Natural approaches to pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)

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According to research, as many as 80 per cent of women will be affected by pre-menstrual syndrome at some point in their lives. Traditionally, this condition has been thought of as an entirely female affair. However, I have to say experiences in both my professional and personal life have lead me to believe that the mood swings and personality morphs that can occur on the run-up to a woman’s period can have the capacity to wreak (check spelling) havoc in the lives of their nearest and dearest too. Fortunately, there is good evidence that PMS may respond to relatively simple approaches with a natural bent. What is more, relief from this condition usually brings benefits to women and men folk alike.

Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a term used to describe a combination of various physical and mental symptoms that usually occur in the week or two prior to menstruation. Typical features of PMS include irritability, depression, tearfulness, fatigue, food cravings, abdominal bloating, breast fullness and tenderness and fluid retention. The condition is highly individual affair, with the exact blend of symptoms, and their severity duration varying considerably between women. While some women may experience a couple of pounds’ worth of additional weight and some vaguely tender breasts in the pre-menstrual phase, others may experience extremes of mood and behaviour that can cause considerable interpersonal disruption.

There is some evidence in the scientific literature that stoking up on the minerals calcium and magnesium might help reduce the symptoms of PMS in a significant number of women. What is more, research suggests that these two nutrients are quite common deficient in the diet. Eating more calcium and magnesium-rich foods is a good strategy for women wanting to take control of their PMS symptoms. Dairy products contain calcium, but other foods rich in this mineral that likely offer better all-round nutritional benefits include canned fish (especially tinned salmon and sardines), beans, pulses, broccoli, sesame seeds (e.g. brown tahini) and nuts are all good options in this respect. Beans, pulses and nuts have the added advantage of being rich in magnesium too. Another good source of this mineral is green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and darkly coloured lettuce varieties. In addition, some women might want to consider supplementation too. I generally recommend 500 mg each of calcium and magnesium each day.

One natural remedy that I have found to be very useful indeed in controlling PMS symptoms is the herb Agnus castus. This long-used folk remedy is believed to help balance the hormonal fluctuations in the second half of the cycle that appear to be at the root of many cases of PMS. Specifically, Agnus castus appears to reduce the level of the hormone prolactin, higher-than-normal levels of which have been associated with PMS.

Last year, a study published in the British Medical Journal showed that Agnus castus (also known as Chasteberry, Monk’s pepper and Vitex) helped reduce the severity of PMS by about half. This study used half the standard dose of Agnus dose, and other research suggests that bigger doses produce better results. Agnus castus appears to be an extremely safe and well-tolerated herb. The normal recommended dose of Agnus castus is 40 mg of dried herb or 40 drops of concentrated liquid extract once a day. Agnus castus preparations are readily available in health food stores.

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