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A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a healthy diet, is the first step towards managing premenstrual syndrome. For many women with mild symptoms, lifestyle approaches are sufficient to control symptoms.
Women should follow the general guidelines for a healthy diet. These guidelines include eating plenty of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding saturated fats and commercial junk foods. Making dietary adjustments starting about 14 days before a period may help some women control premenstrual symptoms.
Fluid. Drinking plenty of fluids (water or juice, not soft drinks or caffeine) may help reduce bloating, fluid retention, and other symptoms.
Frequent Small Meals of Complex Carbohydrates. Increasing complex carbohydrate intake may be helpful. Carbohydrates increase blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin, the brain chemical important for feelings of well-being. Meals should be high in complex carbohydrates, which are found in whole grains and vegetables. (Complex carbohydrates should always be preferred over simple carbohydrates found in sugar and starch-heavy foods, such as pastas, baked goods, white-flour products, and white potatoes.)
It is best to eat frequent small meals, with no more than 3 hours between snacks, and avoid overeating. Unfortunately many women not only overeat during the premenstrual stage but also tend to eat sugar-rich foods or high-fat salty snack foods -- the worst choices for PMS. Overeating such foods may worsen some PMS symptoms, including water retention and negative mo.
Salt Restriction. Limiting salt intake can help bloating.
Reducing Caffeine, Sugar, and Alcohol. Reducing caffeine, sugar, and alcohol intake may be beneficial.
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, increases natural opioids in the brain (endorphins) and improves mood. Exercise is also very important for maintaining good physical health. Even taking a 30-minute walk every day is beneficial. Although not an aerobic exercise, yoga releases muscle tension, regulates breathing, and reduces stress. Relaxation techniques, including meditation, can also help reduce stress.
Some evidence indicates that calcium with vitamin D, and vitamin B6 supplements, may help with PMS symptoms.
Calcium. For calcium, the recommended dietary intake is 1,000 mg/day before age 50 and 1,200 mg/day after age 50. For vitamin D, the recommended daily intake is 400 IUD/day before age 50 and 600 IU a day after age 50. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, dark green vegetables, nuts, grains, beans, and canned salmon and sardines. Food sources provide the most nutritional value, but studies also suggest that supplements may be helpful.
Magnesium. The effects of magnesium are not as well established as with calcium, but some evidence suggests that it may be helpful in reducing fluid retention in women with mild PMS. A number of factors can cause magnesium deficiencies, including intake of too much alcohol, salt, soda, coffee, as well as profuse sweating, intense stress, and excessive menstruation. Magnesium can be toxic in high amounts and can interact with certain drugs. Women should discuss supplements with their doctor.
Vitamin B6. Limited clinical evidence suggests that vitamin B6 may help reduce PMS symptoms. Typically, women take 100 mg per day. Very high doses (500 - 2,000 mg daily over long periods) can cause nerve damage with symptoms of numbness in the feet and hands.
Food sources of B6 include meats, oily fish, poultry, whole grains, dried fortified cereals, soybeans, avocados, baked potatoes with skins, watermelon, plantains, bananas, peanuts, and brewer's yeast. (Women prone to Candida vaginitis, the so-called yeast infection, should not increase their intake of dietary yeast.)
Many women with PMS suffer from sleep problems, either sleeping too much or too little. Achieving better sleep habits may help relieve symptoms. [For more information, see In-Depth Report #27: Insomnia.]
Some women have reported relief from pelvic pain after acupuncture or acupressure (a needleless approach). However, acupuncture treatment of premenstrual syndrome does not have good evidence to support it.
Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need FDA approval to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body's chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.
A number of herbal remedies are used for PMS symptoms. With a few exceptions, studies have not found any herbal or dietary supplement remedy to be any more effective than placebo for relieving PMS symptoms.
Evening Primrose Oil. Some women have reported that taking evening primrose oil helped PMS. However, studies vary as to its effectiveness for PMS symptoms and two rigorous studies reported no benefit. It may be helpful for relieving breast symptoms.
Ginger Tea. Ginger tea is safe and may help soothe mild nausea and other minor symptoms of PMS.
The following are special concerns for people taking natural remedies for PMS:
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