For 3 weeks out of every month, you're
energetic, upbeat and even-tempered. Then it happens. A week before your
period begins, your mood swings from depression to irritability to
downright anger. Your breasts become tender, your abdomen swells and your
pants fit like sausage casings. You feel lethargic, have trouble
concentrating and crave junk food.
For millions of women, these symptoms subside just as
menstruation begins. They are the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
But you don't have to succumb to these symptoms. A great
deal has been learned in recent years about PMS and doctors can recommend
an array of traditional and complementary remedies to help reduce your
Exact cause unknown
Doctors once thought that PMS was "all in your
head." They now know that symptoms are real, not imagined. In fact,
it's estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent of women have symptoms severe
enough to impair their daily activities. About 7 percent have a form of
PMS so disabling that it has its own psychiatric designation —
premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
No one knows for sure what causes PMS. Some believe it's
caused by chemical changes in the brain. Fluctuating hormones also may
play a role. Low levels of vitamins and minerals have been associated with
some symptoms. So has eating a lot of salty foods, which may cause fluid
retention, and drinking alcohol, which may cause mood and energy level
disturbances. It's possible all these factors contribute to some degree.
There is no diagnostic test for PMS. To help determine
whether you have it, your doctor may ask you to keep a daily chart for
several menstrual cycles and record which symptoms you have, their
severity, when they occur during your cycle and when they subside.
Treatment depends on identifying which symptoms are most
distressing and working to eliminate them. That usually requires a
combination of therapies. Here's a start.
Diet modification — Choose foods
that are high in complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole
grains). Eat several small meals a day instead of three large ones.
Limit caffeine, alcohol and salty foods.
Exercise — Try moderate aerobic
exercise (brisk walking, cycling) for 20 to 30 minutes at least three
times a week — more during your PMS days.
Stress-reduction techniques —
Practice progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises.
If lifestyle strategies don't reduce your symptoms
within 2 to 3 months, your doctor may suggest one or more of these
Oral contraceptives — These stop
ovulation, so PMS symptoms usually are relieved. The newest oral
contraceptives are very low-dose, so there are few side effects.
Antidepressants — Selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Paxil and
Zoloft, may reduce PMS symptoms by more than half in 60 percent to 70
percent of women who take them.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
— NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve),
taken before your period can lessen cramping and discomfort during
How can you possibly sort through all the hype about
complementary treatments when research is minimal at best? To make sense
of it all, we sorted through some treatments and arranged them into three
categories based on available information and their potential to help.
Calcium supplements — A study of
500 women, reported in the August 1998 issue of the American Journal
of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that 1,200 milligrams (mg) a day
of chewable calcium carbonate reduced the physical and psychological
symptoms of PMS by almost 50 percent. Improvements were noticed during
the third cycle of treatment.
Magnesium supplements — A 1998
study in the Journal of Women's Health found that 200 mg a day of
magnesium reduced fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating by
40 percent. Improvements were noticed during the second cycle of
reduces breast tenderness related to breast feeding and menstruation.
Iron - good results
using iron supplements to treat heavy menstruation.
What may work
Vitamin E — This vitamin is
thought to help reduce PMS symptoms through regulation of
prostaglandin production — hormone-like substances that reduce
cramps and breast tenderness. Some studies found that vitamin E
significantly reduced symptoms, but others showed only marginal or no
benefit. Doctors recommend 400 international units a day for PMS
Natural progesterone creams —
These creams are derived from wild yams and soybeans. Some women
report symptom relief, although there are no scientific studies to
prove their effectiveness.
Herbal remedies — Although there
are few, if any, scientific studies to back up the claims, some women
report relief of symptoms with certain herbs. These include: black
cohosh (joint pain, headaches, depression), ginger (nausea), red
raspberry leaf (cramps), dandelion tea (bloating), chaste tree berry
(anxiety, insomnia and mood swings) and evening primrose oil (cramps,
breast tenderness). Be aware, however, that the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration doesn't regulate herbs, so the safety and effectiveness
of these substances haven't been proven. Likewise, you have no
assurance that the product you buy contains the active ingredient
listed on the label or that it isn't contaminated with other,
potentially harmful, substances. Check with your doctor before taking
This too shall pass
PMS symptoms range from mild to severe. If you find
yourself on an emotional roller coaster one week every month, talk with
your doctor about the array of traditional and complementary remedies now
Getting the right nutrients can make a big
difference in whether you suffer monthly symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Here's what some experts recommend.
If you have heart or kidney problems, you should talk to your doctor
before taking magnesium supplements.
High doses of vitamin B6 can cause side effects and should be used
only under the supervision of your doctor.
If you are taking anticoagulant drugs, you should not take vitamin E
Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guide only. This information isoffered to you with the
understanding that it not be interpreted as medical or professional advice.
medical information needs to be carefully reviewed with your health care