Mother Earth Living

Case Study: Relieve PMS Pains

Build blood with herbs to calm painful periods
By Christopher Hobbs, L.Ac., A.H.G.
May/June 1999
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Two at-home recipes to relieve PMS pains

• Blood-Moving Formula
• Tonic Tea 

The majority of American women suffer from painful periods. In fact, some estimates in medical literature are as high as 70 percent, and others suggest painful periods with severe cramps, known medically as dysmenorrhea, may be the leading reason why women miss work.

In my experience, herbs and dietary changes are likely to reduce cramps and bring about better and longer-lasting health. Vicki, a magazine writer in her late thirties who came to my clinic six months ago, is a prime example of how a holistic approach can ease debilitating menstrual cramps. She described severe, gnawing cramps that lasted a week to ten days each month, sometimes becoming so bad that she threw up from the pain. She had tried mainstream medicine, massage, hypnotherapy, and other treatments without success.

When I took her pulse, I noticed it felt thready and tense. The body of her tongue had a purple cast and was pale, shaky, and puffy. These symptoms showed that her digestion was chronically weak, which had led to weakness of the blood. And when the blood is weak, it can also stagnate, or pool, in some parts of the body—in Vicki’s case, the uterus. She also exercised very little and had a stressful job. She tended towards vegetarianism, eating only a little fish and chicken, and she drank a lot of fruit juice.

I believed that, taken together, Vicki’s constitutional predisposition, habits, diet, and mental strain all contributed to her severe cramps. On my recommendation, Vicki agreed to reduce her fruit juice and raw vegetable intake and to eat more protein, especially beans, lentils, and a little fish, chicken, turkey, or red meat (once a week).

I also gave Vicki an herbal program, outlined below, based on her individual condition—­stagnant blood and vital energy, imbalanced hormones, and weak digestion.

Herbs for movement

Herbalists have used the following time-tested strategy for many centuries for dysmenorrhea. First, ingest blood-moving and regulating herbs from the time of ovulation through the end of the menstrual flow. Add pain-relieving herbs if needed. In my experience, the best blood-moving herbs are the Chinese herbs dong quai (Angelica sinensis) and safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) and the Western herbs black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), prickly ash bark (Zanthoxylum spp.), and cayenne (Capsicum annuum). Black cohosh also relieves pain and regulates hormones. For Vicki, I suggested a black cohosh and dong quai blend, combined with other herbs for pain.


Although Vicki’s next period was still painful, she ­didn’t experience nausea or headaches and her energy was better. By her second period, the cramps and pain were significantly better, and by the third, the pain was nearly gone.

Christopher Hobbs is an Herbs for Health editorial advisor, herbalist, and licensed acupuncturist.He is the author of St. John’s Wort: The Mood Enhancing Herb, (Botanica, 1997) and many other books.

“Case studies from an herbalist’s notebook” are not intended to replace the advice of your health-care provider.

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