Expert Advice

How Can I Get Relief From PMS?

From breast tenderness to mood swings, tame your toughest pre-period problems.

How Can I Get Relief From PMS?
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Eat a nutrient-rich diet that includes lean protein, fish, flax meal, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, and beans, all of which can help balance hormones and blood sugar to reduce premenstrual symptoms. B vitamins also help with hormone metabolism- take a B complex that contains 50 to 100 milligrams of B6. For symptoms related to anxiety, calcium and magnesium can be helpful. Take 1,000 mg of calcium citrate and 300 to 500 mg of magnesium citrate in capsule form a day. The combination helps your muscles relax, which alleviates cramping. For bloating, drink dandelion tea; it acts as a gentle diuretic. The best-studied herb for PMS is chaste tree, which balances hormones; I usually recommend taking 40 drops of the liquid extract each morning to deal with all PMS symptoms.
--Amanda Levitt, N.D., Hamden, Conn.-based naturopathic doctor

Many women underestimate the number of symptoms they experience. Keep a symptom diary; it will help your doctor create a treatment program that addresses your problems specifically. Another benefit is that you can make sure your symptoms are occurring only during your period and aren't indicative of another underlying condition, such as depression. Any kind of exercise is likely to improve all your PMS symptoms, although aerobic exercise seems especially helpful. For fluid retention, use a diuretic that doesnt deplete you of potassiumI like spironolactone, which also may lessen irritability. Over-the-counter pain medications are effective for treating cramps and relieving breast tenderness. Its also important to wear a good, supportive bra during this time, since a lot of the tenderness has to do with your breasts being heavier.
--Diana Dell, M.D., obstetrician-gynecologist, psychiatrist, and assistant professor at Duke University Medical Center

Women with PMS often have low levels of serotonin in their blood. The best way to elevate serotonin levels is to eat complex carbohydrates. But if you eat a carb-heavy food thats also high in fat, like a muffin from your local bakery, the fat will slow the release of serotonin. Instead, pre-measure foods like whole-wheat pretzels or cereals and keep them in plastic bags. That way you'll have them on hand when a craving for carbs strikes, but you wont be tempted to eat too much. Reduce salt when you're premenstrual; it acts like a magnet for water and increases fluid retention. Avoid caffeine, which can exacerbate PMS symptoms, and try herbal teas. Chamomile and peppermint teas can help alleviate gas, swelling, and bloating.
--Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., New York-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association