Diet For PMS

Words: Dr Richard FIRSHEIN

Jane was silent for a moment, and then looked at me with a mixture of hope, surprise, and bitterness. “You mean there are things I could have been taking all along to stop my premenstrual syndrome [PMS]?” she asked. “I’m not sure I believe you.” Like Jane, most women aren’t told about nutrients they can take to relieve their monthly burden, but only about pain-relieving drugs like Advil, or Midol.

When I talked with Jane about her daily life, I realised that her diet may have been aggravating her PMS. She was always on the go, or buried in a book, too preoccupied to worry about eating nutritious foods, instead grabbing whatever was most convenient: junk-food. To enhance her paltry stipend as a graduate student, Jane worked nights at a local diner, where sodas, greasy burgers, and fries were readily available. Whether in class, or reading, in the library, Jane always found a vending machine that offered all too convenient and unhealthy replacements for good square meals. On weekends, she would sleep late and open her fridge, only to realise that she’d forgotten to do grocery shopping during the week.

Somehow, though, there always seemed to be a stash of chocolate bars and ice-cream in the freezer, and Jane would often munch on them in place of breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This haphazard diet was probably one of the main causes of Jane’s struggles with PMS.

Although most women view themselves as helpless victims of the swirling hormones that drive their menstrual cycle, their lifestyle often plays a large part in their suffering. Eating a nutritious diet packed with fruits, vegetables, essential fatty acids, calcium, and soy [which gently balances hormones] and eliminating sugar, salt, alcohol, and caffeine can go a long way towards reducing the cramps, headaches, and tenderness associated with PMS. Regular exercise can also help prevent PMS and, later in life, alleviate menopausal symptoms.

I implored Jane to start eating planned, balanced meals through the course of her day, augmenting her new diet with regular exercise, even if that simply meant brisk strolls across campus. I asked her to take magnesium for her headaches, primrose oil to balance her hormones, and flaxseed powder to cleanse her system.

Most important, to calm the careening hormones that were most likely exacerbating her PMS, I gave her capsules of the dried root of black cohosh [Cimicifuga racemosa], a flowering plant that has long been a valued remedy for many ailments of the female reproductive system. From the pain of PMS to the struggle of childbirth and the discomfort of menopause, black cohosh is an herbal rescue remedy, normalising the constantly fluctuating hormones that characterise a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. Within six months, Jane noticed a significant improvement in her symptoms.

The first annoyance to disappear was her breast tenderness, followed quickly by her bloating. After a few more months, her cramps and finally even her mood swings were few and far between. Jane’s friends and classmates began to think she was a completely different person and ultimately forgot what a crank she had once been. But, Jane will always remember how hard it was to live life with PMS, and she continues to monitor her diet — and, to take black cohosh.

Whether you’re facing the perils of PMS, or the monsters of menopause, black cohosh, red clover, and dong quai are healing herbs for women. When the intricate hormonal harmony of the menstrual cycle goes off-key, black cohosh is the herb that puts the reproductive system back in tune. It is a useful remedy to get you back in sync with the natural rhythms of your own body.

NB: Recent studies have questioned the use of black cohosh for the treatment of hot flashes. Herbal supplements can vary widely in their active ingredients. Always choose the best supplements and talk to your physician before starting any nutritional supplement programme. Women with a family history of cancer, or at risk for cancer, should avoid such ‘oestrogen-like’ herbs.

Dr RICHARD FIRSHEIN, DO, is the Founder-Director of The Firshein Center for Comprehensive Medicine in New York City. He is a leading innovator and authority in the field of preventative and nutritional medicine, integrating Western and Eastern medical practices. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has served as professor of family medicine. An internationally recognised leader in the field of integrative medicine and healthy aging, a cancer researcher, prolific author and writer, Dr Firshein has written several ground-breaking books, including the bestselling Reversing AsthmaYour Asthma-Free ChildThe Nutraceutical Revolution and The Vitamin Prescription [For Life]. This article is ©Dr Richard Firshein.

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