Peace out, PMS!
If you're like most women on earth, you have a hate-hate relationship with PMS. Seriously, what's to like about premenstrual syndrome, with its ugly calling cards--mood swings, bloating, uncontrollable food cravings, and irrational crying jags?
All told, the condition describes a collection of more than 150 symptoms that can strike the week before your period, due to an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone levels. Compounding the hormonal plunge are factors such as stress, insufficient sleep, and unhealthy eating, says hormone researcher Lorraine Pintus, author of Jump Off the Hormone Swing.
But don't automatically raid the medicine cabinet--no matter what your symptoms, you may be able to find a fix with these alternative therapies.
Introducing your new premenstrual superstars: vitamin E and essential fatty acids, per a study in Reproductive Health. Women who swallowed the two every day for six months saw major PMS improvements, possibly because both nutrients interact with prostaglandin receptors (prostaglandins are the hormones believed to cause fierce cramps). A daily multivitamin should supply you with the 15 milligrams of E you need, and you can pop a daily fish-oil capsule to get your fatty acids. (Also, a calcium-rich diet--one full of leafy greens, almonds, and yogurt--may help prevent many PMS symptoms. Aim for about 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day.)
Best for: Mood swings, sore breasts, cramps, headaches, acne
Finally, a kind of prick you can love. Research shows acupuncture is ace at treating PMS. One study found that acupuncture quelled symptoms in 78 percent of women. Though Western doctors still don't quite understand how it works, they believe acupuncture may increase circulation and elevate endorphins, which enhance mood and alleviate pain. Most women experience PMS relief within 24 hours after a session, so depending on your reaction, you might get treated once a month in the week before your period.
Best for: Cramps, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, nausea
Because researchers believe most premenstrual troubles stem from out-of-balance estrogen and progesterone levels, many treatments aim to restore that equilibrium (one reason the Pill is often prescribed for PMS). Using a natural progesterone cream can have a similar effect, says WH advisor Frank Lipman, M.D., founder of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City. A few forms--including one made from wild yams (yes, really!)--are available OTC and can be applied daily to your inner thighs or lower abdomen before your period.
Best for: Mood swings, cramps, anxiety, insomnia
While some controversy remains over whether herbs can really cure health issues, science suggests the stuff might lighten your PMS load. The awesomely named chaste berry may stimulate your endocrine system to produce Beat PMS's heinous hallmarks! more natural progesterone, which may cut your bloating, irritability, and achy-boob symptoms in half, says Katrina Schmell, a nurse practitioner at the University of Colorado Hospital. And evening primrose may help alleviate anxiety and cramps, while valerian root, an ingredient in many teas, may work as a muscle relaxer. (Schmell says to check with your primary-care provider before beginning any regimen.)
Best for: Mood swings, sore breasts, cramps, bloating
Sweating and stretching
Stop laughing. Mild forms of exercise can alleviate several gnarly PMS symptoms, says Gabrielle Francis, a naturopathic doctor, chiropractor, and acupuncturist in New York City. Working out not only releases pain-busting endorphins but also triggers dopamine (your natural source of pleasure and satisfaction) and serotonin (a depression and anxiety fighter). And doing hip and back stretches can increase blood flow to contracted uterine, abdominal, and lower-back muscles, easing the tension that leads to cramps. Francis recommends practicing daily yoga with moves such as child's pose or happy baby during the week before your period.
Best for: Mood swings, cramps, anxiety, headaches
Fluid retention, a particularly unsightly PMS signature symptom ("Um, these pants fit last week!"), builds up as a result of fluctuating hormones and can make you feel like an overstuffed sausage. Eastern doctors have believed for centuries that nutrients such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins B and C act as natural diuretics, relieving big-time bloat. Western docs have recently caught on, advising patients to snack on bananas, fennel, tomatoes, celery, watercress, and citrus fruits pre-period, says Schmell. And think twice before you depend on your morning latte or a diet cola to get things, um, moving. Research shows that while caffeine might be able to slash fluid retention to potentially bring down bloating, it can also heighten your anxiety.
Best for: Bloating
It may not be as indulgent as the real deal, but self-massage can lessen your pre-period woes, as any kind of rubdown increases blood flow and eases muscle and mental tension. Some of the essential oils used in massage also make a difference, including lavender (a muscle relaxer) and geranium (an estrogen balancer). Francis advises using several drops of one type of oil in a handful of massage lotion and starting on your right side above your groin and massaging up to your waist in a clockwise motion. Once there, move to your left side and work down to your groin again. Do the massage for five minutes twice a day during peak PMS time, using moderate to deep pressure.
Best for: Cramps, headaches, bloating
Sounds wild, right? But doctors have used pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) to relieve depression and chronic pain, and now it appears magnets can do wonders for PMS, according to a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Women who wore small magnetic devices attached to the sides of their underwear two days before and then during their periods saw their symptoms improve significantly. In fact, a subsequent survey found that when some women used the magnets for a year or more, they continued to experience pain relief. Try MN8 ($45, ladycareusa.com) or Allay ($13, allaystore.com).
Best for: Sore breasts, cramps, bloating, acne