Key remedies put PMS in the past

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a cluster of physical and emotional symptoms associated with the female menstrual cycle. Between 30 and 40% of women experience some degree of PMS regularly, although symptoms may vary significantly from woman to woman. Common complaints include fatigue, irritability, breast tenderness, headache and abdominal bloating. For most women, PMS symptoms are relatively mild; however, in 10% of women they can be severe.

According to Dr Michael Murray, ND, coauthor of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, dietary changes can help ease symptoms during this period of hormonal imbalance. He recommends increasing vegetables, fruits, whole grains and seeds while decreasing animal and dairy products. Reducing fat and sugar intake, as well as caffeine, will also help.

Some key dietary supplements have also been shown to ease PMS symptoms. Among the most effective are the following:

MAGNESIUM: Red blood cell levels of this important mineral are significantly lower in those suffering from PMS. Studies prove that supplementing with magnesium can dramatically reduce PMS symptoms, including nervousness, breast tenderness, weight-gain, and moodiness. Studies also show that magnesium may be most effective when combined with vitamin B-6.

VITAMIN B-6: This vitamin was first shown to ease symptoms of depression linked with taking birth control pills. Since 1975, further studies have indicated its usefulness in easing PMS. In one study, 84% of women taking B-6 had lower scores on PMS symptoms. For best results, Dr Murray recommends combining B-6 with magnesium, or using the form of B-6 known as pyridoxal-5-phosphate.

CHASTETREE BERRY (VITEX): As its common name implies, this herb was used historically to lower libido. Whether it does is a matter of speculation; however, studies do verify that vitex has hormone-normalizing properties that are effective for easing PMS symptoms. It is the most popular herbal approach to PMS used by German doctors and provided dramatic relief in one study of 1,500 women: 90% of them reported either significant improvement or complete resolution of symptoms! One drawback, however, is that vitex may take up to three months to become fully effective.

BLACK COHOSH: Another “phytoestrogen,” or plant estrogen, black cohosh is useful for both PMS and menopause symptoms. It is also widely used in Germany and was judged to have “performed very well” in treating PMS. In particular, women reported less depression, mood swings, anxiety and tension while taking black cohosh.

While the supplements mentioned are safe, consult your healthcare provider if you are taking any prescription medications.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed) by M Murray and J Pizzorno, Prima:1998; Dietary Supplement Information Bureau, www.supplementinfo.org