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We're all familiar with the common symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which refers to the symptoms that begin during or after ovulation and end with the conclusion of the menstrual flow. They may include bloating, cramps, headaches, swelling, fluid retention, lower back pain, depression, abdominal pressure, insomnia, sugar cravings, anxiety, breast tenderness, mood swings, and acne. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and vary greatly from woman to woman,
Many women accept these symptoms as an inescapable part of their monthly cycle and remain unaware that they can significantly relieve PMS by becoming proactive about their health.
Because of diet, lifestyle and excessive stress, PMS is more widespread in Western societies than in Asian and less developed countries. Dr. Jesse Hanley says that PMS is an indication of imbalance in the body, which can be psychological, nutritional, or hormonal. Dr. Hanley sees PMS as "a wake-up call" signaling us to pay attention to these imbalances and fix them before they turn into a more serious condition.
Dr. Hanley notes that menstruation does not create pain and discomfort when a woman is healthy. However, we live in an environment full of synthetic chemicals, including herbicides and pesticides, which mimic estrogen once they get inside the body, enhancing the effects of natural estrogen and disturbing the hormonal balance. Further, an excess of estrogen in relation to progesterone causes problems of hormonal imbalance.
Adopting a healthy diet is a vital for long-term improvement in PMS symptoms. To combat PMS, consume an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet that is rich in organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. These foods are full of essential vitamins and minerals that can go a long way in reducing symptoms.
New research focuses on the connection between diet and PMS and the importance of the foods we eat. A recent 10-year study out of the University of Massachusetts found that women who consumed a diet rich in iron (about 20 mg daily) saw a 36% reduction in symptoms. The study, which surveyed over 3,000 women, also linked higher intake of zinc (around 15 mg per day) with a lower incidence of conditions associated with PMS.
Scientific findings demonstrate that various herbs also help stave off symptoms of PMS. Saffron, chamomile, and St. John's wort and chasteberry have all been identified as exerting a positive effect on PMS symptoms. 
When symptoms are severe, diet alone may not be enough. The following nutrients may prove useful:
VITAMIN B6 (PYRIDOXINE) — Pyridoxine has a number of helpful properties for alleviating PMS. As a smooth muscle relaxant, it can decrease cramps. As a diuretic, it reduces fluid retention, swelling, and breast tenderness. Between 200 and 400 mg could be taken daily, and vitamin B6 can be taken a week before menstruation, rather than just premenstrually. For the first two weeks of the cycle, take 100 mg a day in a B-complex vitamin. Note that the more B6 you take, the more magnesium you need.
MAGNESIUM — Magnesium calms the nervous system and relieves anxiety, depression, irritability, nervousness, and insomnia. As an antispasmodic, it alleviates cramps and back pain. Magnesium also helps reduce cravings for sweets.
Between 500 and 1,000 mg may be needed.
GAMMA-LINOLENIC ACID (GLA) — GLA is a precursor of prostaglandin-E1, a hormone-like substance that helps to regulate neurological and hormonal functions. Prostaglandin-E1 helps reduce muscle spasms, cramping, sugar cravings, mood swings, depression, anxiety, irritability, acne, and to some extent breast tenderness.
It also reduces inflammation and decreases the stickiness of the platelets, which prevents blood clotting. One 1,000 mg capsule of borage oil provides a daily dose of 240 mg of GLA.
EICOSAPENTAENOIC ACID (EPA) — EPA, which is found in fish oil and flaxseed oil, produces prostaglandin-E3, which helps to alleviate breast tenderness. Flaxseed oil is fragile and should not be used for frying. It can be used in salad dressings or over cooked foods.
VITAMIN E—Vitamin E, 400–800 IU, can reduce cramps, breast tenderness, and fibrocystic breasts, which often swell up before a woman's menstrual period.
Scientific studies have established the effectiveness of homeopathy in treating PMS.
The homeopathic remedy chosen should correspond to the symptoms described; only one should be used for best results. Sometimes it's a matter of trial and error; if one does not work, try another.
Dr. Ken Korins, a classically trained homeopathic physician in New York City, recommends the following remedies for PMS and lists the type of PMS symptom for which they are most useful.
LACHESIS — Lachesis helps most physical and emotional symptoms that accompany PMS, such as headaches, right ovarian pain, and breast tenderness. It may be indicated PMS symptoms stop once menstrual flow stops.
It is also indicated symptoms get worse with heat and with constricted clothing around the abdomen.
Emotional indications are restlessness, paranoia, and a tendency to be talkative.
LACANINUM — Think of Lacaninum when the only symptom is a painful, swollen breast, the pain leaves once the menstrual flow begins, and there is a tendency to be irritable.
BOVISTA — Bovista is indicated when gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, occur before the period begins. There may also be traces of blood before the actual flow begins. Subjective and objective feelings of swelling occur throughout the body, even through the hands, resulting in a tendency for the women to feel clumsy.
PULSATILLA — Pulsatilla is good for emotional symptoms of PMS involving a weepy disposition and a need for consolation from others. It helps curb a strong craving for sweets.
NATMUR — Natmur is good when the woman's emotional state is melancholy, sad, and worsens when others attempt to console her. Headaches occur before, during, or after the period. There is a craving for salty foods and an aversion to sex at the time of the period.
SEPIA — Sepia is indicated in the presence of symptoms such as sadness, depression, indifference, and feelings of discontent and discouragement about life. Often a colicky pain is felt before the menses. There may also be a sensation of the uterus dropping, as if it would fall through the vagina due to congestion in that area.
FOLLICULINUM — This is a new French remedy that can be given on the seventh day of the cycle in a 30c–200c potency. Homeopath Dana Ullman, in an article on the Health World Online website, suggests some additional remedies. Take each one in the 6c, 12c, or 30c potency every two hours while symptoms are strong, then every four hours after symptoms diminish. When symptoms become mild, stop the remedy. If you experience no clear improvement within twelve hours, try another remedy.
BELLADONNA — Use Belladonna when the major symptom is "bearing down" pains or cramps that appear and disappear suddenly. It is also useful when cramps worsen by motion, a draft, or being jarred and when they are associated with a headache.
MAGNESIA PHOS — Magnesia phos is recommended for cramps made better by warmth, by simply bending over, or by bending over and at the same time firmly massaging the abdomen, and made worse by cold and by being uncovered.
COLOCYNTHIS — Colocynthis is indicated for cramps like those just described when those cramps are accompanied by feelings of extreme restlessness and irritability.
IGNATIA — Ignatia is good for bloating accompanied by strong emotional downs, such as hysteria and grief, and when the woman experiences conflicting feelings.
CIMICIFUGA — Cimicifuga is used for bloating accompanied by sharp, laborlike pains shooting across the body, perhaps accompanied by sciatica or back pain, difficulty tolerating pain, hysteria, talkativeness, and a sense of everything being "just too much to bear."
NUX VOMICA — Nux vomica is used for Type A personalities who are often highly stressed, who experience bloating and nausea along with irritability, and who become quarrelsome and critical.
To restore hormonal balance, Dr. Hanley advocates natural progesterone, preferably in the form of cream made from wild yam, which is rubbed into the skin. This is because only 10 percent of hormones taken by mouth actually reach the bloodstream; the liver filters out the rest, which stresses the liver and gallbladder and increases the risk of gallstones, gallbladder disease, and liver cancer. Progesterone cream is used between ovulation and the day before the menstrual flow starts.
Progesterone promotes youthfulness and is beneficial against cancer and fibrocystic breast disease. Dr. Michael Janson says additional progesterone is especially important for women exposed to estrogens from pesticides, food additives, drugs, and other chemicals in the environment. These lead to an overload of estrogen and a deficiency of progesterone. Progesterone is extremely helpful for treating PMS symptoms when such an imbalance exists.
Dr. Hanley also cautions that women taking herbs to relieve PMS symptoms should be sure to include herbs that promote progesterone production. Dong quai, alfalfa, licorice root, ginseng, anise seed, garlic, fennel, papaya, red clover, and sage are all estrogenic herbs. They may relieve symptoms, but they may also lead to fibroids, tumors, and cancers. They should be balanced with progesterone-precursor herbs, including wild yam, sarsaparilla, and chaste berry.
According to Dr. Hanley, detoxifying the liver can relieve many female health problems. The first step is to reduce fat in the diet. The second is to use a detoxifying formula that contains herbs and plant enzymes that work to remove toxins from the liver. The herbs and enzymes must be used together; neither should be used by themselves. Dr. Hanley recommends a liver detoxification program two or three months out of each year. Women who suffer from severe PMS can do the program for longer time periods and more frequently.
Reflexology is a science and an art based on the principle that we have reflex areas in our feet that correspond to every part of the body. Massaging specific reflex areas in the feet helps to improve the functioning of specific organs and glands. Research confirms the efficacy of reflexology in targeting PMS. Laura Norman, a certified reflexologist from New York City, describes three reflexology techniques: "Thumb-walking can be used on the bottom, tops, and sides of the feet, although it is most often used on the bottom. The procedure entails bending the thumb at the first joint and inching along the bottom of the foot like a caterpillar, pressing from the heel up to the toe. The right hand is used on the right foot. Taking little tiny bites, press, press, press the whole bottom of the foot. "Finger-walking is similar to thumb walking, but is done by bending the finger at the first joint and using the tip of the finger on the outside edge.
"Finger-rotation is where you rotate the finger into the foot." Massaging the feet with thumb-walking, finger-walking, and finger-rotation using a non-greasy, absorbent cream warms the feet and helps promote overall relaxation. For addressing specific problems, reflexology must be applied to specific areas.
Reflexology for PMS helps most when performed three or four days before and then during menstruation. First the right foot is worked on, while resting on the left leg. Then the same actions are repeated on the left side.
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