Do many mini-meals relieve PMS?

Scientific discoveries and ongoing research

. . . Until recently, British physician Katherina Dalton, one of the world's foremost authorities on premenstrual syndrome (PMS), didn't believe that diet affects PMS. She has long held that the physical and psychological symptoms some women suffer during the last two weeks of each menstrual cycle are caused by hormonal malfunctions and must be treated with doses of progesterone.

But last year, Dr. Dalton looked at the effect on PMS of eating six small, carbohydrate-rich meals a day. Of the 53 women who stuck to the every-three-hours eating plan, 89 percent reported a reduction in the severity of their symptoms. Dr. Dalton suspects that frequent doses of complex carbohydrates, which keep a steady level of glucose circulating in the blood, help regulate progesterone, as well. Now she recommends trying the diet first before resorting to hormones.

But American PMS expert Annette Rossignol, Sc.D., chair of the department of public health at Oregon State University, is skeptical. She points out that PMS symptoms are very subjective and that Dr. Dalton relied purely on how her patients said they were feeling while they were on the diet. Another serious flaw in the study is the absence of a control group, she says.

"Dr. Dalton's plan might help, too, but bear in mind that PMS treatments all have a very strong placebo effect," she says. "If you do anything, women often feel better for three to four months, and this study does not tell us how long these women were followed. So, while I think it could be reasonable to try this diet--like cutting caffeine, it cannot hurt and might help--I do not think this is the ultimate answer to PMS" (Stress Medicine, January 1992).

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By Martha Capwell and Teresa A. Yeykal

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