Alternative Treatments to Consider
by Dr. Ruslana Kurpita
Most women are familiar with the dreaded PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. According to current statistics, this unpleasant condition affects approximately 40 percent of menstruating women. PMS has many symptoms, including bloating, cramps, acne, back pain, mood swings, sugar cravings, tender breasts, water retention, difficulty sleeping, and headaches. These symptoms are often severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
Women often turn to various over-the-counter medications to curb these symptoms. The most popular anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, Advil, Midol, or Excedrin, help with pain and cramping. Some physicians even recommend taking a dose of ibuprofen or Naproxen for about two to three days before the onset of symptoms to control severe pain. Yet pain relievers do not address the other PMS symptoms or the core of the problem. As a physician who specializes in women’s health and integrative medicine, I work with my female patients to find a personalized solution to PMS. While any treatment should be discussed with your doctor, below are some alternative PMS treatments to consider.
Not surprisingly, changes in lifestyle and diet can help regulate PMS. According to the recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, regular aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, running, swimming and cycling, can reduce the symptoms of fatigue and depression; the frequency of exercise matters more than the intensity. Relaxation is also an important factor. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, massage, biofeedback and adequate sleep help with moodiness, fatigue and pain.
A nutritional report by Dr. G.E. Abraham in 1983 noted that women with PMS consumed 275 percent more refined sugar, 79 percent more dairy products, 78 percent more sodium and 62 percent more refined carbohydrates, plus 77 percent less manganese and 53 percent less iron than women without PMS. High caffeine intake also contributes to the severity of premenstrual symptoms like sleep problems, mood swings, abdominal cramps and breast tenderness. Eating six small meals each day can ease both food cravings and mood swings. Limiting alcohol is also recommended, since alcohol can make symptoms worse.
Supplements address deficiencies and may help correct the underlying causes of PMS. A review of multiple studies published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy in 1999 concluded, “Calcium supplementation…should be considered a sound treatment option in women who experience premenstrual syndrome.” It is likely that women do not get enough of this mineral in their diets. Magnesium deficiency causes fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, menstrual cramps, sleep problems and headaches. A Cochrane review in 2002 showed that magnesium was helpful in relieving pain symptoms of PMS. Dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is a water-soluble vitamin required for more than 100 different chemical reactions in the body, including regulation of both the reproductive system and neurotransmitter function (neurotransmitters are substances in the nervous system that carry nerve impulses, and play a large role in regulation of emotions). According to the Natural Standard database, use of B-6 vitamins in treating PMS has a “grade B”, which means it is backed with good scientific evidence.
The consumption of certain herbs may also be helpful in managing PMS. Dr. David Rakel, in his textbook “Integrative Medicine,” suggests chaste tree to manage moodiness, headaches and breast tenderness. St.John’s wort, valerian root, and black cohosh are often used to counteract depression, anxiety and sleep difficulty.
While PMS symptoms are unpleasant, the treatment of symptoms can often be simple. When we investigate the causes of PMS, we are able to target treatment options, increase the effectiveness of the treatment, and eliminate side effects. Although over-the-counter pain medications can effectively take the edge off PMS symptoms, I would encourage you to work with your doctor to explore alternative treatment options to maximize your good health.
Ruslana Kurpita, MD, DABHM, is an integrative physician at the OSU Integrative Medicine Clinic. Dr. Kurpita incorporates traditional medicine into her practice, as well as preventive care, nutrition, supplements, vitamins and herbal medicine. Connect at Ruslana.Kurpita@osumc.edu. For more information about integrative health at OSU visit go.osu.edu/integrativehealth.