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Natural (and Not-so Natural) Ways to Ease PMS Symptoms

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Any woman who has ever had premenstrual syndrome knows that it is real. It may range from barely noticeable to debilitating, and it changes from woman to woman and from month to month in the same woman. But for women who have come to expect it and live with it for a week or so every month, it is a significant challenge. And it doesn’t help when many people seem to believe it’s “all in your head.”

In my book, Inside Information for Women, I explained that PMS is the body’s response to excess hormones after ovulation if the egg is not fertilized. Different women’s bodies respond to these hormones differently, so the symptoms of PMS can vary greatly, but they may include bloating, acne, breast tenderness, fatigue, and volatile emotions, among other things.  Less commonly, PMS symptoms may become so severe that they interfere with a woman’s daily life – for example, her job or relationships. Women with preexisting psychological disorders seem to be more susceptible to this severe form of PMS, known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Fortunately, there are things you can try to alleviate your symptoms. There is no one-size-fits-all PMS remedy, so there will probably be some trial and error involved. Different women respond to different approaches, so be patient and figure out what works for you. Some things that might help are:

  • Getting enough sleep – at least 7 ½ hours a night will eliminate the added stress of being tired and help your body and mind function at their most efficient
  • Meditation and/or relaxation – to promote feelings of relaxation and well-being and relieve stress
  • Altering your diet – try eliminating refined sugar, caffeine, or alcohol to see if it has a positive effect on your symptoms
  • Working regular exercise into your routine – it doesn’t take much to enhance your heart health and make you feel stronger and more energized

But what about when these measures aren’t enough? What if you are one of the unlucky women who responds to the monthly hormonal surge in a more severe way? Ask your doctor about trying an antidepressant.  Studies show some success with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), for PMDD, with continuous use having the best effect.

Basically, get to know your own body. If you are having trouble with PMS, start with the above suggestions. You can even try keeping a journal of what you tried and how you felt during a given month. Maybe you will notice a trend and find an effective plan for handling your individual PMS. If not, there are effective medicines available.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Can A Low-Dose Birth Control Help Control PMS?

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Being a woman is tough, especially when you have to deal with the monthly effects of premenstrual syndrome. PMS can have a range of effects, as every woman knows, and while for some it may be nothing more than a minor annoyance, for others it can be pretty difficult to get up and go while they’re dealing with symptoms such as moodiness, aches, pains, and bloating. I understand that, and part of my job is making sure that women have all the resources they need so they can live healthy, comfortable lives, no matter what their bodies are putting them through.

While birth control and other drugs been used for years to deal with the more serious symptoms of more severe cases of PMS, or even premenstrual dysphoric disorder, (PMDD), both women and physicians hesitate to give full doses of birth control to women who don’t need or want it. The birth control pill comes with a lot of side effects, as any woman who has taken it knows, and this can cause a lot of concerns for women who are already dealing with the effects of PMS. Fortunately, low-dose birth control can do a lot to regulate your menstrual cycle, and it comes with far fewer side effects than its more estrogen-heavy counterpart. Studies show that it can also help to alleviate the symptoms of PMS, so it may be an option for women who are trying to deal with the worst symptoms of their oncoming menstrual cycle.

If you think your PMS symptoms are bad enough to warrant medical intervention, make sure you bring it up during your next appointment with your doctor. It’s important to have a dialogue with the person in charge of your health about what is going on with your body, and what can be done to make you more comfortable, and your life a little easier. It’s also important to trust your doctor’s judgment when it comes to low-dose birth control, or any other form of treatment. They will know what is best for your body, and can talk you through your options.


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Calcium Will Ease the Pains of PMS

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

It’s almost that time of the month. Your skinny jeans don’t fit, you’re crying about the dishes in the sink, and chocolate is all you want for dinner. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects at least 85% of all women in some way. Some don’t have the same symptoms as others, but many women will have at least one as part of their cycle. You might get acne, tender breasts, fatigue, bloating, cravings, muscle pain, trouble with memory, irritability, mood swings, and anxiety all at once. In many ways, these symptoms interfere with everyday life by making even the most simple and mundane tasks more difficult. The fatigue can feel paralyzing, and the mood swings can make you feel like a monster. Even the most casual conversations can turn into fights or tear-jerkers.

For women who are predisposed to it, PMS is impossible to avoid. Sometimes, contraceptives can ease the symptoms, but other times they actually become much worse. There are also a few easy remedies you can try to ease symptoms, such as exercise and diet adjustment. By exercising, you release much of the tension and stress built up in your body, which will make each problem seem a lot less intense. Avoiding junk food and alcohol can also make symptoms fade away faster, but this only works for some women. However, there is one easy treatment for PMS that has been repeatedly proven to work in a clinical setting. An increased intake of calcium will help ease the symptoms of PMS. In the study, women who increased their intake by 1200-1600 mg every day had significantly less symptoms than before they began the supplementation.

Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet, but increasing the amount of calcium you eat while you are experiencing PMS is easy. You don’t even need to pay for the supplements if you try adding more calcium-rich foods to your diet. Milk, yogurt, beans, tofu, kale, spinach, and orange juice are all excellent sources of calcium. When that time of the month rolls around and you feel too bloated to function and too emotional to face your friends, stock up on calcium rich foods to get over your PMS before it gets the best of you.

 – Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.