how you eat more than what you eat, Ahlgrimm says. By eating six small meals a day, you can help keep your blood sugar stable. "Adopting this meal plan often helps women avoid cravings," she says. "You're not eating more, just small amounts more often."

There is no PMS diet, per se, but Ahlgrimm says she's found good results by following a "rule of halves" to manage cravings and other PMS symptoms.

For instance, breakfast can be a half-cup of whole grain cereal with berries and low-fat milk. At mid-morning, have a handful of whole-grain crackers with carrot or celery sticks or half a banana. At lunchtime, eat a half a sandwich made with lean turkey on whole-wheat bread and half an apple. Two to three hours later, snack on a half-cup of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, or the other half of your sandwich, with the rest of your apple.

"The rule of halves often helps alleviate women's concern that they will be eating too much and gaining weight," she says.

Supplemental Cures
Because most women have problems meeting their nutritional needs through their diet, many experts recommend dietary supplements.

Lark highly recommends taking 50 mg to 100 mg once or twice a day of a dietary supplement containing 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan), an amino acid that the body converts to serotonin, along with 25 mg to 100 mg a day of a vitamin B complex to stabilize blood sugar and to help the 5-HTP conversion.

The calcium connection
When you have adequate levels of calcium and magnesium at the right ratio, chocolate cravings may ease, Ahlgrimm says. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle relaxation and blood sugar and to promote sound sleep - all particularly important during PMS. Magnesium also increases calcium absorption in the body.

The benefits of calcium and magnesium for PMS are well supported. A study in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that 1,200 mg a day of chewable calcium carbonate reduced symptoms of PMS by nearly 50 percent. A study in The Journal of Women's Health found that 200 mg a day of magnesium reduced PMS fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating by 40 percent.

"Often women with PMS avoid drinking an abundance of water because water retention is such a common PMS symptom. Drinking lots of water helps to flush the body out and actually reduces premenstrual bloating," explains Ahlgrimm.

Staying physically active also helps reduce PMS symptoms. Not only does exercise burn calories but it's a natural stress-reducer and mood enhancer.

Go ahead and eat some chocolate

If you crave chocolate, take one small piece, and let it dissolve slowly in your mouth. Make sure it is really good chocolate, not some imitation diet crap. Wait about 15 minutes, check the craving level, and repeat it if it's still high. Chocolate has some potent brain chemical changers in it, and many women crave chocolate for that reason. If you fight cravings they will build up and then you pig out.

Give in to a craving, in a small way, with EXACTLY what you had in mind to eat and they will become less powerful. Stall them with "diet" substitutes and they stay around. For example, someone who craves ice cream will be far more satisfied with one scoop of really great ice cream than an entire case of imitation diet stuff. After a while, you get "picky cravings" - that's when you drive cross town for the exact slice of blueberry cheesecake you want and leave without eating anything because they are out of blueberry.

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers the following tips for controlling PMS: