Four recipes for PMS relief
Lemon balm counters anxiety; salmon is a good source of omega-3 EFAs, which ease cramps.
Many women have suffered the effects of PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. Its symptoms range from bloating to mood swings and include headaches, weight gain, breast tenderness, irritability, fatigue, and depression. Researchers have found that PMS is triggered by a number of factors, including fluctuations of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Controlling these fluctuations has been the object of many medical treatments, including herbal ones. Some herbs can be taken as pills or capsules to try to control PMS, but they can also be incorporated into the diet to achieve a similar effect.
The recipes on these pages provide suggestions to help you do this. The key, though, is to choose herbs that help specific problems, such as diuretic herbs for water retention or soothing herbs for irritability and anxiety, and herbs that contain phytoestrogens, which help balance hormone levels, by binding with the body’s estrogen receptors. When estrogen levels are excessive—as they often are in most types of PMS—phytoestrogens help prevent estrogen uptake by competing for estrogen receptors. Phytoestrogens also stimulate progesterone, which is reduced before menstruation.
It’s also wise to follow commonsense tips. Eat less salt if your problem is bloating; salt encourages water retention. Reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, which deplete the nervous system and weaken resistance to stress. Take regular walks—fifteen minutes in the sun will not only help your state of mind, but will also help your skin create vitamin D, essential for proper calcium absorption. Eat a balanced diet that is full of variety—you can add zest to your meals by trying one or two new vegetables every week; the greater the variety of vegetables, the greater the balance of phytonutrients. And instead of reaching for the dried parsley flakes—that you’ve had, um, for how many years on your shelf?—experiment. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), as its name implies, possesses a citrus flavor and adds interest to salads, grains, and other dishes. Further, lemon balm has been shown to ease anxiety, and Germany’s Commission E allows lemon balm preparations to be labeled as treatments for difficulty falling asleep due to nervousness.
A special word about soy
It seems that we can’t say enough about soy. Science has identified many health-benefiting properties in this herb, although the mechanisms that make them work haven’t been firmly established. However, recent research shows that soy phytoestrogens help balance female hormones. Among the most convincing studies are those that examine the soy-rich diets of Japanese women, who have notably fewer complaints of PMS (as well as menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes).
The drawback about soy, especially in our weight-conscious society, is that it contains a relatively large amount of fat when compared to its total calories: Soy has only about forty-five calories per three-ounce serving, but half of those calories come from fat. Don’t despair, though, because some light versions of tofu cut the amount of fat by two-thirds.
Asian women on average eat about four ounces of soy foods daily. Soy is easy to incorporate into your diet; the recipe for On-the-Run Ginger Stir-Fry on this page offers one way. Here are a few others:
Soy yogurt. While it may not be as pleasing to the eye as dairy yogurt, soy yogurt is actually pretty tasty and doesn’t have the acidic flavor of the dairy version. Its thin consistency makes it an excellent topping for dry breakfast cereals; it also perks up sliced pears or apples.
Vanilla soy milk. Add a teaspoon or two of this to your decaf for a special treat.
Soy burgers. Many varieties are available in the frozen foods section of most supermarkets and natural food stories. I love hamburgers, but many commercial brands of soy burgers are close enough to the real thing for my taste. I top them with the usual—ketchup, mustard, onions, and/or relish—or, better yet, sprinkle with fresh, snipped parsley, chives, or lemon balm.
Debbie Whittaker is a frequent contributor to Herbs for Health. She demonstrates her healthy cooking style as the “Herb Gourmet” in Denver, Colorado.