Do you ever wonder why you crave chocolate the week leading up to your period?
I know that I used to wonder that all the time. To be honest, it took a while to figure out that chocolate cravings hit me during that week. A couple of years ago, I started ‘permitting’ myself chocolate once a month. I would write on the calendar when I ate it so I’d see the last time I’d had chocolate.
A few months passed and I realized there was a pattern. Yep, without fail, I craved chocolate 3-4 days before my period started every single month! It was crazy. I had no idea why but it sure did light a fire for me to learn more.
Pre-menstrual syndrome affects most women one way or another throughout their reproductive lives. PMS symptoms can range from chocolate cravings, irritability, swollen and tender breasts, bloating, extreme fatigue and insomnia. And, of course, the list does go on!
The bad part is that we seem to think that these symptoms are just a normal part of being a woman.
Want to know a secret? These symptoms are NOT normal! In fact, any symptom, no matter its severity, is your body telling you that something just isn’t quite right. And PMS symptoms are no different. Too often we mask these symptoms with medication; by the time the symptoms turn into something more serious, it can be too late to promote our body’s self-healing properties.
PMS symptoms can indicate a nutrient deficiency, hormonal imbalance or increased risk of certain types of cancer. Breast fibroids are one PMS symptom that, if not addressed, can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. (These are usually caused by estrogen dominance so, if you have fibroids, do everything you can to balance your estrogen levels.)
And, women with more burdensome PMS symptoms may have difficulty conceiving or carrying a baby to term. So, if you’re having trouble getting pregnant, maybe all that’s needed is to address those annoying (or possibly painful) PMS symptoms!
The Secret to Less PMS
What if I told you that there is one nutrient that many women are deficient in that can help minimize or eliminate many PMS symptoms?
That nutrient is magnesium!
Magnesium deficiency is very common. Women who experience PMS symptoms are more likely to be deficient in this important mineral than women who are symptom-free.
Now, as a disclaimer, suddenly taking copious amounts of magnesium isn’t going to cure or heal your PMS symptoms. And, taking too much of any single vitamin or mineral could have toxic or dangerous effects. So, before you hop in your car to hit the nearest drug store, hold up.
Many women have reported a significant decrease in their PMS symptoms and reproductive health issues simply by taking safe amounts of magnesium supplements and increasing their intake of foods naturally high in magnesium.
We need magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral for bone structure and it plays a role in over 300 cellular reactions within our bodies.
Factors that Deplete Magnesium
While a deficiency could be from simply not eating enough foods containing it, there are some other surprising reasons for low levels of magnesium.
Anything that acts like a diuretic – coffee, black tea, dark soft drinks, alcohol, or way too much parsley – can cause excessive loss of minerals. Your body flushes out minerals through urine so even drinking a lot of water could potentially cause a magnesium deficiency.
Too many calcium supplements can also reduce our magnesium levels. Many of our minerals work in opposition of each other; without one, the other increases and vice versa.
Hormone-based birth control, pregnancy and breastfeeding are 3 more ways that your magnesium levels can become too low.
It’s sometimes tough to get adequate magnesium, too, because our soils have become depleted of essential minerals. Iodine is another very important mineral that’s depleted in most North American soil; iodine is needed for healthy thyroid function.
A few other causes of magnesium deficiency include:
- Frequent consumption of carbonated beverages
- Frequent consumption of processed, refined carbs and sugar
- A high stress lifestyle (including physical, mental and emotional stress)
- Heart or asthma medications
- Excessive exercise or sweating
And, poor digestive health could prevent absorption of nutrients from your food, too.
Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium work together in our bodies. Calcium helps to contract muscles while magnesium works to relax them. Many women take calcium supplements because they want to avoid osteoporosis. However, as I mentioned, taking calcium alone can upset the delicate balance between it and magnesium.
(Another mineral combination to watch for is zinc and copper. A lot of people take zinc (and way too much of it) and end up causing a copper deficiency. Low copper levels can cause low red blood cell counts, which can lead to lowered energy levels. A health coach can help you safely tune your zinc and copper supplements if you suspect a deficiency in one or the other.)
Other Health Issues Associated with Low Magnesium
PMS isn’t the only problem associated with low magnesium.
Depression, muscle cramps, restless legs, low energy, migraines, low bone density and mood swings can all be connected to low magnesium levels. Magnesium can also affect fertility because it’s related to hormonal balance and regulating the menstrual cycle.
Brain fog and anxiety could also be attributed to low magnesium, too. Magnesium deficiency affects the entire nervous system so it’s not surprising that many people with mood disorders also test on the low end of this vital mineral.
And, low magnesium is often the culprit for those debilitating menstrual cramps, too.
Fibromyalgia may be connected with low magnesium levels. It’s been shown to help reduce muscle spasms and cramping in people with this disorder.
How to Replenish Your Magnesium
Getting enough magnesium doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are lots of foods very high in magnesium. And, high quality supplements help ensure you’re getting enough of this mineral.
One of the easiest (and tastiest) ways to increase magnesium is to enjoy some dark chocolate. One of the most obvious indications that you’re low in magnesium is if you crave chocolate right before your period.
So, ditch the guilt and chow down on some dark chocolate, if that’s what your body wants! Choose darker chocolate, at least 70% cacao, to get the health benefits and avoid the pitfalls of excess sugar. One to two ounces per day can help alleviate your cravings and many PMS symptoms.
2. Best food choices
Foods rich in magnesium include:
- Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, chard, collard greens, mustard greens)
- Pumpkin seeds (raw, green seeds)
- Brazil nuts (high in selenium, too, for thyroid health)
- Sesame seeds
- Cashews and almonds (choose raw, unsalted nuts)
- Tuna (but be cautious about mercury levels)
- Kidney beans, chickpeas and soy beans
- Quinoa, buckwheat, wild rice, whole wheat, barley, and oats
- Plain, unsweetened yogurt
- Medjool dates
Essentially, foods high in fiber are typically higher in magnesium.
You have three choices for magnesium supplementation:
Magnesium tablets are easy and convenient.
Powders are great because the minerals are absorbed much faster by the body. I like the brand Natural CALM and drink a glass before bed each night.
And creams are generally used to help increase energy and endurance in athletes, or to treat wounds.
The recommended daily limit for women is 310-320 mg. Pregnant women should aim for 350 mg/day. Remember that this amount also includes what you’re getting from food.
Recall that calcium and magnesium work in opposition to each other. If you’re not already taking a calcium supplement, consider adding one to your routine when you begin to take magnesium.
You can reduce the severity of your PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps with more magnesium. Include magnesium-rich foods in your regular diet, but make sure to focus on these in the week leading up to your period. Consider supplementing with magnesium to ease cramps and promote a better sleep. Magnesium’s calming effects have been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce inflammation within the body.