PMS Featured on Channel 4’s The Food Hospital

PMS Julie on The Food Hospital

I was very pleased to see that The Food Hospital series has been promoting the idea of food as medicine.  And even better, it featured PMS in the episode screened just before Xmas (alongside case studies in IBS, high cholesterol and raw foodism).  Watch it here

I was already aware that they were looking for PMS sufferers, as the call for volunteers came out via The National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome earlier in the year.  So I was curious and excited to see how they would tackle PMS using food.

In my experience – not to mention, the growing weight of research evidence – a diet based on good fats, complex carbs and junk-free whole foods (together with regular exercise and stress reduction) can deliver dramatic improvements in PMS for the vast majority of women. And it looked like the The Food Hospital would be singing from the same songsheet.

But I have to say, I was rather disappointed.  Here’s why…

The PMS Case Study – Julie

Julie is only 26, but has been suffering from PMS for five years already – poor woman! – and reported that her symptoms had got worse around a year ago.  She eloquently described ‘losing’ a week a month to PMS, and talked about how it made her feel “very angry, very down, with lots of mood swings and very anxious” and how it meant that she “couldn’t concentrate on anything, apart from being upset”.

Also around a year ago, she had given up dairy for the very good reason that it made her feel sick.  (Surely your body’s way of telling you it can’t process dairy!).  During this time she had lost weight, which had made her feel better in herself.

She had taken the contraceptive pill in the past, but commented that she continued to suffer from PMS symptoms during that time – which is not uncommon.  She was clear that she didn’t want to take anti-depressants because she didn’t like the idea of not being in control of the chemicals going into her body.  And she was already on the right track with thinking that what she ate had an impact on how she felt.

The programme’s nutritionist concluded that the reason for Julie’s worsening PMS was her reducing her dairy intake.  There was no discussion shown about the other factors which would form part of a fuller assessment, such as other changes in her life during the period her PMS had got worse, such as her stress and activity levels, and any other diet changes.  I would also have been interested to hear whether PMS ran in her family.

The Programme’s Recommendations for PMS

In my view, there was a mixture of good and bad advice.

The good was the (very brief!) discussion of the role of serotonin and the importance of complex carbohydrates – both of which I’ve written about previously. Also, the importance of Vitamin D to ensure that you can absorb calcium properly.  (Half the population in the UK are deficient in Vitamin D, so Julie was not unusual in this respect).  Without question though, Vitamin D is best absorbed through the action of sunshine on the skin.

But what I didn’t agree with was the fact that the PMS management plan hinged on increasing dairy intake – despite this being poorly tolerated by Julie. There was no mention of the importance of omega-3 fats, B vitamins, exercise, or stress management (to reduce cortisol levels) and stimulant reduction.

Dairy for PMS? Not Such A Great Idea

While dairy intake is often discussed in relation to PMS because of the link between calcium intake and PMS, this is something of a fallacy.  I wrote about the downsides of milk in a previous post.  (And while we’re on the subject, here’s an interesting piece on why cheese is so addictive).  

Although milk does contain calcium, it’s true, it also has an acid-forming effect in the body (which means it actually leaches calcium from our bones, making them weaker – a real issue for women who are at risk of osteoporosis).  It is also high in saturated fat and protein, and contains no antioxidants or fibre. Remember that while milk may be the perfect rich food for babies while they’re growing, most babies – except human ones, that is – are weaned and stop drinking milk.

Even if you do want to include some dairy in your diet, the 4-5 daily servings a day recommended by the programme is way too much for good health.  The China Study provides comprehensive and compelling evidence from a large-scale long-term study about the benefits of low (or no) dairy diets on all chronic diseases.

There are plenty of healthier plant-based non-dairy sources of calcium which are alkaline-forming (that is, they maintain the best pH levels for your health).  The programme itself even mentioned calcium-enriched soya milk, almond milk or rice milk as alternatives for Julie, given that she struggled to eat dairy products.  (I am a big fan of nutrient-packed smoothies, and there’s a good suggestion for a PMS smoothie on The Food Hospital website – which you could make with soya milk, rice milk, hemp milk, or almond milk)

Interestingly, in the update on The Food Hospital’s website about Julie, she had trouble increasing her calcium intake due to her dislike of milk so chose to eat more calcium rich vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus, instead.  So it seems it wasn’t really more dairy that improved her PMS anyway, but more calcium-rich whole foods. 

(Oh, and one other thing. Presumably because of the demands of television, Julie was reassessed by the Food Hospital Team just six weeks later. That would only have been one menstrual cycle later, and in practice, the impact of any diet and lifestyle changes should be implemented over at least three cycles).

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year.  And thanks for reading!

Two Generations, Two Different Male Attitudes to PMS

PMS discussion on Come Dine with Me

A guest holding forth on PMS on Come Dine With Me. (The expressions say it all)

A 57-year old former policeman spouted forth some extremely condescending views about PMS on TV last night.  (Or PMT as he called it - rather showing his age).  The programme was Come Dine With Me, a light hearted reality show where a group of strangers take turns in cooking dinner and entertaining each other over a week. 

The group consisted of three women and two men: the older man being John, and Sam, aged 22.  The contrast in their attitudes towards PMS, and towards women generally, was striking.  (The programme also got plenty of mileage out of their interactions and the tussle by the older man to be the ‘alpha male’ in the group).

Naturally, Come Dine With Me relies on exaggerated personalities for entertainment value, and John was clearly stirring things up and playing to the gallery.  First, he announced – apparently out of nowhere – that “all women are neurotic” .  When challenged by a female guest what he based that on, he responded: “well, based around PMT … you know … Pre Marital Tension, Post Mating Tension”.  (Enough of the ancient jokes, already!).  And what was his solution?  Setting up a spa business for women to go away to during their premenstrual week every month.


It was painful to see John go on to patronise the younger man, firstly asking him “I presume as a young man, you know what PMT is?” (“Of course I do”) and then trying to engage him ‘man to man’ by explaining how his scheme would allow men like them “to get a bit of peace”.  To his credit, the younger man was having none of it.

Old-Fashioned Attitudes to PMS

I’m sure someone like John would argue that his comments were meant to be caring – after all, he did suggest that his PMS health spa idea should be available on the NHS.  But the reality is that he showed precious little understanding of PMS as anything other than an inconvenience to men.  In reality, there are very real physical causes behind PMS, and the symptoms suffered by women with PMS are many and varied.  It’s not just women being ‘neurotic’ and needing a spa break.

And as all the other guests pointed out, couples helping one another to cope with PMS is the real way to go (just like these tips for men about how best to support their partner during PMS) – not shunting women off out of the way. 

Sadly, in all his years, John had only managed to arrive at a simplistic and wrong-headed view of PMS and of women.  His ‘solution’ to PMS was not only impractical (who wouldn’t love a week away, every month!), it didn’t address any of the recommendations here on PMS Warrior that would really make a difference to PMS: a plant-based whole foods diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, stress reduction and exposure to light, among others.  

What Did The Women Say?

What was also interesting to me about the exchange was the way that the other women – whom he had clearly rubbed up the wrong way – were quick to distance themselves from PMS.  (“I don’t suffer from it!” “There’s far worse things in life for a woman!”).  Perhaps not surprising given that John was busy lumping all women together under the ‘neurotic’ banner.  But although they are right that not all women suffer from PMS, a high proportion still do, and it’s disappointing to see it being dismissed as insignificant – even by other women.   That sidelines the experience of many women.

Towards More Enlightened Views About PMS

Because only women suffer from PMS, it’s all too easy to make generalisations about all women when talking about PMS, as this man did.  If we were talking about any other medical condition that severely affected people regularly and over many years, people would have more sympathy.   I notice, for example, that people are even more sympathetic to the difficulties experienced by women during and after pregnancy, and that’s down to hormone fluctuations, just as PMS is.

Thankfully, John’s attitude is not representative of all men and Sam demonstrated that on the show.  While he had a game plan to impress (it is a competition after all), he also genuinely seemed to be respectful of the women and appalled by the older man’s old-fashioned views and macho competitiveness. 

Bravo Sam, seems you realise it’s the 21st century.  Gives us all hope!

Do you see a difference in attitudes towards PMS from men from different generations?

Thanks for reading!

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