New Delhi, Feb. 26: Beans, spinach or raisins may help protect women from pre-menstrual syndrome, according to a new study described as the first to spot a link between the consumption of iron and PMS.
The study by US medical researchers has indicated that non-heme iron drawn from plants lowers the risk of PMS, a condition with physical and emotional symptoms that affects millions of women worldwide.
The researchers have found that women who consumed the highest amounts of non-heme iron through breakfast cereals or other plant-based food had a 40 per cent lower risk of developing PMS than women who had consumed the least amount of such iron.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, is the first to explore the link between minerals and PMS.
“This opens a new avenue for research that may lead to a better way of managing PMS in some women,” Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who led the study, told The Telegraph.
Doctors estimate that up to 15 per cent of women of reproductive age experience one or more symptoms of PMS such as appetite changes, breast tenderness, abdominal bloating and anxiety or depression.
The exact mechanisms that lead to PMS remain unknown, but doctors believe it is associated with changes in the levels of certain hormones and other chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain that occur with the menstrual cycle.
“A role for iron in PMS will be a new idea,” said Suvarna Khadilkar, a gynaecologist in Mumbai and chairperson of the reproductive endocrinology committee of the Federation of the Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, who was not connected with the study.
“We now prescribe hormones and some herbal oils to treat PMS, but the response from patients varies from person to person,” Khadilkar said.
But a more rigorous study of the effects of iron on PMS would be needed to validate these findings and make iron supplementation a part of the standard treatment package for PMS, Khadilkar said.
Bertone-Johnson and her colleagues examined the dietary habits of about 1,050 women who had experienced symptoms of PMS and 1,960 women who had not — and compared their consumption of iron and other minerals.
Their study has also suggested that in addition to iron, dietary zinc is another protective factor, while high intake of potassium — found in coriander, parsley, and tomatoes —was associated with a higher risk of PMS.
“Iron may impact PMS via the neurotransmitter called serotonin,” Bertone-Johnson said. “We know that iron can influence the levels of serotonin and zinc has also been shown in the past to influence neural activity,” she said.
The researchers did not find any protective effect from heme-based iron drawn from animal sources. “We think this is because non-heme sources make up a bigger source of iron than heme-based sources,” Bertone-Johnson said.
The researchers have cautioned that all women in their study had been diagnosed with PMS after the age of 25 years. Whether the findings apply to women who develop PMS in their adolescent years or in their early 20s remains unknown.
But the study’s results, Bertone-Johnson said, are promising enough to justify clinical studies to determine whether women who consume dietary iron or receive some form of iron supplementation are less likely to develop PMS.