Beat PMS And Period Pain The Natural Way
It is estimated that 75 per cent of women of menstruating age suffer from premenstrual syndrome at some time. Others may endure at least some of the unpleasant symptoms. It’s tempting to think that periods and pain form some sort of natural alliance, but some nutritionists and alternative therapists believe it was never meant to be that way.
Maryon Stewart, nutritionist and founder of the Women’s Nutritional Advisory Service (WNAS) says, “It is not normal to have pain with your periods. We know this because the women who follow our program successfully don’t even know when their period is coming. They have no symptoms and are often caught unawares. One of the reasons women get PMS and period pain is because of a nutrient deficiency.”
The food we consume may not provide all the nutrients our body and brain needs to work efficiently. By identifying areas of deficiency we can amend our diet and cure most of the distressing symptoms associated with menstruation. “The right nutrition helps to relieve symptoms by improving brain chemistry and normalizing hormone function,” says Maryon Stewart. “An audit by the Women’s Nutritional Advisory Service of 300 women with PMS, revealed that within four months of following the WNAS dietary program over 75% were virtually free of symptoms.”
How Complementary Therapies Can Help PMS And Period Pain
Nutrition plays a big part in our health, but other lifestyle factors – such as how we respond to stress, how much exercise we take, and our general health and energy levels – can also have a surprising affect on our delicate hormone balance.
Massage has proved beneficial in relieving the stress that can contribute to tension, pain and disturbances in hormone balance. When combined with aromatherapy oils, it can provide a particularly potent treatment for sufferers. Aromatherapist Tina Hannan says, “I know from personal experience about the benefits of massage and essential oils in treating period problems. And I know that many of my clients find it just as effective, and much nicer than going to the doctor. It can take a while for the patient to notice improvements, but most people feel much better within three to four months.”
Herbalism can also help to get the body back in balance. Certain herbs have hormone-like qualities which can help normalize hormone function. Other herbs are used to relieve bloating, ease pain, and calm nervous tension and irritability; and tonic herbs are believed to improve your general health. Women who have recently had a baby, or who have felt worse since giving birth, may benefit from cranial osteopathy, an amazingly gentle and relaxing way of correcting tension in the body and easing it back to health.
Acupuncture can also work wonders for some women, especially those with long-term hormonal problems or severe menstrual pain. In one scientific trial 91% of participants said they felt less pain after acupuncture. “I use a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs,” says Chinese medical practitioner Sarah Moon, a specialist in women’s health. “I find it about 80% effective in alleviating the symptoms of PMS and correcting the underlying imbalances, so that those symptoms do not recur. However, it does take about three cycles to feel the benefits.”
How To Help Yourself
Improve your diet. This is the first step in any self-help plan. It is important to eat regular meals to beat irritability and fatigue, and to give your body a constant supply of nutrients. Drink fewer than three cups of tea and coffee a day, as both can aggravate the symptoms of PMS. Replace them with herbal teas, fruit and vegetable juices or water. You also need to reduce your alcohol consumption to no more than three glasses of wine (or equivalent) a week.
Aim to cut out junk food, including sweets, cakes and biscuits. Include more anti PMS foods, wholefoods such as brown rice, wholemeal bread, oats and beans, and at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables per day. Eat oily fish such as mackerel, sardines or salmon three times a week or, if you are vegetarian, include more nuts, sesame and sunflower seeds. A diet of this kind should increase your levels of essential fatty acids, magnesium, iron, zinc and the vitamins E and B. These are the nutrients most likely to be lacking in women with PMS.
You can increase the benefits of an improved diet by taking supplements. You should take a good multivitamin and mineral formula and could try taking extra calcium and magnesium (which work together), iron, zinc and vitamins E and B for a few months, to see if this helps. For period pain and breast tenderness you may need to take six 500 mg capsules of evening primrose oil per day.
Soak Away The Pain
A warm bath can help to relax you, and ease aching muscles, a sore back and stomach cramps. What you add to your bath water can even further enhance the benefits. Try adding 6 to 8 drops of pure chamomile or marjoram essential oil to a warm bath for both period pain and premenstrual tension. Geranium and rosemary oils are good for fluid retention. Bergamot and rose oils can help to relieve depression and irritability. Rose oil also has a regulating and tonic effect on the reproductive system. Clary sage is one of the most popular oils for premenstrual and period problems. It relaxes both emotional and muscular tension, relieves cramping pains and can help to regulate the menstrual cycle. However, it is not suitable during pregnancy.
Exercise And Relax
Regular exercise is proven to benefit women with PMS. It is important to find a type of exercise you like and to practice it at least three times a week. Swimming, brisk walking, tennis, aerobics and yoga can all help to improve your health, hormone balance and mood, and increase your energy level and tolerance of pain. Exercise increases the levels of a brain hormone called beta-endorphin which increases your sense of well being and has a beneficial effect on the function of other hormones. Relaxation is equally important for relieving the stress and tension that hinders healthy mind and body function. Practicing a relaxation technique daily, especially in the premenstrual period, can greatly relieve symptoms.
Agnus castus, available as tincture or tablets, has a normalizing effect on female hormones. It is believed to act on the areas of the brain that control hormonal activity in the body, and numerous clinical trials have shown it to be helpful for regulating the cycle and relieving symptoms such as bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, fatigue, anxiety levels, depression and sweet cravings. It is also good for the hormonal adjustments that take place at menopause. However, if you take the pill or HRT, you need to see a professional herbalist Agnus castus is not suitable during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
St John’s wort has proved itself in clinical trials as an effective antidepressant. It is available in supplement form. Ask at your health store for a reputable brand.
Cramp bark, as the name suggests, helps to relieve menstrual cramps. Try 25 g a day, brewed into a tea. Add 10 ml of the dried bark to a pan containing a cup of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Adding some ginger or cinnamon can also ease cramps and improve circulation.
Lemon balm helps to ease cramping pains. Combined with valerian, it can also relieve anxiety and sleep problems. Add 1 g of each herb to a cup of boiling water and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
Dong quai, available in tablet or capsule form, is known as Chinese herbalism’s ‘women’s tonic‘. It has an estrogen-like effect that helps to relieve painful spasms, improves circulation in the pelvic area and has a regulating effect on the cycle; but it is not suitable during pregnancy.
The Expert Choice
Tina Hannan is an aromatherapist who specializes in women’s health. Here is her aromatic remedy. Mix together well:
- 10 ml grapeseed or sweet almond oil
- 4 drops pure lavender essential oil
- 3 drops pure frankincense essential oil
- 3 drops pure Clary sage essential oil
Use to massage the abdomen and lower back for two weeks before your period. To ease symptoms, add a few drops to the bath. For pain, put 6 drops in a bowl of hot water; place a flannel on top of the water, wring out, place on the abdomen and cover with a warm towel. Keep in place until it cools. Re-apply as needed.
Maryon Stewart is the founder of the UK-based Women’s Nutritional Advisory Service, which offers dietary and lifestyle advice for health problems. For PMS she suggests:
- Have three regular meals a day and, because you need an extra 500 calories a day in the premenstrual week, top up with healthy snacks such as yogurt, nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
- Take a good magnesium-rich multivitamin supplement every day for four months and then lower the dose as your symptoms improve.
- Undertake regular exercise three times a week and exercise to the point of breathlessness. This will increase energy levels and improve your mood.