Prevent PMS: Eat More Vegetables, Grains, and Pork

New study shows that foods rich in thiamin and riboflavin can ward off PMS symptoms, but supplements containing those B vitamins don't.

Amy Ahlberg March 21, 2011

Women who eat foods rich in B-vitamins, like oranges, whole grains, and pork, are less likely to get PMS symptoms.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A new study’s findings indicate that foods rich in the B vitamins thiamin and riboflavin can be effective natural PMS remedies. And the same research found that supplements did not have the same effect. In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a team of University of Massachusetts–Amherst researchers analyzed the dietary questionnaires of more than 3,000 women for over 10 years, and found that participants who reported eating about 1.9 milligrams (mg) of thiamin and about 2.5 mg of riboflavin daily were less likely to then develop PMS in the next few years when compared to those who only ingested about 1.2 mg of thiamin and 1.4 mg of riboflavin a day.

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THE DETAILS: The researchers didn’t find a lower risk of PMS in those who took vitamin B supplements. Luckily, if you want to include some natural PMS remedies in your meal planning, you can find both thiamin and riboflavin in a wide variety of food sources.

Most breakfast cereals are fortified with thiamin and riboflavin (check the labels). Other good food sources of thiamin include:

Pork (approx. 0.98 mg per 3 ounces center-loin pork chop)
Whole grain products (approx. 0.4 mg per 4-inch bagel)
Legumes (approx. 0.47 mg per 1 cup edamame, and 0.33 mg per 1 cup boiled pinto beans)
Fruits (approx. 0.16 mg per 1 cup orange segments).

The best food sources of riboflavin are:

Dairy products (approx. 0.5 mg per 8 ounces plain yogurt, and 0.45 per 1 cup milk)
Meats (approx. 0.3 mg per 3 ounces pork)
Eggs (approx. 0.25 mg per egg)
Vegetables (approx. 0.3 mg per 1 cup spinach or mushrooms).

WHAT IT MEANS: According to study coauthor Patricia Chocano-Bedoya, MD, the research indicates that shooting for the higher ranges consumed by the study’s participants might be a target goal for preventing PMS development. Women with the highest intakes of thiamin, 1.9 mg/day, had a 25 percent lower risk of developing PMS, and women consuming 2.5 mg of riboflavin per day had a 35 percent lower risk of developing PMS than those consuming less. And you may have noticed some overlap in foods rich in both of these vitamins; says Dr. Chocano-Bedoya, “Thiamin and riboflavin may each individually reduce the risk of developing PMS, according to our results. However, most of their food sources are the same, for example, pork, and legumes.”

Given those parameters, some yogurt or cereal in the morning, fresh fruit and vegetables at lunch, and a healthy dinner with legumes or pork could easily fill your B vitamins quota. (Want more detailed suggestions? The Rodale Recipe Finder's roster of healthy recipes can help you find all sorts of delicious ways to enjoy the natural PMS remedies of your choice.)

Dr. Chocano-Bedoya reminds us that this dietary change would be a preventative move, as opposed to treating the symptoms once they occur. “It is important to clarify that our study focuses on prevention of PMS development rather than treatment of symptoms. In this population, women who on average consumed more foods with riboflavin and thiamin daily had lower risk of developing PMS in the next two to four years than women with the lowest intakes.”

Why didn't the study found a protective effect from supplements? “This might be explained by differences in the bioavailability of B vitamins in foods and supplement sources," says Dr. Chocano-Bedoya. Or it might be that there are other nutrients in these vitamin-rich foods that affect PMS symptoms; previous studies have found that high dietary intakes of vitamin D and calcium may lower the risk of PMS. It's also possible, she says, that some women in the study were already taking B vitamin supplements (other clinical trials have found that supplements containing B vitamins can alleviate PMS symptoms).