Natural PMS Pick-Me-Ups
Complimentary & Alternative Therapies that reduce PMS symptoms & menstrual pain
The medical term for menstrual pain is primary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea usually starts shortly after the first period, as a woman begins to ovulate regularly. Pain usually starts a day or two before menstrual flow, and may continue through the first 2 days of the period. Often, pain gets better as a woman gets older, or after she has a child (Penn State Medicine).
Eitherway, it’s no secret that PMS has a bad rap. We’ve all heard the horror stories, and some of us have lived them. Short for premenstrual syndrome, PMS describes the collection of symptoms that women typically experience one to two weeks before their period’s onset.
The list of PMS symptoms is surprisingly vast. Common physical symptoms include bloating, cramps, and breast tenderness. Emotional symptoms include irritability, depression, and mood swings. The explanation for all these symptoms are anything but simple or straightforward. While minor symptoms can be merely disruptive, acute symptoms are debilitating. Whatever the severity, PMS is commonly thought of as an unwelcome monthly occurrence.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms and degree of pain vary, and may include the following:
Abdominal cramping or dull ache that moves to lower back and legs
Heavy menstrual flow
Constipation or diarrhea
Vomiting (not common)
Low back pain
What Causes It?
Primary dysmenorrhea is caused by strong contractions of the uterus triggered by prostaglandins, chemicals in the body that are involved in inflammation and pain. Generally, the higher the levels of prostaglandins, the more menstrual pain.
Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by:
Endometriosis, inflammation of the uterine lining
Blood and tissue being passed through a narrow cervix
Uterine fibroid or ovarian cyst
Intrauterine device (IUD)
Supplementing for PMS may help with some relief
Although you can’t necessarily erase all signs of PMS, studies show that its symptoms can be reduced through focused attention to diet and supplementation. We’ve read through countless pages of clinical research to find the vitamins and supplements backed by science to help alleviate PMS symptoms.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Some women find that changing their diets makes cramps less severe. Mind-body techniques such as meditation and acupuncture, and exercises such as yoga and tai chi, can also help relieve pain. Aromatic essential oils and massage may also help relieve pain.
Nutrition and Supplements
Eat foods that are rich in calcium, including beans, almonds, and dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale.
Eat foods that are high in antioxidants, including fruits, such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes, and vegetables, such as squash and bell pepper.
Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and sugar.
Eat more lean meats, cold-water fish, tofu (soy, if no allergy), or beans for protein.
Use healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or vegetable oil.
Some women find that adding soy milk to their diet helps relieve menstrual pain.
Eliminate trans-fatty acids, found in commercially baked goods such as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
Drink 6 to 8 glasses of filtered water daily.
Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.
Some studies also suggest following a gluten-free diet helped reduce painful symptoms of endometriosis.
(Penn State Medicine)
The following supplements may also help relieve menstrual pain:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil to help lower inflammation. This is the kind of fat your body thrives on. Omega-3s are vital for overall health, supporting the eyes, heart, joints, and brain. A double blind study found that taking a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids reduced both physical and emotional symptoms of PMS including depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, headache, bloating, and breast tenderness. For those who would prefer to avoid seafood and fish oil supplements altogether, there is a vegetarian source of DHA and EPA gaining popularity. Algal oil is an excellent source of omega-3s. Algae is rather unique, as it is both vegetarian, and an excellent source DHA and EPA. Algae actually originate the DHA and EPA that continues up the food chain to shellfish and fish.A few studies have found that women who took fish oil had less menstrual pain than those who took placebo. Omega-3 fatty acids may raise the risk of bleeding, especially for people who take blood thinners such as clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), or aspirin. Ask your doctor before taking omega-3 fatty acids.
Calcium citrate. Your body needs calcium for healthy bones. Calcium may also help reduce menstrual pain because it helps maintain muscle tone. However, evidence isn't clear. Calcium citrate is the form of calcium that your body absorbs most easily. Remember that you may be getting some calcium in the food you eat, so ask your doctor before taking calcium supplements.Calcium supports your bones and muscles. Calcium deficiency, which poses a serious health risk for women, may also contribute to PMS symptoms. In a medical study published in 2017, a group of college students who reported severe PMS symptoms were given 500 mg of calcium a day for two months. Compared to a placebo group, those taking calcium saw lower rates of anxiety, depression, fluid retention, and moodiness. A previous study produced similar results, finding that fatigue and change in appetite were significantly reduced for a group who took 500 mg of calcium carbonate each day for three months.
Vitamin D, helps your body use calcium and may reduce inflammation. Vitamin D may interact with a number of medications, so ask your doctor before taking more than the recommended daily allowance.Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin for calcium absorption as well as bone health. In fact, emerging research suggests that it may be just as important as calcium itself. Unfortunately, many American adults and teens simply don’t get enough of it. Having inadequate blood levels of vitamin D is common among women who suffer from PMS. A 2005 study measured the risk of developing PMS symptoms alongside levels of calcium and vitamin D. Results from that study indicated a connection, and suggest that a high intake of vitamin D and calcium can reduce the risk of developing PMS.
Vitamin E, may help reduce menstrual pain. In one study, 100 young women took either 500 IU of vitamin E or placebo for 5 days (2 days before and 3 days after their periods started). Those who took vitamin E reported less pain than those who took placebo. Vitamin E may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you already take blood thinners. People with heart disease, diabetes, retinitis pigmentosa, or cancer of the head, neck, or prostate, should avoid high doses of vitamin E without first asking their doctor.
Magnesium. A double-blind study of 20 patients indicated that magnesium can help prevent and relieve menstrual headaches. A second study found that a group of women taking magnesium along with vitamin B6 had reduced cravings and stress due to PMS. The magnesium-B6 combination also eased physical PMS symptoms such as water retention, breast pain, bloating, headache, nausea, and back pain. Several other sources confirm that magnesium can reduce fluid retention, bloating, and breast tenderness.Preliminary studies suggest that magnesium may help reduce menstrual pain. Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea and lower blood pressure. If you have digestive problems or heart disease, ask your doctor before taking magnesium. Magnesium can interact with many medications, including antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), and tetracycline; bone-building drugs such as alendronate (Fosamax), and risedronate (Actonel); diuretics (water pills); and other drugs.
Improve PMS symptoms with the ancient wisdom of herbs
Herbal supplements are another option for those seeking a reprieve from PMS symptoms. These healing herbs have been used for centuries, and are often free of the unwanted side effects typically associated with prescription and hormone treatments. Ashwagandha (a.k.a. the “chill pill”) is an adaptogenic herb that has been shown to relieve stress, and food cravings.
Keep in mind, though, that if you’re looking to become pregnant, you should check with a doctor before taking herbal supplements. Herbs are generally available as standardized dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, tinctures, or liquid extracts (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Mix liquid extracts with favorite beverage.
Some researchers think the following herbs act like estrogen in the body. Women who have a history of hormone-related cancer, who are taking hormone replacement therapy, or who have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medication should ask their doctor before taking these herbs:
Chaste tree or chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus).Chasteberry, also known as vitex, is made from extracts of fruits from the chaste tree. It is widely taken for menstrual symptoms, menopause, infertility, and other women’s hormonal health conditions. Though more research needs to be done on the topic, studies show that it can help with both emotional and physical symptoms of PMS (particularly breast pain).
Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), taken as a tea for, you guessed it - CRAMPS! People who take diuretics (water pills) or lithium should ask their doctors before taking cramp bark.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) Is used to treat women's hormone-related symptoms, including premenstrual syndrome(PMS), menstrual cramps, and menopausal symptomsBlack cohosh may interact with medications processed by the liver, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), atorvastatin (Lipitor), carbamazepine (Tegretol), isoniazid (INH), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), and others.
Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis). Evening Primrose Oil is a supplement made from a yellow flowering plant native to North America. Native Americans commonly used Evening Primrose oil both as a food, and as a remedy for sore throats, stomach problems, and more. While it is widely known for its ability to help with PMS symptoms, there is conflicting evidence about its efficacy. Although it is not yet supported by substantive scientific research, it is said to help with breast tenderness, depression, and mood symptoms associated with PMS.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), for inflammation. Turmeric can increase the risk of bleeding, particularly in people who already take blood-thinning medications, such as coumadin (Warfarin) and aspirin. Speak to your doctor before taking it. People with gallstones or gallbladder problems should ask their doctor before using turmeric.
Fennel, for nausea and weakness during menstruation. Preliminary studies suggest fennel may reduce the severity of symptoms.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. However, a professional homeopath may recommend one or more of the following treatments for menstrual pain based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type, includes your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Belladonna. For acute menstrual pain that often resembles labor pains; for pain often described as sharp, throbbing pressure in the pelvis accompanied by heavy bleeding; and for pain that may extend to the back and tends to worsen with walking or moving.
Chamomilla. For menstrual pain with mood changes, including irritability and anger, and pain occurring after bouts of anger. The individual may have the sensation of a weight on her pelvis.
Cimicifuga. For pain that moves from one side of the abdomen to the other, and that is worsened by movement.
Colocynthis. For sharp pain accompanied by anger and irritability.
Lachesis. For pain and pressure that extend to the back. Symptoms tend to worsen at night.
Magnesia phos. For cramps or sharp, shooting pains that are relieved by warmth, pressure, and bending forward.
Nux vomica. For cramping pains that extend to the lower back; these pains are often accompanied by nausea, chills, irritability, and a sensitivity to light, noise, and odors.
Pulsatilla. For menstrual pains accompanied by irritability, moodiness (including feelings of sadness), dizziness, fainting, nausea, diarrhea, back pain, and headaches; there may be more pain when there is no menstrual flow.
The following methods may help relieve pelvic pain:
Castor oil pack. Apply oil directly to skin, cover with a clean soft cloth (for example, flannel) and plastic wrap. Place a heat source (hot water bottle or heating pad) over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. For best results use 3 consecutive days in 1 week.
Contrast sitz baths. Use two basins that you can comfortably sit in. Sit in hot water for 3 minutes, then in cold water for 1 minute. Repeat three times to complete 1 set. Do 1 to 2 sets per day, 3 to 4 days per week.
Topical heat. Continuous low level topical heat therapy has been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen (Advil) for the treatment of dysmenorrhea.
Acupuncture has become a popular treatment for menstrual pain. The National Institutes of Health recommends acupuncture, either by itself or along with other treatments, for menstrual pain. In a well-designed study of 43 women with menstrual pain, women treated with acupuncture had less pain and needed less pain medication.
Acupuncturists treat people with dysmenorrhea based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of energy (called qi) located in various meridians. In the case of dysmenorrhea, a qi deficiency is usually detected in the liver and spleen meridians. Moxibustion (a technique in which the herb mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) is often added to enhance needling treatment, and qualified practitioners may also recommend herbal or dietary treatments.
Acupressure also works to relieve pain. A study of 216 female students found that acupressure and ibuprofen were better than placebo at reducing pain.
Some people with menstrual pain may find relief with spinal manipulation, particularly in areas that supply sensory and motor impulses to the uterus and lower back.
Information and text from: