Head Off PMS
By Mark Stengler, ND
Before you tear your hair out—or someone else’s—try these natural drug alternatives for premenstrual syndrome.
For many women, one to two weeks out of the month can be downright miserable. Research has demonstrated that three out of every four women experience premenstrual syndrome. This group of symptoms begins one to two weeks before a woman’s menstrual flow and can include physical and emotional symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue, headaches, cramping, water retention, excessive food cravings, insomnia, and backaches.

Conventional medicine offers a variety of drug therapies, including diuretics (side effects can include frequent urination, fatigue, and heart palpitations); pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen (may cause digestive upset, dizziness, and drowsiness); birth control pills (may cause blood clots, breast cancer, and weight gain); antidepressants (may cause weight gain, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts); and antianxiety drugs (may cause fatigue, memory impairment, and constipation).

The truth is that natural therapies work extremely well in preventing and treating premenstrual syndrome and generally work at treating the underlying hormone imbalances that usually accompany this condition. Many women will notice an improvement in their PMS symptoms after implementing a more healthful diet that promotes hormone balance.

PMS can be related to excess estrogen levels, so it’s important to consume approximately 20 to 30 g of fiber in the diet. Fiber binds and expels excess estrogen through the digestive tract. Plant foods, such as leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds, provide fiber. Another good idea is to consume 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds daily. They promote better estrogen balance. Also, minimize nonorganic foods, especially meats and milk that may contain hormones. Studies demonstrate a strong correlation between high sugar consumption and PMS. Too much sodium, caffeine, and alcohol may also worsen symptoms. Regular exercise has been shown to provide relief from PMS symptoms.

As an alternative to drugs, some natural supplements that work consistently and are well-researched include the following:

Vitex (Chasteberry)
Several studies have demonstrated that vitex is effective for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome by balancing progesterone levels. For example, an impressive multicenter trial published in the Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine involved 1,634 women suffering from PMS. After a treatment period of three menstrual cycles, 93 percent of patients reported a decrease in the number of symptoms or even cessation of PMS complaints. Eighty-five percent of physicians rated the treatment as good or very good while 81 percent of patients assessed their status after treatment as much or very much better. Ninety-four percent of patients assessed the tolerance of vitex treatment as good or very good. I recommend 40 drops of tincture or 180 to 240 mg in capsule form of a standardized extract, either of which should be taken daily for at least three months. Do not use vitex if you are taking birth control pills.

Calcium
Calcium supplements have been shown to be effective in the treatment of PMS. For example, in one study 497 women were randomly assigned to receive 1,200 mg of elemental calcium per day or placebo for three menstrual cycles. Blood work and daily documentation of symptoms were monitored. Researchers found that by the third treatment cycle, calcium effectively resulted in a 48 percent reduction in total symptom scores from baseline compared with a 30 percent reduction in placebo. Take 500 to 600 mg of calcium twice daily.

Magnesium
Magnesium supplementation has been shown to help a variety of PMS symptoms including mood changes, fluid retention, and migraine headaches, as demonstrated in studies. Most women will experience benefits by taking 500 to 750 mg of magnesium daily. It can be taken all month long, and especially should be supplemented the two weeks before menstrual flow.

Natural Progesterone
A low progesterone level during the luteal phase (second half of the cycle) is thought to be a causative factor in premenstrual syndrome. Natural progesterone cream is very effective for many women with moderate to severe symptoms of PMS. Apply 10 to 20 mg of the cream to your skin one to two times daily, beginning after ovulation until one day before your period begins.

Mark Stengler, ND, coauthored Prescription for Drug Alternatives. His Web site is drstengler.com.




Product Examples (from left)

Take Oöna PMS1 throughout your cycle to help balance the production of hormones that aggravate PMS. Oöna PMS2 (shown below) can be taken before your period to alleviate monthly cramps, aches, heavy bleeding, and headaches.

Emerita Paraben-Free Pro-Gest Single Use progesterone cream relieves hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and other PMS, perimenopausal, and even menopausal complaints.

Vitanica Women’s Phase I Premenstrual Support fights PMS with a blend of vitamins and herbs known to ease symptoms, including vitex, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, chromium, borage seed oil, wild yam root, and dandelion leaf.

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