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PMS: Seven Steps to Keep Your Cycle from Spinning Out of Control

PMS: Seven Steps to Keep Your Cycle from Spinning Out of Control

*DISCLAIMER* All information is provided for educational purposes only. No drugs or supplements should be taken without prior advice from your health professional.


Bone up on calcium
Consider chaste tree
Get your vitamins
Watch what you eat
Cool the caffeine
Exercise your options
Lessen the stress


Some girls have a craving for sweets just before they get their period. Others feel so bloated they can't fit into their jeans. Still others argue with everyone around them, cry for no reason, get headaches, can't concentrate, or feel depressed and exhausted.

Sound familiar? All of these symptoms may be related to PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. Most girls get at least some of these symptoms some of the time, but some girls get them worse than others—enough that they can interfere with daily life. One way to tell if your symptoms are related to PMS is to keep track of them for a couple of months by keeping a "symptoms diary." If your symptoms happen only in the week or so before your period starts, PMS is likely to be the culprit.

True PMS is less common in girls than in women aged 20 to 35 and older. If your symptoms diary suggests that you have PMS, it's a good idea to talk to your health professional about it. There are also some steps you can take yourself that may help keep PMS under control. back to top

Bone up on calcium
Chances are you've heard by now that calcium is an important mineral. What you may not know is that it can benefit far more than your bones. One major study showed that women with PMS who took a daily dose of calcium (in the form of two Tums E-X tablets) noticed less moodiness, bloating, food cravings, and lower back pain. By their second menstrual cycle, these symptoms were cut almost in half. Researchers aren't sure why calcium has this effect. It may be that some women's (and girls') calcium levels drop just before they get their period. Taking a calcium tablet helps to correct this problem.

The dose used in the study for treating PMS was 1,200 mg. (Some experts say you should combine calcium with half as much magnesium, another mineral that may be helpful for PMS.) Your body can absorb only about 500 mg of calcium at a time, so you'll want to split it into two or three smaller doses spread out through the day. back to top

Consider chaste tree
Chaste tree (also called chasteberry, or Vitex) is the most popular herb in Europe for treating PMS. One German study of more that 1,500 women with PMS found that after taking chaste tree for three months, 90 percent said they had fewer symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, food cravings, and bloating) or even complete relief from their symptoms. Researchers aren't sure how chaste tree works, but it appears to affect hormones in your body that are related to your menstrual cycle. Although chaste tree has a good safety record so far, it's important to talk to your health professional before trying it for PMS. back to top

Get your vitamins
Some experts recommend that girls with PMS supplement a healthy diet with a multivitamin, to make sure they don't have any kind of vitamin or mineral deficiency. One vitamin that is being studied for its effect on PMS is vitamin B—in particular, vitamin B6. Although the evidence is kind of mixed, some studies suggest that vitamin B6 is really useful for relieving the depression that can come with PMS. But because vitamin B6 is tricky—doses that are too high can cause serious nerve damage—you should talk to a health professional before taking a separate vitamin B supplement. (Doses up to 100 mg are generally considered OK.) Meanwhile, you may want to increase your B6 intake through foods. Some good sources of B6 are walnuts, lentils, beans, bananas, avocados, and dark-green leafy vegetables. back to top

Watch what you eat
Do you notice an energy slump in the days before your period? One way to prevent this may be to eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three big ones. This helps to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Some experts say that you should choose unprocessed foods that are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, such as pasta and beans.

And don't forget your veggies! One study found that women with PMS who ate a vegan diet—one that excludes all animal foods—noticed a real improvement in PMS symptoms and cramps. While more research is needed before experts would recommend a vegan diet for everyone with PMS, it can't hurt to load up on plant foods like veggies, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—all of which are healthy for you whether or not you're a vegetarian. back to top

Cool the caffeine
Even on a good day, caffeine (which is found not only in coffee but in sodas and, yes, chocolate) can increase your stress levels and make it hard for you to sleep—two things you definitely don't need if you have a problem with PMS. Some experts recommend that you also cut back on salt and sweets (ouch!) and stay clear of alcohol. Alcohol has a direct effect on your hormone levels and is likely to make your PMS worse. back to top

Exercise your options
Feeling too sluggish to move? Well, the fact is that the more you move, the more energy you can create. Getting aerobic exercise—anything that gets your heart pumping and increases your breathing rate—promotes the release of endorphins, those feel-good brain chemicals that help boost your mood when you need it most. You might also try some stretching exercises from yoga, which can be especially helpful if you get painful cramps. back to top

Lessen the stress
If you have PMS, you probably don't need to be told that stress makes it worse. But the good news is that learning a stress-reduction technique may just make it better. In one study, women with PMS practiced deep relaxation (such as meditation) regularly for five months. They had a 58 percent reduction in both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS. If you have a relaxation method that works for you, by all means keep it up. If not, you may want to check out a few articles here on iEmily, such as the ones on breath control, progressive relaxation, or yoga. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/23/2001