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Natural Remedies for PMS

| November/December 2002

  • For PMS sufferers, many herbalists recommend a vegetarian-based diet rich in whole grains and fresh vegetables.
  • Dong quai is said to relieve "liver qi stagnation," which practitioners of Chinese medicine believe plays a role in PMS.
  • Skullcap supports the nervous system by tonifying and relaxing the nerves.
  • Bitter herbs, such as dandelion root, are often included in herbal PMS formulas.
    Photo by Christopher Hobbs
  • Hormone-balancing herbs, such as this Vitex, are commonly used for PMS.
    Photo by Christopher Hobbs

How many women with PMS does it take to change a light bulb?” The punch line to that old joke is, “That’s not funny.” And for 80 percent of all menstruating women—the number of women in the United States who experience premenstrual syndrome—it is no laughing matter. More than 150 symptoms have been attributed to PMS, and the symptoms are so common that there has even been a movement in the medical community to discard the term “PMS” and accept the symptoms as a normal part of the menstrual process. This attitude has trivialized the daily significance of PMS in the lives of women who suffer from it and has prevented many women from seeking and getting the help they need to more comfortably and productively experience their reproductive years—and for most women this is at least thirty years of their lives! For at least 5 percent of all menstruating women, the symptoms of PMS are so severe that they are incapacitated on a monthly basis.

PMS is the most common complaint of women of reproductive age, leading to the annual loss of millions of dollars due to work absenteeism and lost productivity as well as the disruption of individual lives due to difficulty in everything from parenting to maintaining healthy social relationships.

Do you have PMS?

The term “PMS” is loosely tossed around, sometimes being featured as a joke on a sitcom or as a way to dismiss someone’s behavior (“Oh, ignore her, she just has PMS.”). Because PMS is largely based on self-diagnosis, it is easy to determine whether you have it (see box, below). However, do not ignore the fact that there can be underlying disorders such as thyroid problems or serious hormonal problems that can cause PMS symptoms.

The following are among the most common symptoms that have been classified as part of premenstrual syndrome:

PMS is often categorized based on the symptoms, which can include difficulty concentrating and can range from mild to moderate to severe. There is PMS-A (anxiety), PMS-D (depression), PMS-C (carbohydrate cravings) and PMS-H (hyperhydration, or swelling). These categories can be particularly useful when any of the specific symptoms are extreme—however, most women experience a constellation of various symptoms. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, is severe PMS, but the emotional symptoms are more serious; there is significant impairment in PMDD. The American Psychiatric Association describes PMDD as having at least five of the following symptoms: sadness, anxiety, mood swings, persistent irritability, withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, marked changes in appetite and sleep patterns, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and physical symptoms such as weight gain/bloating, headache, and joint and muscle pain. Seek a full medical evaluation if your symptoms are severe or even mild and persistent to rule out more serious problems.

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