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Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

Food Allergy, Food Intolerance, and PMS & PMDD—What's Good for Someone Else May Be Bad for You

by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
Dr. Daniel J. Heller Dr. Daniel J. Heller

Dr. Heller is a family practitioner who specializes in helping patients with hormonal conditions like PMS & PMDD; diabetes and prediabetes; and other chronic diseases. He is the founder, formulator, and clinical director of PMS Comfort. [more]


You've probably heard the terms food allergy or food intolerance, or perhaps you know someone with a wheat or dairy allergy, or gluten intolerance. Maybe you've even been tested for food intolerance and food allergies, or were told you have food sensitivities. Because different sources use these different words to refer to much the same thing, we use them interchangeably—though their exact definitions are not that straightforward (and even the experts disagree). All of them amount to the ancient medical maxim: "One woman's meat is another woman's poison." A food that is nourishing for one person is often unhealthy for another.

It's important to make the distinction that food allergies are different from the concept of generally healthy foods. There is not one single correct type of diet that applies equally well to everyone, everywhere, male or female, young or old. People have unique, individual reactions to foods that play a big part in determining health, as well as PMS and PMDD symptoms.

For instance, dairy foods can be an excellent source of calcium and protein for one woman, but for another cause an increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, or produce indigestion. To use a different example, wheat bread and pasta are staple foods around the world, but for many, wheat can cause depression, fatigue, and other problems. So when we discuss food intolerance, we're no longer talking about what constitutes a healthy diet for everyone. Rather, we are getting at the much more exact issue of what is good or bad for you, your health, and your cycle specifically, as distinct from anyone else.

You may have thought that food allergies caused only rashes, or digestive problems, or the severe anaphylactic reaction that is an increasing concern with children and peanuts. But specific foods can also cause or aggravate PMS and PMDD symptoms in a particular person. In our office, when we see a patient with symptoms of PMS or PMDD, we're highly suspicious that there may be a specific food group or two affecting that woman's cycle, moods, and pain level. Often, food sensitivities are the reason natural or medical treatments don't work as well as hoped, because they interfere with your body's ability to heal itself. Making the connection between food allergy and premenstrual symptoms can be quite confusing, though, because the symptoms themselves occur only in the days and weeks before the period, rather than every time the problem food is eaten.

Which Foods Tend to Cause PMS and PMDD?

The foods that can cause or aggravate PMS and PMDD symptoms share two characteristics. They are the type of foods we eat every day, and they are the foods most commonly associated with all types of food allergy. That is, if you are susceptible to PMS and you eat your food allergens, you'll experience PMS or PMDD. Another woman, who isn't susceptible to PMS but vulnerable to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, will experience IBS, not PMS, when she eats her particular food allergens.

Here are the food groups that we have learned to suspect, over decades of clinical experience, as possibly causing or aggravating PMS and PMDD symptoms:

  1. Wheat, including bread, crackers, pasta, semolina, durum flour, whole wheat and whole wheat flour, couscous, breakfast cereals, and many processed snack foods. When an ingredient panel says "flour" or "enriched flour," that means it is made from wheat.
  2. Dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, casein, and whey, but not eggs. An ingredient in many packaged and prepared foods as casein or whey.
  3. Refined Sugar, including table sugar, sweets, baked goods, candy, ice cream, soda, corn syrup, dextrose, and invert sugar. It is an ingredient in many packaged and prepared foods. Alternative sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, agave, corn syrup, and concentrated fruit juice are refined sugars—all have basically the same characteristics as sugar. If it tastes sweet, unless it's artificially sweetened, it probably has sugar in it. Fruit is not a refined sugar.
  4. Corn, including breakfast cereals, polenta, corn meal, and corn starch. Also an ingredient in packaged and prepared foods.
  5. Soy, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, texturized vegetable protein/TVP, protein powder. Another ingredient in many packaged and prepared foods.
  6. Eggs, including baked goods made with eggs. Eggs may be an ingredient in packaged and prepared foods.
  7. Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate are not exactly foods, but they are common allergens.
  8. Alcohol is also not a food, but like the above is a common allergen.
  9. Beef and Pork are less common food allergens. Even people without an intolerance to beef or pork may feel better generally when they avoid these meats, and many lifelong vegans feel better when they reintroduce meat to their diet..
  10. Gluten is present in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. You can be intolerant of gluten without having celiac disease. There are more people who do better mostly avoiding gluten than there are people with full-blown celiac disease. Gluten intolerance is much less common than wheat allergy and intolerance.
  11. Artificial sweeteners, food colorings, and preservatives, including Nutrasweet® (aspartame), which is the most likely to cause problems. Splenda® (sucralose) and Sweet'N'Low® (saccharin) can cause reactions as well. Stevia extract and erythritol have not yet been the subject of as many allegations of harm. Food colorings are usually listed in ingredient panels as "FD&C #", plus you can often tell when a food is not it's natural color.  Preservatives go by a variety of chemical-sounding names. If you steer clear of boxed, bagged, and manufactured foods, it is much easier to avoid the artificial food additives.
  12. Other possible food allergens: Poultry, shellfish, fish, peanuts, and tree nuts don't usually cause PMS or PMDD symptoms, but they are common food allergens. Peanuts and tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and the like) are more likely to cause immediate reactions than delayed reactions. Reactions to infrequently eaten foods such as strawberries or other fruits also tend to be immediate.

Most Women Have Just One or Two Food Sensitivities

Before you flee from this page thinking, I can't possibly avoid all that!, let us assure you that this is a list of all possible problematic foods—no one is sensitive to all of them. For most women, only one or two of the groups are problematic. And even if you discover, by implementing the free self-test we'll discuss in the next section of this article, that you are sensitive to certain foods, it doesn't mean you'll have to avoid them entirely for the rest of your life. For most women, eating them infrequently won't cause problems. The list above shows the food allergens in their approximate order of frequency. The vast majority of PMS and PMDD food sensitivities come from the highlighted groups 1, 2, 3, and 7 and 8 from the numbered list above.

You Crave Your Food Intolerances

The next section of this article will explain exactly how to detect food intolerances and sensitivities with the most accurate—and least expensive—testing method of all. Your miraculous human body is the most accurate scientific detector ever, and can tell you if a food is a problem for you, without any needles or blood or urine samples. By eliminating and then reintroducing your suspected food allergens, you will experience directly whether a food is a problem for you.

But first, look at the list above and ask yourself two questions: 1) Do I crave any of these foods? 2) Are there any foods there that I love so much that the thought of giving them up is almost painful?

That is your first clue to which foods might be affecting you. It has often been pointed out that people tend to feel "addicted" to the specific foods to which they're sensitive. It's as if that food is an irritant particular to that person, and eating or drinking more of it "scratches an itch." Eating the food temporarily relieves the craving, but fuels the cycle of craving as well.

This helps explain why we say that the most common food allergens are wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Aren't these the items so many of us consume so frequently, crave so much, and feel to be almost integral to our lives?

Elimination and Reintroduction—The Gold Standard of Food Allergy Tests

Next up in our food allergy and intolerance section is an article discussing the nuts and bolts of finding out for yourself, with a bit of effort but no expense, which foods may be provoking your PMS and PMDD symptoms. We strongly encourage you to read it, try it out, and really give it a chance. There is little knowledge more powerful in the world of natural or conventional medicine than finding out that something you eat is making you feel sick.

Real, Natural Relief—So You Can Feel Great All Month Long

PMS and PMDD misery aren't always taken seriously enough by doctors, family, and friends. At PMS Comfort, our whole purpose is to empower and educate you about premenstrual symptoms, and to provide real, natural relief so that you can feel great all month long. Our all-natural doctor-designed programs are based on decades of experience helping thousands of women recover from what you've been going through. Our Herbal Relief formula, when combined with our diet and lifestyle guidance, addresses more than just your symptoms—it can help bring your body and mind back into balance, and help you get and stay healthy. Plus, we're here to support you, every step of the way.

To learn more about your PMS and PMDD symptoms, take the PMS Comfort quiz. Or, start feeling better today, for as little as 89 cents per day.

We want to help. Give us a call at 1-800-731-6327, drop us an e-mail, or send us your question.

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Principal Author: Daniel J. Heller, N.D.
Last Modified: July 22, 2014

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