Photograph by James Garaghty
Try these natural cures for the soreness, moodiness and OTT cravings that go with the flow…
If you’re like most women on earth, you have a hate-hate relationship with PMS. Seriously, what’s to like about premenstrual syndrome, with its ugly calling cards – mood swings, bloating, uncontrollable food cravings and irrational crying fits?
All told, the condition describes a collection of more than 150 symptoms that can strike the week before your period, due to an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone levels. Compounding the hormonal plunge are factors such as stress, insufficient sleep and unhealthy eating, says hormone researcher Lorraine Pintus, author of Jump Off The Hormone Swing.
But don’t automatically raid the medicine cabinet – no matter what your symptoms, you may be able to find a fix with these alternative therapies.
BEST FOR: mood swings, sore breasts, cramps, headaches, acne
Introducing the new premenstrual superstars: vitamin E and essential fatty acids, according to a study in Reproductive Health. Women who swallowed the two every day for six months saw major PMS improvements, possibly because both nutrients interact with prostaglandin receptors (prostaglandins are the hormones believed to cause fierce cramps).
A daily multivitamin should supply you with the 15mg of E you need, and you can pop a daily fish-oil capsule to get your fatty acids. Vitamin B6, magnesium and calcium – the mineral you get from a diet full of leafy greens, almonds and yoghurt – may help prevent a number of PMS symptoms, according to Dr Erika Coertzen, a Limpopo-based integrative medical doctor and homeopath. Aim for about 1 300mg of calcium a day.
BEST FOR: cramps, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, nausea
Finally, a prick you can love. Research shows acupuncture is brilliant at treating PMS. One study found that acupuncture quelled symptoms in 78 percent of women.
Though Western doctors still don’t quite understand how it works, they believe acupuncture may increase circulation and elevate endorphins, which enhance mood and alleviate pain. Most women experience PMS relief within 24 hours after a session, so depending on your reaction, you could get treated once a month in the week before your period.
BEST FOR: mood swings, cramps, anxiety, insomnia
Because researchers believe most premenstrual troubles stem from out-of-balance oestrogen and progesterone levels, many treatments aim to restore that equilibrium (one reason the Pill is often prescribed for PMS).
Using a natural progesterone cream – applied daily to your inner thighs or lower abdomen before your period – can have a similar effect, says integrative and functional medical practitioner Dr Frank Lipman. Although a few forms – such as Solal – are available OTC at pharmacies, you should consult your doctor before using them. WH advisor Dr Tamlyn McKeag recommends a combination of evening primrose oil, vitamins and minerals, or the herbal pill Agnucaston instead.
BEST FOR: mood swings, sore breasts, cramps, bloating
While some controversy remains over whether herbs can really cure health issues, science suggests the leafy stuff might lighten your PMS load. The awesomely named chaste tree berry has been the go-to plant for easing women’s gynaecological complaints for more than 2 000 years, reportedly helping to stimulate and regulate different hormones and increase natural progesterone in the second half of your cycle, says Coertzen – which may seriously improve your bloating, irritability and achy-boob symptoms (evening primrose oil, high in the essential fatty acid GLA, is also often used to soothe breast tenderness).
Chaste tree berry is also the active ingredient in Agnucaston, an OTC pill that’s been proven to ease many nasty PMS symptoms, according to McKeag. Dong quai, liquorice and wild yam may help alleviate
migraines, cramps and bloating, while valerian root and St John’s wort may calm your moods. (Be sure to check with your GP before beginning any regimen.)
Sweating And Stretching
BEST FOR: mood swings, cramps, anxiety, headaches, back pain
Don’t snigger. Mild forms of exercise can alleviate several torturous PMS symptoms, says Tegan Burger, owner of Joburg-based Ubuntu Yoga. Working out releases painkilling endorphins and triggers dopamine (a source of pleasure and satisfaction) and serotonin (a depression and anxiety fighter).
Yoga’s breathing exercises also help eliminate moodiness, says Burger, who recommends regular practice (starting twice a week) for long-term benefits. When PMS strikes, try poses like triangle and reclining goddess to open the hips, twisting postures like half spinal twist to ease lower back pain, and gland-stimulating poses such as cobra, bow, boat and bridge. Avoid inversions during the heaviest part of your period.
BEST FOR: bloating
Fluid retention, a particularly unsightly PMS signature symptom (“Um, these pants fitted last week!”), builds up as a result of fluctuating hormones and can make you feel like overstuffed wors. Eastern doctors have believed for centuries that nutrients such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamins B and C act as natural diuretics, relieving big-time bloat.
Western docs have recently caught on, advising patients to snack on bananas, fennel, tomatoes, celery, watercress and citrus fruits pre-period. And think twice before you reach for your morning latte or a diet cooldrink to get things, um, moving. Research shows that while caffeine might be able to slash fluid retention to potentially bring down bloating, it can also heighten anxiety.
BEST FOR: cramps, headaches, bloating
Self-massage can lessen your pre-period woes, as any kind of rubdown increases blood flow and eases muscle and mental tension. Some of the essential oils used in massage also make a difference, including lavender (a muscle relaxer) and geranium (an oestrogen balancer), but it’s important to dilute them before applying to your skin.
Use several drops of one type of oil in a handful of massage lotion and start on your right side above your groin, massaging up to your waist in a clockwise motion. “Always massage in a clockwise direction around the abdominal area as digestion takes place from left to right,” says Cape Town massage therapist Lisa Roese, who also recommends massaging your lower back. Do it for five minutes twice a day during peak PMS time.
BEST FOR: sore breasts, cramps, bloating, acne
Doctors have used pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) to relieve depression and chronic pain, and now it seems magnets can also do wonders for PMS.
In a study, women who wore magnetic devices attached to the sides of their underwear two days before and then during their periods saw their symptoms improve significantly. In fact, a subsequent survey found that when some women used the magnets for a year or more, they continued to experience pain relief. Try LadyCare MN8 (www.wantitall.co.za).