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Herbal, Please Cure My PMS!

"Dear PMS, I am writing this to let you know that I feel your pain."
By: Claire Y ContrerasHerbal, Please Cure My PMS!

Premenstrual syndrome or PMS is not a disease, but a condition or group of symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle. According to the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome or NAPS in the UK, over 150 symptoms have been identified and were simplified into two common aspects, psychological/behavioral and physical. Common psychological/behavioral symptoms include mood swings, food cravings, fatigue, depression, sleep disorder, irritability and out of control behaviors such as anger.

What causes PMS?

The exact cause of PMS is unknown, but several factors may contribute to it.

Cyclic changes in hormones contribute to PMS as hormonal fluctuations occur during the menstrual cycle and disappear with pregnancy and menopause. Chemical changes in the brain include fluctuations of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in mood states. Insufficient amount of it can trigger PMS symptoms like depression, fatigue, food cravings and sleep problems. It also plays a role to PMDD, which has similar symptoms to PMS.

Herbal Remedies

Evening primrose oil

Women with PMS can have gamma linoleic acid (GLA) deficiency, making it a possible factor in their symptoms. Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis) contains (GLA ). According to Dr. Tori Hudson, N.D., GLA is converted to prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) which is important for hormone synthesis, blood clotting, regulation of inflammation, pain, fluid balance and other organ functions. In order to increase the formation of PGE1 in the body, evening primrose oil supplements should be taken to increased levels of GLA. 

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a widely known herb traditionally used to improve memory and cognitive performance, and also cures dementia. In the management of PMS, it can reduce fluid retention, breast tenderness, inflammation and increases blood flow. It also improves mood and cures insomnia. It inhibits monoamine oxidase which increases levels of monoamine neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, therefore ginkgo can help balance the flurry of emotions associated with PMS. Ginkgo should not be combined with blood thinners/anticoagulants such as warfarin and antidepressants.

Peppermint oil

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is often used to flavor foods and to relieve a wide variety of conditions such as indigestion, respiratory problems, headache, nausea, fever, and stomach spasms. Peppermint oil can also help relief from PMS-related bowel conditions. Rubbing peppermint oil on temples relaxes muscles and helps soothes headaches. Peppermint oil contains numerous minerals and nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and C which are essentials in our body.

Essential fatty acids

Essential fatty acids play an important role in producing hormones, cell membrane function, blood and other body functions. Deficiencies of essential fatty acids can lead to many health problems for men and women and some that are particular to women. They must be obtained from food diet or supplements because our bodies cannot make them. According to Breea Johnson, M.S., R.D., there are researchers that suggest that one way to prevent PMS pain is to balance intake of fatty acids and for the body to produce natural anti-inflammatory prostaglandin instead of taking painkiller meds.

Other herbal extracts

Chasteberry or chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus castus) is considered the premier herb for premenstrual syndrome and is widely used as a general PMS remedy. It's been reported to relieve painful menstruation and breast pain by regulating and normalizing blood flow and balancing hormonal fluctuations. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) can relieve PMS discomfort, menstrual cramps and especially, symptoms of menopause. It also helps with insomnia and depression. Dong quai or angelica root (Angelica sinensis) is a Chinese herb that helps reduce fatigue and premenstrual irritability. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is often prescribed for mild depression, it aids in alleviating moodiness that can accompany PMS.

Vitamins and minerals

There are a few studies suggesting that some PMS symptoms are the body’s way of telling you that you lack certain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, D and E. These are needed to help relieve some PMS symptoms.  Some food like chicken, turkey, cereals, pasta, fruits like avocado, cherries and bananas, green leafy vegetables like spinach, and spices like black pepper and cinnamon can provide us with these specific vitamins and minerals. They can also be taken and available as daily supplements.

Safety concerns

All remedies have their side effects or interactions with other drugs. Taking too much of everything is also bad as it can increase other drug effects. In the case of evening primrose oil and ginkgo biloba, as mentioned, they should not be taken by women who take anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs as it slows clotting and might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. It should not also be taken with antipsychotics and antidepressants as they might increase the risk of having a seizure. Too much polyunsaturated fatty acids (unbalanced omega fatty acids) can increase cholesterol levels, the risk of heart disease and weight gain which is bad for the body.

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