There’s no delicate way to put this: PMS sucks. A lot. Starting one or two weeks before your period arrives, premenstrual syndrome brings with it a whole host of fun symptoms related to fluctuating hormone levels, including cramps, bloating, breast soreness, and mood swings. And though PMS been around as long as we have, experts still don’t know how to keep it from happening. The best you can hope for is management of your worst symptoms, which is why, when those first twinges of a cramp pop up, you may be tempted to just throw back some Ibuprofen and call it a day.
But if you feel like traditional pharmaceuticals aren’t doing the trick—or you just don’t want to (or can’t) take certain medications—it might be worth exploring something more old-school: plants and herbs. “My recommendation with PMS is almost always to start with an integrative approach,” says Wendy Warner, MD, a Pennsylvania-based OB/GYN and former president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. “That includes making diet changes, stress management, exercise, and herbals and supplements.”
When combined with a healthy diet (that is, lots of veggies and very few refined carbs) and regular, moderate workouts (a 30-minute daily walk should do the trick), Dr. Warner says a regimen of herbal supplements could give your body the boost it needs to kick the worst of your PMS. And it’s okay to experiment to figure out what works best for your body, as no one course of supplements will work for everyone. (Just be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking any supplements, especially if you’re on other medications.) “Treatment plans with herbs would all be individualized for each woman, as we’re all different,” Dr. Warner explains.
The sweet, sweet exception? “It’s actually a good idea to indulge in that craving for chocolate, in small amounts of course,” she adds. “Chocolate will help with both moods and cramps.” I always knew chocolate was the best medicine.
Want to give plants a shot the next time your PMS symptoms appear? Read on for more on the herbs that really make a difference, according to a doctor.
According to several double-blind studies, chasteberry, named for the Central Asian trees that produce the fruit, may alleviate some PMS symptoms like breast pain, fluid retention, irritability, and mild depression.
By boosting the production of the female hormone progesterone, which dramatically decreases after ovulation occurs, and lowering levels of prolactin, a hormone that helps prepare the body for childbirth, “Chasteberry can help with mood issues when taken all month long,” Dr. Warner says. The studies’ findings indicate that it may also be helpful to women who experience breast tenderness before and during menstruation.
That said, there are several medications that interact poorly with chasteberry—including birth control pills and other forms of hormone therapy—so consult your doctor before adding it to your regimen.
Sorry, not that kind of mimosa. (Those might actually worsen your PMS symptoms.) Research suggests that an extract from the mimosa tree may be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety—both of which can pop up or worsen ahead of menstruation.
“Mimosa can be really helpful as a mood elevator, which isn’t quite the same thing as an antidepressant,” Dr. Warner notes. “It may actually make you feel good, rather than just stopping bad feelings.” (If you do take any antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications, talk to your doctor before switching to or supplementing your treatment with mimosa.)
Black cohosh, a flowering plant that grows all over North America, has shown promise as a treatment for menopausal women, although Dr. Warner says that it can also help regulate emotions. “People tend to think of this as fixing hot flashes,” she says. “But it may be best for the ‘doom and gloom’ feelings that can come from hormone imbalances.”
St. John’s Wort
Studies indicate that St. John’s wort may be an effective treatment for mild depression, and, although more evidence is needed, that benefit could extend to PMS-related mood disorders. However, St. John’s wort should never be combined with with certain antidepressants, as it can lead to a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. So if you’re taking an SSRI, definitely steer clear.
This isn’t just Instagram’s favorite flower—in traditional Chinese medicine, white peony is an important ingredient in a medicinal formula called Si Wu Tang, which contains a blend of rehmannia, white peony, dang gui, and ligusticum. Dr. Warner says that, for some people, white peony may help with cramps, irregular bleeding, brain fog, and hormone-induced headaches.
Adaptogenic herbs are pretty buzzy right now, and keep popping up in teas, smoothies, and even sweets. “Adaptogen herbs help support the adrenals, which are almost always out of balance in the face of PMS,” Dr. Warner says.
The key is to find a blend that works for you, as Dr. Warner believes adaptogens taken individually may not be as effective. “Most adaptogens are being used incorrectly—they like to work with ‘friends,’ and should be used as a combo rather than by themselves,” says Dr. Warner, who likes to recommend her patients try a blend of ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola, and cordyceps. But, as always, it’s best to work with a professional to find the squad that works best for you.
These 7 healthy foods may also help reduce your PMS symptoms. Or, if you’re feeling brave, you could turn to cannabis… down there.
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