It’s our favorite time of the month again, when the running list of premenstrual symptoms (PMS) come knocking at the door to let you know your period is on its way. You may experience cramps, headaches, gassiness, mood swings, breast tenderness, and so much more. In short: PMS can be a real pain and you may be looking for remedies to help.
Conventional methods of period pain relief may work for you. But if you are looking to treat PMS naturally and without over-the-counter medications, there are several steps you can take to work with your body’s menstrual cycle.
Foods to Embrace
Food choices make a big difference in managing PMS symptoms. Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones and others rich in antioxidants (think: spinach, lettuce, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, and bananas). Bananas, for example, are a great source of potassium and vitamin B6, which can reduce bloating. Potassium is also necessary to help stop muscle cramping.
These foods can help fight fatigue and bloating. Unsalted, raw nuts are a great addition as well because they provide inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Complex carbs (think: unprocessed oats, legumes, squash) can help stabilize your mood and control food/sugar cravings.
Foods to Avoid
As a general recommendation, avoid processed and fast foods because they contain additives, salt, and/or added sugars that can contribute to PMS symptoms. Fresh food is best! Salt can be especially problematic if you are experiencing bloating, swollen hands, and tender breasts. Also, avoid or significantly limit the intake of alcohol and caffeine. Both can have a detrimental effect on sleep, energy levels, bloating, and gas.
One of the first natural supplements to consider for PMS is magnesium. This mineral has been found to be effective in relieving PMS symptoms, including anxiety, both alone and when taken along with vitamin B6. Another mineral that improves PMS symptoms is zinc. One study, for example, reported that PMS symptoms decreased significantly among women who took zinc supplements, as this mineral can increase oxygen flow through the body.
Also consider B1 (thiamine), B6, and B12. Vitamin B1 can ease cramping, vitamin B6 helps produce happy hormones (i.e., dopamine, serotonin), and vitamin B12 can improve energy levels and pain.
Don’t forget calcium. Research shows that calcium supplements can reduce PMS symptoms by nearly half when compared with placebo. Other research has shown that women who had a high intake of calcium from food sources had a significantly lower risk of PMS than those who had a low intake.
On the herbal side, chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) may improve PMS symptoms. In a recent systematic review, the authors found that the herb was effective and safe in the treatment of PMS. It’s reported that chaste tree berry may reduce cramps, food cravings, breast pain, and swelling.
Generally, movement helps ease cramps, improves blood flow, and can help with mood. Even if you don’t feel in the mood to exercise, regular aerobic activity can make you feel so much better because it releases endorphins and neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) that improve energy, mood, and sleep. Change up your exercise routines by doing walking, spinning, yoga, tai chi, swimming, or racket sports on PMS days.
Two types of heat therapy can ease PMS symptoms, especially pelvic pain and cramping.
You can use a hot water bottle or heating pad placed on the abdominal area, or soak in a warm tub with or without essential oils or Epsom salts (rich in magnesium). Add calming essential oils to the bath like lavender, clary sage, rose, and sandalwood. Use 5–10 drops in the tub. Epsom salts (magnesium) can help relieve cramping and pain. Use 1 1/2 to 2 cups of Epsom salts and soak for at least 10 minutes.
Relaxing with a hot cup of healing tea one or more times a day can provide some relief. Three teas to consider:
Chamomile, which contains antioxidants that may ease stomach and pelvic discomfort, helps with mood swings, and can reduce cramping.
Dong Quai, a traditional Chinese tea, can ease uterine contractions and thus reduce menstrual cramps.
Ginger, an old standby for many ailments, can help with nausea or stomach distress.
Applying essential oils to your skin or inhaling their aroma can help ease PMS symptoms. Be sure to use a carrier oil (e.g., almond, coconut, jojoba) before you massage them into your skin. Here are four to consider:
Clary sage: This oil is best known for its ability to reduce stress, cramping, and mood swings.
Geranium: This oil reportedly can balance your mood. It also works great when combined with lavender and peppermint essential oils.
Lavender oil: You can expect results similar to those offered by clary sage essential oil.
Peppermint oil: If you are experiencing tummy upset and digestion problems, you can try massaging on this oil before and after eating.
Once you learn a few acupressure points, you will be able to help alleviate your PMS symptoms anytime, anywhere. Pressure applied to specific points can increase the flow of chi (flow of life energy). Pictures are worth a thousand words, so search online for some of the best acupressure points for relieving bloating, abdominal cramps, headache, and more.
One easy point to explain is on your hand: Using your thumb and index finger of one hand, apply pressure to the fleshy joint between your thumb and index finger on your other hand. This can calm your uterine muscles as well as relieve headaches, abdominal pain, and constipation.
Can you meditate your way away from PMS symptoms? Some studies say ‘yes.’ In the journal Mindfulness, the authors noted that “mindfulness [meditation] is predictive of improved symptomatology.” Meditation can be especially helpful during PMS times because it can help you be calmer and sleep better, assist in resisting food cravings, and work to better balance your moods.
There are ways to remedy PMS naturally without conventional medications. These natural techniques work best if you adopt two or more into your lifestyle.
Lisa Roth Collins is a registered holistic nutritionist and the marketing manager at NaturallySavvy.com, which first published this article.