If you have attempted a low carb lifestyle, as more than a projected 45 million people in the United States have, it is possible that you may experience increased PMS symptoms, or skipped periods. Note: some low-carb diets are also gluten-free such as phase 1 of the South Beach Diet. If you notice a change in digestion, such as less constipation, diarrhea, bloating, please ask to be tested for gluten intolerance. Contact the Cycle Diet dietitian for help in asking for the right tests from your primary doctor.
If you are taking an oral contraceptive it may also be possible that you have experienced mid-cycle breakthrough or spotting. Many women are unaware of the connection between nutrition and their hormones and as a result visit their OB/GYN in a state of panic. Unfortunately many physicians are also unaware of the low-carb diet-hormone connection. As a precautionary measure they proceed to do expensive diagnostic tests, when the first question they should be asking is "How is your diet?" or, "Are you on a LOW CARB DIET?"
Low Carb Diets are not the best way to lose weight if you also suffer from PMS. The low carb plans are extremely short on the specific vitamins and minerals needed to handle the natural hormone fluctuations. Women who suffer from PMS may also be deficient in the proteases (enzymes) necessary to break down the high intake of protein from meat and dairy or high-protein supplements. There is also the potential to damage the kidney's from the high nitrogen load, which also puts the body into a high acid balance. The kidney's are also responsible for activating vitamin D. If they are overloaded or damaged from clearing heavy nitrogen waste from your body, the tiny tubules won't be able to add that last hydrogen molecule to activate vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption. Long-term studies are not yet available on low carb diets. If you decide to attempt low carb, be forewarned that your PMS symptoms will return. The Cycle diet can be modified to help you lose weight of a pound and a half a week over 2 cycles.
If you suffer from PCOS, please be aware of the latest research linking wheat/gluten with higher levels of zonulin, a protein that signals the tight-junctions of the intestine to stay open. There have been many research studies on the benefits of a low-carb diet and PCOS hormone balance that should actually be contributed to being low in gluten. Switching or adding gluten-free whole grains and seeds (quinoa, chia, buckwheat, hemp, millet, sorghum) may be a healthier option than very-low carb.
Simple vs. Complex
In our opinion, the only benefit to come out of the low carb diet craze is the awareness people now have of the differences between simple carbs and complex carbs. The simple carbs, sugar and refined starches like white flour hit your blood stream very rapidly creating an insulin spike. In order to clear the large amount of glucose, the pancreases pumps out large amounts of insulin leaving you very hungry after around 2 hours. Complex carbs take longer to digest, creating a more gradual insulin response without the rapid hunger response. Complex carbs like beans, 100% whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables are the base of the Cycle Diet. If your PMS is caused by higher levels of estrogens, staying away from refined carbohydrates may be tough at first, but cravings should subside after a week or two following the plan. It is important to eat a healthy snack between lunch and dinner for two reasons; first it keeps your blood sugar from falling too low and secondly it keeps you from getting too hungry for your next meal and reaching for something with little nutritional value.
Estrogen and Insulin
Studies have shown that some women who suffer from PMS may become more sensitive to insulin during the luteal phase leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which could be one of the reasons why they eat 62% more refined carbohydrates and 275% more sugar than those women who don't suffer from PMS. It's believed an increase in estrogen levels may enhance the efficiency of the insulin action. Insulin also aids in fat storage in adipose tissue making weight gain an additional problem.
There are actually 3 categories of carbohydrates:
- Monosaccharides-glucose, fructose, galactose, not found in this single molecule form in nature, usually linked together.
- Di- and oligosaccharides- two or more of the monosaccharides joined together- table sugar is sucrose, lactose is milk sugar
- polysaccharides(starch & fiber) long chains of molecules, some indigestible.
Simply put, the longer the saccharide chains, some with branch chains, the longer it takes us to break them down in the intestines. Table sugar is actually glucose and fructose held together by only 1 alpha-link, easily broken down and quickly absorbed. Lactose, the sugar in milk is made up of galactose and glucose held together by a beta-link, indigestible if you are short of lactase, the enzyme necessary to break the link. This is also known as lactose intolerance.
Many women with PMS are lactose intolerant, which causes painful gas and bloating in the intestines due to the undigested milk sugar. Avoiding all dairy products to avoid the problem is not uncommon and recommended as part of an elimination/challenge diet plan. Additional attention to other calcium rich sources and supplements must be taken into consideration to make up for calcium shortfalls. It should also be noted that women with severe PMS, or PMDD could also be experiencing not only a lactose intolerance but a sensitivity to the protein in milk, casein and whey. Many so called 'healthy' foods are subject to added whey protein, which has become an inexpensive additive and abundant from the Greek yogurt craze. The Cycle Diet dietitian can help you identify a dairy protein sensitivity, if you are lactose intolerant.
Whole grains like beans or old fashioned oatmeal are very long, tightly coiled macromolecules with few sites for enzymatic action, they take much more time to break down. Beans also take the energy of bacteria flora naturally in our large intestine for final digestion causing flatulence. This is actually a very good thing, (not the flatulence), but those beneficial microflora contribute a significant amount of biotin, an important B vitamin necessary in the metabolism of fats and proteins.
If you suffer from yeast infections, it could be possible you are also short on biotin as well as vitamin K. These vitamins are actually products of the beneficial micro flora in your intestines. Eating plain organic yogurt (if you are not dairy sensitive) with live cultures and taking an acidophilus-bifidus or probiotic supplement may help replenish these missing micro bacteria. Try also adding in more fermented foods into your diet. Switching to an all organic diet will also help you avoid pesticide residues as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We are learning more about how these genetically altered foods may be harming our precious gut bacteria. If you cannot afford to go completely organic, consider local farmers markets, and the Environmental Working Groups clean fifteen.
Note: We know that women with weaken immune systems (autoimmune disease, chronic inflammatory disease) are vulnerable to yeast overgrowth. Many women with severe PMS/PMDD could be expressing an underlying autoimmune disease, especially in the late luteal phase.
Talk or contact the Cycle Diet Dietitian for help in this area.
Limit or Avoid Refined Carbohydrates:
- Simple Sugars-Sucrose, honey
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Starch- white flour, corn starch
- Highly processed grains and rice
Increase Intake of Complex Carbohydrates:
- Beans (any kind)
- 100% whole grain with bran
- Whole grains, corn, oats, barley
- legumes, peas,
- Rice, brown or converted, wild rice
- Broccoli, celery
Reliable Sources about carbohydrates:
Harvard School of Public Health: