How to Beat PMS

Herbs that take the pain out of your cycle

Without a doubt, PMS is one of the least pleasant aspects of womanhood. For up to 10 days each month, some 25 million women suffer from bloating, cramping, moodiness, breast tenderness, migraines, acne and food cravings. These are just a few symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, which typically begins after ovulation and vanishes with the first signs of menstruation. Scientists aren't certain what triggers PMS. Some theorize it's caused by a decline in the brain chemicals known as endorphins; others point the finger at overall poor nutrition and low blood sugar problems, both of which can exacerbate PMS symptoms. Still others blame monthly fluctuations in levels of estrogen and progesterone. Whether you're prone to bursting into tears over the tiniest thing or are incapacitated by cramps, herbs can provide relief. It's best to use tinctures. They are more concentrated and faster acting--they are usually effective within 30 minutes--than capsules and teas.

Cramp bark. A muscle relaxant and mild tranquilizer. Tincture: 1 teaspoon, three times a day. Use at first sign of cramping. If you know your body well, you can start taking cramp bark the day before you anticipate your cramps beginning and continue until they cease, according to Gay Roberts, a nutritionist and acupuncturist at American Whole Health Center in Littleton, Colo.

Black cohosh. An antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory that eases cramps in the back, legs and abdomen. Tincture: 3 to 4 droppersful in the morning and evening. Use as needed.

Lavender oil. A topical analgesic and muscle relaxant. Use 3 to 15 drops in a bathtub of hot water (add oil after the tub is filled so it doesn't evaporate). Or mix 20 drops in 2 ounces of vegetable oil and rub into the areas where you hurt most.

Vitex. A hormone balancer that stimulates production of progesterone to alleviate breast tenderness, mood swings, food cravings, acne and constipation. Do not use if you are taking other hormones (like estrogen) or suffer from PMS-related depression. (That condition is believed to be linked with high levels of progesterone, so black cohosh is a better choice.) Tincture: 20 to 30 drops each morning. You will need to take it for several weeks before you see results.

Valerian. By depressing the central nervous system, this sedative relaxes muscles and reduces anxiety and moodiness. Tincture: 2 milliliters (mi.), three times a day. Herbalist Tim Blakley recommends mixing valerian with 2 mi. each of passionflower and lemon balm, three times a clay. Use until anxiety passes.

Dandelion. A first-rate diuretic that safely reduces water retention without flushing out important minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium. Take one dropperful twice daily, as long as symptoms persist.

Devil's Club. Eliminates irritability, fatigue, headaches and other symptoms associated with PMS-related low blood sugar, according to Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. Tincture: 2 to 3 mi. in hot water, two or three times a day. Use as needed. Devil's Club can also be taken throughout the month if low blood sugar is a chronic problem, according to Roberts.


By Norine Dworkin

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