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Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I can't remember where I found this - it has been sitting here as a draft for awhile so I thought I'd post it now.

I've heard that certain foods can relieve PMS symptoms. If this true, which ones should I eat? Is there a time of the month when they're most helpful? I have severe cramps and mood swings.

The best dietary solution for premenstrual syndrome, according to key research, is to be sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D - to which we'd add magnesium and DHA, our favorite form of omega-3 fatty acids. (We'd also emphasize that any D you take should be D-3, the type your skin naturally makes.) One of the biggest medical studies to peek at what women with PMS were or weren't eating found that nurses who got plenty of calcium and D (about 1,300 milligrams of calcium and 700 IU of D daily) had far less PMS than those who ate the least. Here's how the other nutrients may help:

► Magnesium. The last two weeks of the menstrual cycle cause magnesium levels to dip, bringing your mood down with it. A shortage may also lead to water retention, cramps and an oversensitive nervous system. Aim for 320 milligrams a day of magnesium. You'll find it in halibut, spinach, almonds, whole grains and a slew of beans.

► DHA (an omega-3). Fat helps your body absorb vitamin D-3, and it's hard to find a healthier fat than DHA omega-3. Besides, some women say this omega-3 seems to decrease their PMS. You can get it in fish-oil supplements or algae-based DHA omega-3 pills. Aim for 800 to 1,000 milligrams a day.

► Vitamin B-6. This vitamin is one of the raw materials your body needs to make serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical. Get it from bananas, spinach, eggs and corn, plus a half of a daily multivitamin taken morning and night. (Water-soluble vitamins like the Bs need to be taken every 12 hours keep your levels steady.)

► Saffron. In a small but fascinating study, 75 percent of the women who took big capsules of this exotic spice cut their PMS symptoms in half.

However, large capsules of saffron are rarer than popular BP executives. Besides, saffron is too pricey to eat much of.

► Vitamin W. That's "W" as in walk. We highly recommend a 30-minute walk to help reduce monthly tension and the moody blues.

Does it matter if the green tea I drink is regular or decaffeinated? You never mention which one when you say, "Drink green tea." - Peggy, Chicago

If caffeine jitters aren't an issue, stick with regular green tea. It has only about 30 milligrams of caffeine per cup, or less than a third of coffee. Almost all of the studies pinpointing green tea's health benefits - from preventing skin cancer to lowering blood pressure - used regular tea.

Green tea overflows with catechins, a plant nutrient that may be more protective than many others. What we don't know is how much of it is lost in the decaffeination process. There's a bit of evidence that decaf green tea may still protect against skin cancer.

When good drugs go bad

If your organs had a personality, your liver would be the strong, silent type. No matter how hard it works at filtering out toxins like alcohol and drugs, it doesn't complain until it's on the verge of collapse. And when we say drugs, we don't mean the illegal kind. We're talking about the dozens of meds with liver-damage potential. The weight-loss aid called orlistat - aka Xenical and Alli - is the latest med that has to include liver cautions on its label.

Luckily for us and you, the liver has a remarkable ability to give itself a makeover. So if you do have a DILI (drug-induced liver injury), stopping the med and treating your liver right - no alcohol, for starters - usually will restore it to health, as long as it was in good shape to begin with.

But since the liver isn't a whiner, the trick is to spot the damage before it makes your skin itch and turns your eyeballs yellow, your pee dark and your poop pale. Some DILI-defending tips:

Read the fine print. You know those package inserts with the tiny type. Get out your magnifier and read it. Cautions about liver damage will make you more alert to warning signs.

Don't ignore vague symptoms. Nausea, poor appetite, malaise and just not feeling great - especially shortly after starting a medication - can precede the obvious symptoms.

Get the tests. Liver-function tests are advised even before treatment begins with some meds, such as terbinafine (e.g., Lamisil), the nail fungus drug. Don't blow them off.

Snack on berries

Here's one food we never feel guilty about binging on, and neither should you: berries. There's a reason they're called superfoods.

The vitamins, minerals, fiber and protective plant nutrients that are jam-packed into sweet, juicy red, black or blueberries do your body more good than a dynamite marching band does for a parade. And calories? So few you don't even have to count them. If you can't buy your favorite berries yet, don't hesitate to fill in with frozen (wash them too, if you like, even though there's less need). Frozen berries give you as many nutrients as fresh.

Guard your memory. Berries owe their rich hues to anthocyanins, plant nutrients that turn out to be potent disease fighters: They stimulate your cells to scarf up free radicals and prevent the kind of DNA damage that can lead to Alzheimer's disease, cancer and aging.

Bring down your blood pressure. Eating just 4 ounces of mixed berries a day for eight weeks brings high blood pressure down seven points.

Heal your heart. Strawberries help lower lousy LDL cholesterol. Blueberries and lingonberries ooze resveratrol, the goodie in red wine that helps prevent clogged arteries. A bevy of berries boost healthy HDL cholesterol, and many fight inflammation, too.

Send cancer packing. Researchers have found that snacking on freeze-dried black raspberries increases an enzyme that detoxifies carcinogens in 37 percent of people at high risk for esophageal cancers. More reason to binge on freshly washed berries.

How to stop heartburn

Carrying too much fat around your middle and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease - think chronic heartburn) go together like walnuts and port. About half of obese people have this miserable condition, called GERD. Extra fat hanging off the stomach pulls it down, straightening the angle where the esophagus (the tube that carries swallowed food to your stomach) joins it. When there's no angle at that juncture, stomach acid spills upward and burns the esophagus. Pressure on the stomach from deep-belly fat increases the backwash.

Losing even a little weight, since that allows the angle to return, may cure GERD.

That's what happened for 66 percent of people with GERD in a recent study. For obese women, the magic number for improving heartburn and other GI symptoms was losing just 5 percent of their body weight and taking 2-4 inches off their waists.

Men got relief when they lost 10 percent of their weight and 4 inches from their waists.

Another reason why so many losers got better could be that they replaced most of the calories they used to spend on alcohol, chocolate, fat and other GERD triggers with lots more fruits and vegetables. They also exercised up to an hour, five days a week. And presumably they did what we tell anyone with heartburn to do: Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime. Put blocks under the head posts of your bed so you sleep at a slight downward tilt. And skip other trigger foods, too, like coffee, black pepper, spicy food, tomatoes and orange juice.

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