A natural approach to PMS
In this series of articles, we take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure common ailments naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):
Natural Steps for PMS (check the Evidence rating)
*** Good Evidence of a health benefit.
** Some Evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.
The following lifestyle aspects are important for PMS.
- Stop smoking
- Manage your stress
- Improve your Nutrition
- Make time to relax
Avoid the following:
- Refined and processed foods.
- Artificial foods that contain additives and chemicals.
- Full fat dairy and other high fat products.
- Sugar and high sugar products.
- Excess alcohol.
These nutrients have been shown to help PMS:
- Essential fatty acids **
- Probiotics *
- Vitamin E *
- Vitamin B6 **
- Vitamin B complex *
- Calcium **
- Boron *
- Zinc *
- magnesium **
The following herbs are normally used for PMS:
- Black cohosh **
- Chasteberry **
- Dong quai *
Homeopathics remedies to help PMS:
- Nat mur*
- Lachesis *
- Pulsatilla *
- Sepia *
The most commonly used Complementary Approaches to PMS are:
- Herbal Medicine *
- Naturopathic Medicine *
- Nutritional Medicine *
Please Note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.
Consultation with a health professional is important if you are experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of PMS.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of emotional, physical, psychological, and mood disturbances that occur after a woman's ovulation and normally end with the onset of her menstrual flow. The most common mood-related symptoms are irritability, depression, crying, oversensitivity, and mood swings with alternating sadness and anger.
The most common physical symptoms are fatigue, bloating, breast tenderness (mastalgia), acne and appetite changes with food cravings.
The mood changes surrounding this condition have been described as early as the time of the ancient Greeks. However, it was not until 1931 that this disorder was officially recognised by the medical community. The term "premenstrual syndrome" was coined in 1953.
About 80% of women experience some features of PMS. Fortunately, only a minority (estimated at 10%) of women have severe enough PMS symptoms to impact their work, relationships or lifestyle in a significant way.
Drugs are not enough
It is important to know that mainstream drugs that are prescribed for PMS such as painkillers and antidepressants, although useful in treating mood disturbances in some women, are not necessarily effective in treating the physical symptoms. Often, it is a combination of diet, medications, natural remedies and exercise that is needed to afford the maximum improvement from the many symptoms of PMS.
Proper diet, exercise and life style changes can help symptoms before resorting to over-the-counter or prescription medications. Most women can control their PMS symptoms successfully so that they do not interfere with their leading healthy and productive lives.
What to do
1. Change your diet
Natural health expert, Dr Arien van der Merwe, recommends the following dietary changes:
- Cut back on caffeine and chocolate
- Reduce fat and sugar consumption
- Drink minimum eight glasses of water a day
- Eat lots of fruit, veggies and a handful of nuts, seeds and legumes, specifically soy bean foods or supplements
Dr Van der Merwe suggests that you "do daily relaxation and breathing exercises to reduce your stress – the single most important treatment of all!"
Exercise can help relieve some of the symptoms of PMS. Physical activity improves general health and helps relieve nervous tension and anxiety. Exercise is believed to release endorphins. Endorphins contribute to euphoric feelings such as the "runner's high" experienced after prolonged exercise. They are a group of neurotransmitters affecting mood, perception of pain, memory retention and learning.
Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes should be done three to five times a week. Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and improves overall fitness by increasing the body's ability to use oxygen. Swimming, walking, and dancing are "low-impact" aerobic activities. They avoid the muscle and joint pounding of more "high-impact" exercises like jogging and jumping rope. Benefits include cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, weight control or reduction, decrease in fluid retention and increase in self-esteem.
Get a loved one to give you a daily massage of your abdomen and back in the week leading up to your period, not only will this relax your muscles and help stop period cramps, but it will make living with you a whole lot easier over THAT time of the month (this should be incentive enough to get them to rub your back)!
4. Apply heat
A warm bath or a hot water bottle over your lower abdomen or on the small of your back will help relieve period cramps.
What to take
Dr Van der Merwe recommends the following supplements for PMS:
- Take essential fatty acids (500mg Starflower oil with 500mg Cold water salmon oil).
- Take a high dose B-complex vitamin supplement (at least 100mg of B6) – together with antioxidants.
- Take a calcium (1000mg at night) and magnesium (500mg at night) supplement.
- Take a probiotic combination of Lactobacillus acidophyllis and Bifidobacterium bifidus.
2. Herbal help
Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medication. Also read the section on herb safety.
3. Homeopathic remedies
The following homeopathic remedies were recommended by qualified homeopath, Dr Debbie Smith. Match your specific condition to the remedy suggested:
Lachesis – breasts are painful, and patient feels worse on first waking. The patient is very talkative and tends to lash out verbally.
Lycopodium – depression and irritability before a period, accompanied by flatulence. Crave sweets and love chocolate.
Nat mur – sadness, melancholy, and irritability accompanied by edema. Ankles and breasts are likely to be swollen.
Pulsatilla – for irregular periods and a tendency to cry easily. Painful breasts. Greasy foods are distasteful.
Sepia – irritability, emotionally dull, and sexually apathetic. Craving for salty, sweet and vinegary foods, and feel better with exercise.
Dr Van der Merwe has the following advice to offer when it comes to which herbs to use for the treatment of PMS:
- Take dong quai (Angelica sinensis), blue or black cohosh or chastetree berry (Vitex agnus castus) according to product recommendations. Vitex might lead to low libido.
- Use St John’s wort for depression (not together with prescription antidepressants, however!)
- Herbal teas or tinctures of chamomile, ginger, wild rosemary and cramp bark will help relieve intense pain (drink one cup of these teas or a combination three times a day).
This article was contributed to by natural health expert Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB).