premenstrual syndrome

Women's pain and discomfort from premenstrual syndrome may be lessened by diet changes and natural health remedies

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 by: Alexis Black
Tags: premenstrual syndrome, women's health, nutrition

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Headaches, bloating, irritability, depression and fatigue are just a few of the unpleasant symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, which affects millions of women every month. But fortunately, PMS -- though widely believed to be a result of changes in hormone levels during a woman's menstrual cycle -- is not entirely beyond a woman's control. Research shows that diet and nutrition play a significant role in the severity of PMS symptoms, and many women could ease their monthly bouts with discomfort simply by changing their diets or taking nutritional supplements.

Western society has made light of premenstrual syndrome on many occasions, with popular entertainers cracking jokes about women's wild mood swings at "that time of the month." But the truth is, PMS can be a difficult, sometimes serious, problem for women. Dr. Mary D. Eades, in her book, "Doctor's Complete Guide to Vitamins," estimates that as many as one-third of women suffer from PMS-related symptoms as their hormones fluctuate in the last week or two of their monthly cycle. While some women may experience these symptoms intermittently, about one in 10 experience them every month, according to Eades. For about one in 20 women, PMS can become so severe that it causes general depression in daily life, according to New Choices In Natural Healing by Prevention Magazine. So why do some women suffer more than others, and what can these women do to stop PMS from interrupting their lives? The answer may be found in nutrition and natural health remedies.

Research suggests PMS symptoms arise more often in women with high levels of blood estrogen compared to progesterone. In "Foods That Fight Disease," Laurie Deutsch writes, "PMS could possibly be referred to as estrogen intoxication." However, there are a number of natural ways to deal with such an imbalance and prevent and overcome PMS symptoms. For example, licorice is believed to reduce estrogen levels while simultaneously increasing progesterone levels, creating a better balance. Soy can also help balance hormone levels, which is why far fewer Japanese women suffer from PMS than American women, according to Robert Haas in "Permanent Remissions."

Primrose oil, flaxseed oil, lavender, parsley, bee pollen and chaste berries, used widely in Europe, are other proven natural remedies that can ease common symptoms. Also effective is the Chinese herb dong quai, which has been called "nature's gift to women," according to Earl Mindell in "Secret Remedies." "It is a tonic for the female reproductive system, and helps regulate the menstrual cycle, especially the imbalances which are responsible for some of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome," Mindell writes.

Increasing evidence shows premenstrual syndrome might also be triggered by dietary deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals, especially magnesium. "Magnesium deficiency is strongly implicated as a causative factor in premenstrual syndrome. Red blood cell magnesium levels in PMS patients have been shown to be significantly lower than in normal subjects," write Michael T. Murray and Joseph L. Pizzorno in the "Encyclopedia Of Natural Medicine." In "A Physician's Guide To Natural Health Products That Work," Dr. James Howenstine writes, "Many women with (premenstrual syndrome) have high sugar and high dairy fat intakes, both of which lower magnesium values in the blood. Supplemental magnesium appears to be a necessity, particularly in persons who are getting little magnesium from their water." PMS-sufferers are also frequently deficient in calcium, zinc and B-vitamins, particularly vitamin B6, and can often benefit greatly from supplementation.

Besides nutritional supplementation, women can help prevent PMS by making changes to their diets. Eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish and green leafy vegetables, is important since omega-3 deficiencies have also been linked to PMS. Dr. Stephanie Beling, in "Power Foods," recommends women who suffer from PMS try eliminating meat and dairy products from their diets while increasing intake of fruits and vegetables. Overall, the healthier a woman's diet and lifestyle, the less likely she is to suffer from discomfort from PMS.

Besides eating right, many women also benefit from relaxation and meditation techniques. Denise Foley, author of "Woman's Encyclopedia," suggests that women looking to alleviate PMS and increase overall health follow a regime that includes "meditation, drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day and switching to a low-fat, low-sugar diet, with very little alcohol and no caffeine."

Many women accept premenstrual syndrome as a fact of life and merely suffer through it, but there are many natural remedies available to help prevent and treat the aches and pains of PMS. Like all health issues, it just takes the recognition that you can help control the way you feel by giving your body what it needs.

The experts speak on pre-menstrual syndrome.

Definition

What is the premenstrual syndrome? The syndrome occurs in several distinct forms: emotional upheaval, including anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depression, forgetfulness, confusion, and lethargy; cravings for sweets, increased appetite, and intolerance to sugar (headache, heart palpitations, fatigue, and fainting); and fluid retention symptoms with weight gain, puffiness of hands and feet, breast swelling and tenderness, and abdominal bloating and tenderness. Some women suffer with symptoms of all these forms, others only a few.
Doctors Complete Guide Vitamins Minerals by Mary D Eades MD, page 467

Causes

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a common problem associated with symptoms such as headache, irritability, bloating, and insomnia prior to menstruation. Although the term premenstrual syndrome was coined in 1931, when researchers first suggested that the condition was due to a hormonal imbalance related to the menstrual cycle, until recently many doctors didn't take women's complaints seriously. It was commonly believed that these types of problems were psychological rather than physical.
Earl Mindells Secret Remedies by Earl Mindell RPh PhD, page 229

Menstrual cycling in women results from a complex interplay of reproductive hormones that surge and ebb at various points during the course of an approximately lunar month (28 days). Many women pass through cycle after cycle, blissfully unaware of the rising and falling of these hormones except during the specific several days of bleeding. As many as one-third of the women, however, suffer unpleasant symptoms that correlate with the hormonal fluctuations during especially the last 7 to 14 days of their monthly cycle. For perhaps 1 in 10 of these women, the symptoms--called premenstrual syndrome or PMS--trouble them nearly every month, while other women suffer only intermittently.
Doctors Complete Guide Vitamins Minerals by Mary D Eades MD, page 467

Experts still aren't sure exactly what causes PMS. Some research shows that it's related to hormonal changes that occur during a woman's menstrual cycle. The symptoms may arise during ovulation or just before menses, or they may appear, disappear and reappear during the same cycle. For about one in 20 women, the combination is so bad that it creates a general depression that affects the daily course of their lives.
New Choices In Natural Healing by Prevention Magazine, page 479

A deficiency of progesterone can exacerbate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopausal discomforts, and may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Prescription For Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A Balch CNC and James F Balch MD, page 78

In a report published in The foumal of the American College of Nutrition researchers determined a magnesium deficiency has been associated with premenstrual syndrome alone or in combination with inadequacies of zinc, linoleic acid and B vitamins (predominantly B6).
Secret Remedies by Earl Mindell RPh PhD, page 231

Magnesium deficiency may also be a factor in premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Earl Mindell's Supplement Bible by Earl Mindell RPh PhD, page 179

Diet also is increasingly being implicated as the cause of or a contributing factor to scores of other ailments, from acne to arthritis, from hair loss to hearing loss, from premenstrual syndrome to postnasal drip.
New Choices In Natural Healing by Prevention Magazine, page 42

A deficiency of omega-3s is linked to various skin disorders, arthritis and joint stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, immune dysfunction, and depression, says Michael Janson, M.D., president of the American College for Advancement in Medicine, based in Laguna Hills, California, and author of The Vitamin Revolution in Health Care.
Natures Medicines by Gale Maleskey, page 185

It is caused by normal changes in breast tissue related to monthly fluctuations in levels of estrogen and progesterone, which cause the glands and ducts in the breast to enlarge. As a result, the breasts become swollen, painful, tender, and lumpy. For many women, these symptoms occur as part of the premenstrual syndrome and usually disappear during or after menstruation.
The Herbal Drugstore by Linda B White MD, page 122

Prevention

Women are learning that putting PowerFoods first can combat the syndrome of varied afflictions known as premenstrual syndrome, PMS. Considerable research has shown that eliminating meat and dairy and significantly increasing PowerFoods in your diet can have a major influence on some of the symptoms of PMS, particularly bloating, breast tenderness, and mood swings. Studies on menopausal women show that the bioflavonoids found in large quantities in green leafy vegetables, in cruciferous vegetables, and in fruits, as well as the isoflavones in soy, act as weak estrogens to relieve or prevent the symptoms of menopause.
Power Foods by Stephanie Beling MD, page 25

In fact, researchers have found that relaxation and meditation techniques can boost immunity, short-circuit anger, curb smoking and relieve insomnia, back pain, high blood pressure, motion sickness, impotence, premenstrual syndrome, menopause and irritable bowel syndrome. With professional care, these techniques can also help control diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, panic attacks, phobias and depression.
New Choices In Natural Healing by Prevention Magazine, page 113

If you have menstrual problems, you may be able to alleviate them with diet. Scientists have long known that food can influence the female hormone estrogen, affecting menstruation, and that carbohydrates are strongly linked to premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Now research reveals surprising new clues about how certain foods and nutrients, including calcium, manganese, and especially dietary fat and cholesterol, may influence menstruation.
Food Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper, page 404

Along with a healthy diet, certain phytochemicals may be useful in preventing and treating cancer, diabetes, heart disease, menopause, premenstrual syndrome, osteoporosis, prostate problems, and a number of other diseases.
Foods That Fight Disease by Laurie Deutsch Mozian MS RD, page 10

For prevention, we advise that a woman reduce her activities as much as possible for the first three days of her period each month, though this might be an unpopular suggestion to most busy women today. For exercise, we recommend a gentle walk rather than jarring aerobics classes at this time."
Alternative Medicine by Burton Goldberg, page 971

Although not everyone agrees on exactly why it happens, it is widely accepted that carbohydrates can act as mood elevators, particularly to relieve certain types of depression, such as the blues that come with premenstrual syndrome and the down moods of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Food Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper, page 456

Chlorella strengthens the immune system, promotes bowel health, helps to detoxify the body, alleviates peptic and duodenal ulcers, fights infection, and helps to counteract fatigue and mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and perimenopause.
Prescription For Dietary Wellness by Phyllis A Balch, page 33

Treatment

Premenopausal women who have premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may consider taking 1/8-1/4 tsp of progesterone on days 15-26 of their menstrual cycle.
Disease Prevention And Treatment by Life Extension Foundation, page 1165

By fulfilling your food cravings and respecting your heightened emotions, you will bring your monthly rhythms and brain chemicals into balance.
Why Women Need Chocolate by Debra Waterhouse, page 28

Premenstrual syndrome is relieved in more than 90% of patients by natural progesterone. Synthetic estrogen may make the symptoms of PMS worse.
A Physicians Guide To Natural Health Products That Work By James Howenstine MD, page 279

Although ELF International makes no claims about the usefulness of the LBG for treating specific diseases, physicians who use the device (about 1,000) have found it beneficial for edema, pain (especially involving soft tissue and tissue congestion due to injury), sciatica, premenstrual syndrome.
Alternative Medicine by Burton Goldberg, page 210

Prozac is now widely used for anxiety, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders, premenstrual syndrome, attention-deficit disorder, and other conditions.
Off The Shelf Natural Health How To Use Herbs And Nutrients To Stay Well By Mark Mayell, page 140

Therapy

Recently, however, Dr. Barbara Parry of San Diego, California, has shown that women treated with two hours of bright light in the evening have experienced a reversal of their PMS symptoms. Although further studies are necessary, these initial results indicate that bright-light treatment may become a very effective alternative to drug therapy for PMS.
Light Medicine of the Future by Jacob Liberman OD PhD, page 134

Ultraviolet Light Therapy. Ultraviolet light therapies are used to treat illnesses such as asthma and cancer, as well as conditions like high cholesterol and premenstrual syndrome.
Prescription For Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A Balch CNC and James F Balch MD, page 719

Massage also reduces the anxiety, depression, and pain associated with premenstrual syndrome
Disease Prevention And Treatment by Life Extension Foundation, page 113

Ayurveda recommends treating for a pitta imbalance. Traditional Chinese medicine may use dong quai and ginseng but, according to Honora Wolfe, each patient needs a specific formula that only a doctor can give based on diagnosis.
Alternative Medicine by Burton Goldberg, page 962

Supplements (Calcium / Magnesium, Vitamin B6)

Calcium supplements are often prescribed as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Earl Mindells Soy Miracle Earl Mindel RPH PHD, page 118

Magnesium deficiency and PMS share many features, and magnesium supplementation has been shown to be an effective treatment for PMS.
Encyclopedia Of Natural Medicine by Michael T Murray MD Joseph L Pizzorno ND, page 747

Studies have shown that when you supplement with B vitamins, you also help relieve other ailments associated with having too much estrogen, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Try taking 50 milligrams of vitamin B6 twice a day, says Dr. Silbert. Because some women's bodies have trouble metabolizing this vitamin in its standard form, she recommends taking pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P). This is the activated form of vitamin B6 that everyone's body can handle. If you take 50 milligrams of P5P twice a day, you'll get the equivalent of the same dose of vitamin B6.
Natures Medicines by Gale Maleskey, page 428

Vitamin E has also been reported to be effective in thinning the blood, eliminating leg cramps, and aiding in the prevention of cataracts, as well as decreasing the breast tenderness and swelling experienced with premenstrual syndrome.
Optimum Health by Stephen T Sinatra MD, page 103

Research shows that women who eat carbohydrates recover more quickly from symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) than those who do not, and that carbohydrates, due to complex chemical reactions in the brain, act as a tranquilizer and are beneficial for people with seasonal adaptive disorder and depression.
Prescription For Dietary Wellness by Phyllis A Balch, page 108

PMS patients given a multivitamin and mineral supplement containing high doses of magnesium and vitamin B6, showed a 70 percent improvement of symptoms.
Secret Remedies by Earl Mindell RPh PhD, page 231

In another magnesium study, supplementation was proven to be an effective treatment for the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Optimum Health by Stephen T Sinatra MD, page 119

Another study published in a 1994 issue of the journal Headache suggests that vitamin D and calcium therapy should be considered in the treatment of women who suffer with menstrually related migraines and premenstrual syndrome. When treated with a combination of vitamin D and elemental calcium for late luteal phase symptoms, a major reduction in headache attacks as well as premenstrual symptomatology was cited within 2 months of therapy.
Disease Prevention And Treatment by Life Extension Foundation, page 1248

Along with zinc, which is also present in seeds and nuts, linoleic acid has also been shown to be important in maintaining clear skin. It may help relieve asthma, mitigate the effects of premenstrual syndrome, even reduce the harshness of alcohol addiction withdrawal.
Power Foods by Stephanie Beling MD, page 135

Some investigators have reported that vitamin B-6 helped some individuals recall dreams. It is also used to calm the effects of premenstrual syndrome and is helpful in the treatment of allergies and asthma.
Optimum Health by Stephen T Sinatra MD, page 98

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is important in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It improves circulation, is necessary for tissue repair, and is useful in treating premenstrual syndrome and fibrocystic disease of the breast.
The A-to-Z Guide to Supplements by James F Balch MD, page 48

Dr. Hargrove and his associates prescribe natural progesterone for premenstrual syndrome and as hormone replacement therapy for menopausal and post-menopausal women.
Alternative Medicine by Burton Goldberg, page 844

Herbs

Primrose Oil: All test subjects demonstrated that evening primrose oil is a highly effective treatment for depression and irritability, breast pain and tenderness, and the fluid retention associated with PMS.
Disease Prevention And Treatment by Life Extension Foundation, page 1250

Soy is so effective at regulating estradiol levels that far fewer Japanese women than American women suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS)--a condition caused by fluctuating hormone levels.
Permanent Remissions by Robert Haas MS, page 60

Flaxseed oil is also a treatment for premenstrual syndrome, which may be caused by a hormonal imbalance.
Earl Mindell's Supplement Bible by Earl Mindell RPh PhD, page 52

Licorice is particularly useful in treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS has been attributed to an increase in the estrogen-to-progesterone ratio. Licorice is believed to lower estrogen levels while simultaneously raising progesterone levels. For menopause, it is thought that the estrogen-like activity of licorice is responsible for many of its beneficial effects, but its effects on progesterone levels may also be important.
Encyclopedia Of Natural Medicine by Michael T Murray MD Joseph L Pizzorno ND, page 640

Evening primrose oil can make eczema more manageable and can help reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
The Omega Solution by Jonathan Goodman ND, page 10

Dr. Heron treats endometriosis with a range of herbs meant to, as she explains, "increase circulation in the pelvis, thereby promoting drainage, discouraging adhesions, and facilitating removal of inflammatory substances. In addition, hormonal balance is reestablished, decreasing premenstrual syndrome."
Alternative Medicine by Burton Goldberg, page 971

A common Chinese patent formula containing Angelica sinensis root (Xiao Yao Powder) was seen to decrease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in 10 women.
Complete Guide 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs by Heather Boon BScPhm, page 88

In Europe, chaste berries (Agnus castus) are highly regarded for all menstrual problems, especially those associated with premenstrual syndrome. These may be combined to good effect with cramp bark, false unicorn and dong quai. A simple tea made of raspberry leaves or squaw vine for delayed periods or excessive menstrual bleeding. For excessive bleeding, one also may use a tincture of fresh shepherd's purse.
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra CA ND, page 116

Chasteberry Chastebeny (Vitex agnus castus) has primarily been used in treating premenstrual syndrome and to lower prolactin levels in women.
Encyclopedia Of Natural Medicine by Michael T Murray MD Joseph L Pizzorno ND, page 573

Vitex agnus-castus, also known as chasteberry or chaste tree, is the most important herb for women in western and European herbal therapy. It can help acne, fibrocystic breast syndrome, infertility, lactation, menopausal hot flashes, menstrual disorders, ovarian cysts, and premenstrual syndrome.
Natural Physicians Healing Therapies by Mark Stengler ND, page 475

Licorice root is one of the most extensively investigated botanical medicines. In addition to its use in peptic ulcers, licorice can be used to balance estrogen levels in the premenstrual syndrome and during menopause; to improve adrenal function; and to enhance the immune system during viral infections.
Natural Alternatives To Drugs by Michael T Murray ND, page 306

Black cohosh helps to reduce menstrual cramps by relaxing the smooth muscles of the uterus. While it does not have so strong of an antispasmodic effect as the herb cramp bark, it can help relieve the cramping associated with premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea (painful menses).
Natural Physicians Healing Therapies by Mark Stengler ND, page 70

It has been reported that angelica helped relieve PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and was used successfully instead of estrogen.
Encyclopedia of Fruits Vegetables Herbs by John Heinennan, page 388

Black cohosh continues to be used in Europe, and today, in Germany, it is a government-approved treatment for premenstrual syndrome, painful menstruation, and nervous conditions connected to menopause.
Natures Medicines by Gale Maleskey, page 101

"In some women, very painful periods are the result of anxiety about their sexuality," says Cynthia Mervis Watson, M.D., a family practice physician in Santa Monica, California, who specializes in homeopathy and herbal therapy. To these women, Dr. Watson recommends the California flower essence Pomegranate. "Pomegranate balances the female organs and helps women accept their sexuality, which can make a huge difference in their experience of menstruation," says Dr. Watson. This essence is also helpful for women with premenstrual syndrome, she says. These remedies should be taken every day, not just when you're menstruating.
New Choices In Natural Healing by Prevention Magazine, page 426

There are claims that bee pollen heals other conditions as well, including but not limited to viral infections, fatigue, skin problems, premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes, headaches, heart palpitations, impotence, overweight, arthritis, stress, cancer, infertility, colon problems and prostate enlargement.
The Complete Book Of Alternative Nutrition by Selene Y Craig, page 200

If you are anxious and weepy and have pain in your ovaries that spreads down to your thighs, try a 6X dose of Lilium tigrum three times a day or a 30C dose once or twice a day until you feel better, suggests Cynthia Mervis Watson, M.D., a family practice physician specializing in homeopathic and herbal therapies in Santa Monica, California. She says that the same dosage of Sepia may help other women, particularly pale-skinned brunettes who have premenstrual syndrome, with outbursts of anger and pain during intercourse or menstruation.
New Choices In Natural Healing by Prevention Magazine, page 292

Lavender -- This is used worldwide for healing severe burns, cuts, leg ulcers, bruises, and skin irritations. There is wide acceptance of lavender for headache reduction, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and stress.
A Physicians Guide To Natural Health Products That Work By James Howenstine MD, page 81

Parsley is a good diuretic, is helpful against the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, and works as an antiaging agent.
Power Foods by Stephanie Beling MD, page 75

In cases of anemia, fatigue and even premenstrual syndrome to some extent, it would appear that suma is very useful for women to take.
Encyclopedia of Fruits Vegetables Herbs by John Heinennan, page 332

Kava is good medicine any time there is anxiety from stress, mild depression, a phobia, premenstrual syndrome, or menopause. It also helps with insomnia when anxiety causes sleeplessness, says Dr. Catania.
Natures Medicines by Gale Maleskey, page 242

Testimonial

I'm a botanist, not a doctor, so I'm leery of prescribing medicine, especially in the realm of women's health. But from everything I know about primrose oil, I would encourage my daughter, or any other woman, to try EPO. I have also taught many women who have PMS to gather this American Indian food plant and make a cereal containing EPO out of the seeds.
The Green Pharmacy by James A Duke PnD, page 364

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