Alternative Therapies for PMS

A woman's menstrual cycle runs its course in about twenty-eight days.  During this time, many women experience varying degrees of discomfort during or after ovulation and end with the conclusion of the menstrual flow. 

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) refers to the symptoms that begin prior to menstruation and can include depression, tension, anger, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, changes in appetite, insomnia, mood swings, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. These can be accompanied by breast tenderness, headache, acne, and joint or muscle pain. 

The effects of PMS can be lessened and/or avoided altogether with use of the following suggested therapies:

Diet -
According to many experts, the best diet for lessening the symptoms of PMS is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates; meals should be small, with snacks in between.  Avoid milk and milk products, due to its estrogen-mimicking chemicals.  This helps to regulate blood sugar, and may be enough to reduce of eliminate PMS symptoms.

Nutritional Supplements -
If changing your diet alone doesn't work, try adding the following supplements which are recommended by many practitioners:

  • Vitamin B6, as a muscle relaxant (to reduce cramps), and as a diuretic (to reduce fluid retention, swelling, and breast tenderness).  It's also suggested that a B-complex be taken along with the B6.  Note that the more B6 you take, the more magnesium you need.  Magnesium calms the nervous system and relieves anxiety, depression, irritability, nervousness, and insomnia.  It also helps alleviate cramps and back pain.

  • Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).  A good source can be found in evening primrose oil, borage oil (most concentrated source; it contains 24 percent GLA), and black currant oil.  You need to give evening primrose oil about six to eight weeks to act before you can expect to see any changes.

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  This is found in fish oil and flax seed oil and helps to alleviate breast tenderness.

PMS Herbal Recommendations:

  • Dong Quai

  • Red Raspberry leaf

Naturopathic physician Janet Zand suggests two herbal programs for PMS, one a general program and one modified for women with PMS accompanied by flu and flu-like symptoms.  For general PMS she recommends a program based upon hormone balancing and blood building during the first two weeks, and liver clearing during the second two weeks.  (See: "Herbal Programs for Women's Health.")

Homeopathy -
Homeopath Dana Ullman recommends Belladonna, Magnesia phos, Colocynthis, Ignatia, Cimicifuga, and Nux vomica. 

Progesterone -
Women taking herbs to relieve PMS symptoms should include herbs that promote progesterone production such as Dong quai, licorice root, ginseng, anise seed, garlic, fennel, sage, and red clover.  Wild Mexican yam cream is widely sold as a natural source of progesterone and DHEA. However, no progesterone or DHEA occurs naturally in this herb, nor are there any precursors the body can use to make these hormones. The explanation for this widespread mistake is based on the history of progesterone manufacture and commerce.

Additional Resources:

Another area to consider in the treatment of PMS is your own body clock.  According to Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., and Lynne Lamberg, authors of the highly recommended book, "The Body Clock: Guide to Better Health," hormones produced in the brain by the hypothalamus regulate the menstrual cycle.  And it is the hypothalamus which is home to the body's master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN.  Events that upset your SCN, such as changing your hours of waking and sleep, jetting across many time zones, and working at odd hours, may upset your menstrual cycle, too.  Tuning into body rhythms may help women troubled by irregular menstrual cycles, PMS, or hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

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