Natural Remedies for PMS

Article by yours truly, published in the October edition of SHADES Magazine.
PMS.  Premenstrual Syndrome.  It sounds like some kind of genetic mutation leaving half the population disabled social outcasts, doomed to ride the short bus to the party – if we get there at all!  Most women have suffered at least one or two of the 150 official symptoms associated with the condition.  Its prevalence, however, doesn’t make it any easier to diagnose.  Narrowing down symptoms to PMS as the cause is often made more difficult by accompanying states like pre-existing depression or anxiety.

The one or two weeks before a woman starts her period can be wrought with discomfort and emotional distress.  Which is not to say men are safe from the repercussions of severe PMS! As we all know, extreme mood changes, fatigue and pains of cramping often have a ripple effect throughout the entire household.  But with more and more research being done – not to mention the infinite number of forums where women can share solutions – this time of the month doesn’t have to be so limiting or painful.

First off, to understand how to alleviate your PMS symptoms, it’s vital to understand the causes of PMS. One to two weeks before menstruation begins, the last (luteal) phase of the menstrual cycle kicks off, and PMS symptoms begin to rear their ugly heads. During this phase, the ovaries increase production of estrogen and start producing progesterone to prepare the uterus for a possible pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, production of estrogen and progesterone drops. This hormonal drop causes the lining of the uterus to die and slough off, leading to menstruation. It’s this dramatic shift in hormones that may be one cause of PMS.

There are scores of other theories on what causes the syndrome –  endorphin and serotonin variability, an overload of water in the liver and kidneys, extreme blood sugar fluctuations, and even vitamin (A, B, E) deficiencies have been cited as causes of PMS.  With 150 possible symptoms, there are just as many potential causes.  Perhaps the best way to deal with your experience with PMS, taking into consideration lifestyle and personal chemistry, is to experiment with a host of treatments and see what works best for you.

Ten Pharmaceutical-Free Ways to Kick the PMS Blues

1.     Munch foods that help your body stay balanced. This is one of the easiest ways to get a handle on PMS discomfort.  Try to eat several small meals in a day, rather than three large ones, to minimize bloating and cravings. Eat from all the food groups, and try to quiet your cravings for overly simplified sugars – the crash that follows is terrible for mood swings!  Snacking on pumpkin seeds may help to alleviate cramping, while some will be happy to hear that increasing complex carbs may help in the production of the ‘happy’ chemical of the brain –  serotonin.

Avoid using too much salt or sugar, and steer clear of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine – the inevitable come-down after a dose of one of these treats only sends your mind and body into an absolute tizzy trying to maintain homeostasis.  For some, kicking the habit of smoking or taking in just a few cups of coffee will have an even more debilitating effect than the PMS itself – so judge your intake based on your current level of health!

2.    Just breathe. Taking 10-20 deep nostril breathes 2-5 times a day will have a huge impact on your stress levels and ability to deal with the extra helping of emotions we feel during this sensitive time.  Studies have shown deep breathing exercises to be of great help with many forms of emotional distress, especially anxiety and depression.  Try deep breathing rounds in a quiet space, with your eyes closed, whenever possible – before brushing your teeth, on the bus, or even when you take a bathroom break at work.  Sometimes the simplest of techniques are the most effective!

3.    Let’s get physical! With an increased body temperature and varying levels of fatigue, it’s awfully tempting to just sit back and forget about your usual exercise regime – if one exists!  But this is the most crucial time for women to stay active.  Not only will the sweat and increased metabolism have detoxifying effects, but exercise has a balancing effect on hormones, especially those involved in the menstrual cycle.  You’ll also get a healthy dose of endorphins if you stick to cardio after the 20-minute mark.  Try to do at least 30-45 minutes, three times a week to profoundly reduce stress, anger and depression.

4.    Never underestimate the power of H2O. Drink it, bathe in it, listen to its sweet soothing sounds!  Water is your best friend during a (hopefully short) bout with PMS this month.  Sure, you may retain some of the water you take in, but don’t let that keep you from staying healthy and hydrated.  If possible, treat yourself to a steaming hot bath, no matter what your ‘to-do’ list looks like today!  Just turn on the water, check a few things off the list so you’re not distracted while relaxing  – and voila!  You’ve turned your tub into a healing womb of happiness in one fail swoop!

5.    Expression therapy. When PMS strikes, a woman’s emotional health is like a veritable seesaw – lined in spikes, and sometimes painfully out of control.  When all else fails, and the emotions seems to take over, why not follow suit with some of the world’s most renowned artists and utilize your madness in the world of creativity?  Van Gogh was a manic depressive.  Einstein?  Schitzotypal!  So harness those emotions and write, paint, sculpt, dance – do that something that opens the door to your creative flow.  You’ll feel all the better for it.

6.    A little extra somethin’ goes a very long way. Herbs and supplements are fast becoming trendy, overpriced, and severely overused.  Be sure you consult someone you trust – a doctor or naturopath, for example – before making any major additions to your diet.  But the following extras have been tried and true and come highly recommended by some of today’s most renowned specialists:

* Calcium. Consuming 1,000 milligrams (mg) of dietary and supplemental calcium daily, such as chewable calcium carbonate (Tums, Rolaids, others), may reduce the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS. Regular, long-term use of calcium carbonate also reduces your risk of osteoporosis.
* Magnesium. Taking 400 mg of supplemental magnesium daily may help to reduce fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating in women with premenstrual syndrome.  Calcium and magnesium can also be taken together to regulate muscle contractions and the conduction of nerve impulses.
* Vitamin B-6. A daily dose of 50 to 100 mg of vitamin B-6 may help some women with troublesome PMS symptoms.
* Vitamin E. This vitamin, taken in 400 international units daily, may ease PMS symptoms by reducing the production of prostaglandin, hormone-like substances that cause cramps and breast tenderness.
* Herbal remedies. Many women report relief of PMS symptoms with the use of herbs such as black cohosh, ginger, raspberry leaf, dandelion, chasteberry, St. John`s Wort and evening primrose oil.
* Colloidal Gold. Colloidal gold is one of the least known yet most effective mood and mental enhancers.
* Natural progesterone creams. These are derived from wild yams and soybeans. Some women report that these creams relieve symptoms. Combine one handful of chamomile and one handful of dried orange flowers in a cheesecloth or muslin bag and hang from the bathtub faucet. The warm water will release the fragrant oils and relieve PMS discomfort. * It should be no surprise that an herb named cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) would work wonders for menstrual pain. It contains at least six compounds that relax muscles, as well as salicin, the pain-relieving compound from which aspirin is derived. Take one teaspoon of the liquid extract every hour until your cramps subside. If they don`t ease within 48 hours, stop taking cramp bark.
* Ginger tea (for cramps). Grate two to three teaspoons of fresh ginger root and simmer in two cups of water for several minutes. Add lemon and honey to taste. Drink as much as desired.
* For acute cramps, combine equal parts of ginger, valerian, and cramp bark tinctures, to be taken in half-teaspoon doses every twenty minutes until the symptoms subside.

7.    Touch therapy: massage & heating pads. If you have the luxury of an affordable masseuse, or better yet, a friend with a healing touch, don’t hold back in the weeks preceding your period.  Lymphatic massage will help with detoxification, deep tissue will soften any tension in the muscles, and never underestimate the power of a good belly rub!  A heating pad or hot water bottle is another homestyle favorite.

For something new, try a hot ginger poultice. Make a strong ginger tea or add a half-teaspoon of ginger essential oil to a quart of hot water. Dip a towel in the water and wring it out, lay it over the abdomen, and place a hot water bottle over the ginger towel to retain the heat. Relax in the supine position for fifteen minutes.

8.    Acupuncture, yes, acupuncture.  This may sound extreme, if you’ve never experienced an acupuncture session, but this particular branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine has been an effective antidote to lady-problems for thousands of years.  When I missed my period for three months in a row, I finally went to an acupuncturist who, after a short session and just 2 (two!) needles in my shins, conjured up my period like some kind of wizard school graduate – that very day!

Chinese medicine embraces the idea of shifting energy to manage and mitigate many PMS symptoms and if you’re tuned into the concept before you go into the session, you’ll be all the better for it.  This form of treatment is based on the theory that the liver and spleen hold the key to balancing emotions and physical health during the PMS stage.  Read up a bit on acupuncture before you find a trust-worthy acupuncturist in your area, and check to see whether or not your insurance covers the treatment.  Your therapist should speak with you for at least 30 minutes about lifestyle and diet before beginning the treatment – a series of thin sterile needles gently inserted into the skin along the meridian lines – the lines of energy.  You’ll hardly feel a thing!  Take it from someone who fears needles beyond logic – it’s not bad at all!

9.    Aromatherapy. A couple of days before menstruation begins, massage the following combination into the abdomen once or twice a day, as well as using them in the bath. Blend together equal parts of chamomile, an anti-inflammatory; clary sage, which relieves depression; lavender, a relaxing herb; and tarragon and marjoram, which are anti-spasmodic.

If you’re more particular about your scent-sations, just light up your favorite oils or incense and take a few candle-lit moments to relax your body and mind.

10.  Know Thine Self.  If you need some alone time, take it.  Even at work, save yourself from any unnecessary quarrels at the water fountain, take a big bottle of water to your desk and enjoy a healthy lunch alone in the park for a change.  In a world where social obligations can sometimes feel more debilitating than expanding, don’t hesitate to know when it’s best to step out of the social circle and enjoy some quiet time with yourself.

Cheers to Natural News for excellent detailed explanations of herbal remedies, as always.  Thanks, guys!

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