Alternative Medicines for Premenstrual Syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a series of physical and emotional symptoms that can occur each month before a woman's menstrual period. The symptoms can start anywhere from two to fourteen days before menstruation and usually end as the bleeding begins. Its cause is unknown, but PMS is probably related to changes in the levels of hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone.

More and more, allopathic doctors are acknowledging the benefit of several alternative therapies -- particularly nutritional therapy and relaxation therapies -- in treating PMS.

Nutritional Therapy for Premenstrual Syndrome

Nutritional therapists maintain that a nutritional deficiency or too much or too little of certain foods can trigger PMS in susceptible women. For many women, nutritional supplements and appropriate dietary restrictions effectively eliminate the monthly onslaught of symptoms.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is one of the more commonly prescribed supplements for PMS treatment. Clinical research has shown that the overwhelming majority of women who take vitamin B6 supplements regularly significantly reduce their symptoms, including:

  • breast tenderness
  • mood swings
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • acne flare-ups

This vitamin is thought to perform several functions that alleviate PMS symptoms, such as helping produce serotonin (a mood-regulating chemical in the brain) and blocking the manufacture of the hormone prolactin (which is linked to breast tenderness). In addition, women with PMS symptoms may be deficient in vitamin B6.

Women with PMS also may have a magnesium deficiency. Supplementation with this mineral has been shown to relieve the symptoms of water retention and nervousness, among others. Other helpful supplements include:

  • calcium
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • chromium

In general, a diet rich in vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables), fruits, whole grains (with lots of buckwheat, millet, and barley but not much wheat), and beans is least likely to encourage PMS symptoms for most women. Drinking at least eight glasses of water per day can actually reduce water retention. Meals should be small, frequent, and spaced throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels in check. The following are some other specific suggestions:

  • Avoid sodium (salt) and alcohol, which deplete vitamins and minerals that keep PMS at bay and which also trigger water retention. Instead, eating asparagus and watermelon can encourage urination.
  • Eliminate sugars, which can also lead to water retention, block the absorption of needed vitamins and minerals, and contribute to hypoglycemia.
  • Limit dairy products, which inhibit the absorption of magnesium and contain arachidonic acids that can cause certain PMS symptoms.
  • Cut down on saturated fats, which may promote cramps, among other symptoms.

A naturopathic physician may prescribe supplementation treatment, such as taking magnesium and vitamin B6. Be sure to consult a physician before taking B6, however, as high doses may cause nerve damage.

Homeopathy for Premenstrual Syndrome

Homeopathic treatments work to stimulate the body into righting any emotional or physical upsets that produce PMS symptoms. It uses highly diluted doses of natural substances that would cause PMS symptoms if given in full strength to a healthy person. The substances are from plant, mineral, and animal sources (including snakes). A remedy is individualized to each patient and depends on her particular mix of emotional and physical symptoms, as well as her general state of emotional and physical health. For example, if a woman with PMS easily becomes weepy, she may be prescribed one of several remedies, including:

  • pulsatilla nigricans, a perennial plant, if the weepiness is accompanied by symptoms such as diarrhea, a lack of thirst, desire for open air, desire for company, and cravings for creamy foods.
  • sepia, a cuttlefish ink, if the tearfulness is matched with exhaustion, constipation, a sensitivity to cold, irritability, lack of joy, indifference or aversion to one's family, and cravings for sour foods.

Other common PMS remedies include ignatia amara, lachesis, lycopodium, and nux vomica.

Yoga for Premenstrual Syndrome

Emotional stress can amplify any premenstrual fluctuations of hormone levels and the resulting PMS symptoms. Yoga seeks to clear the mind, induce deep breathing, and ease muscle tension and stiffness. It also satisfies the body's need for a good, regular workout. The yoga poses and breathing exercises should be done throughout the month, with less vigorous ones performed during the time of menstrual bleeding. The sessions are most beneficial if they last from 20 to 60 minutes and are performed three to seven times a week.

Here's a sample yoga pose, often called the butterfly or diamond pose, that can be performed while you are experiencing PMS:

  • Sit on the floor with your knees bent pointing out to your sides and the bottoms of your feet flat against each other. Keep your spine straight while clasping your toes.
  • Pull your feet as close to your groin as possible.
  • Take several slow, deep breaths.
  • Then, exhale and slowly lean forward from the hips, still clasping your toes and keeping the spine straight.
  • Inhale and slowly lean back to your original position.
  • Repeat this gentle rocking and breathing for one minute.

Aromatherapy for Premenstrual Syndrome

The essential oils of several herbs can relieve the symptoms of PMS gently and with fewer, if any, side effects. The typical treatments for PMS call for mixing several drops of an oil into a warm bath or into a carrier oil (such as almond or grape seed oil) that can be massaged into the skin, often around the abdomen or breasts. The oils are used by themselves or together to take advantage of their potentially synergistic qualities.

Depending on the symptoms, different oils are recommended. Here are some suggestions:

  • For water retention, use grapefruit, fennel, or juniper.
  • For stress and tension, use clary sage or lavender.
  • For depression, use bergamot, chamomile, or geranium.

An herbalist may recommend soaking in a tub of water spiked a specific amount of essential oils. (Tip: Keep the bathroom door closed to retain the aromas in the room).

Other Premenstrual Syndrome Therapies

  • Ayurvedic Medicine for Premenstrual Syndrome -- Treatment can involve dietary changes, herbal therapy, and meditation.
  • Bodywork for Premenstrual Syndrome -- Reflexology and massage can be effective in relieving emotional and physical tension.
  • Herbal Medicine for Premenstrual Syndrome -- Herbs can be used to control water retention (dandelion and parsley), stabilize hormone levels (dong quai), and perform other helpful functions.
  • Meditation for Premenstrual Syndrome -- Daily exercises can reduce the stress and tension that exacerbate PMS.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine for Premenstrual Syndrome -- Acupuncture, herbal therapy, and lifestyle changes are part of the treatment program.

For more information on premenstrual syndrome and alternative medicine, see: