Herbs for balance: PMS relief

Lemon balm counters anxiety; salmon is a good source of omega-3 EFAs, which ease cramps.

| March/April 1999

  • Red clover, here as a tea, contains phyto­estrogens such as genistein and diadzen.
  • Tofu, made from soy, helps regulate estrogen levels.
  • Soy yogurt, here on fruit, is one way to incorporate this estrogen-balancing herb into your diet.
  • Dandelion and other bitter greens relieve bloating.

Four recipes for PMS relief

• Simply Living Salad
• Quick Salmon Salad
• On-The-Run Ginger Stir-Fry
• Red-Clover Tea 

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).



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