Does Eating Meat Make PMS Worse?

After switching to a vegetarian diet, one Nutrition Diva listener noticed an improvement in PMS symptoms. Follow along as Nutrition Diva follows the trail of evidence.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #364

What Really Causes PMS?

Most women with PMS have normal hormone levels but low serotonin levels. To the extent that dietary (or other lifestyle changes) affect your serotonin levels, this could affect PMS symptoms. If you eat more complex carbohydrates, for example, that can increase serotonin levels. And people who eat less meat often eat more whole grains.

See also: How Food Affects Mood

Plant foods that are high in iron, such as beans and greens, also seem to reduce the prevalence of PMS. And, of course, people who don’t eat meat usually end up eating more legumes.

See also: What Are Good Vegetarian Sources of Iron?

People whose diets are higher in thiamin, riboflavin, and potassium also suffer less from PMS. These vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and eggs. Eating a balanced variety of whole and minimally processed foods is the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough of these nutrients and all the benefits that go along with them.

Will a Vegetarian Diet Improve PMS Symptoms?

So far, my research has turned up a number of reasons that eliminating meat might plausibly lead to improvement in PMS symptoms—but none of them have to do with hormones. In fact, most of them have to do with the foods that you tend to eat more of when you reduce your meat consumption.

The data seem to support the first part of Chau’s hypothesis but not the second: The improvement in her PMS symptoms may well be due to the change in her diet. However, I don’t think there’s much support for the theory that the hormones in meat contribute to hormone imbalance.

Some hypotheses are quickly ruled out by the facts; others remain an open question for years or decades while researchers design studies to test them. Either way, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking with what works, even if you’re not quite sure why!

Do you have a hypothesis about diet and health? How well do the facts support your theory? How could you gather more data to either confirm it or rule it out? Post your ideas below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page and let’s work on it together!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.