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Treating PMS With Herbs

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Menstrual and postmenopausal problems have been treated for centuries with herbs. Recent interests in herbal remedies for premenstrual syndrome show that some of these herbs are quite effective. Herbs for PMS may help with a few or many symptoms of the condition. For example, while St. John’s wort is only good for PMS depression, chasteberry is effective for most of the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS. Chasteberry is one of the best remedies for PMS and its efficacy is widely recognized even in conventional medicine. Besides these two herbs, what other herbs can help your PMS? Read on to find out

1. Chasteberry

Chasteberry or Vitex agnus-castus is also known as Vitex, Chaste Tree. This flowering plant is native to the Mediterranean region and it was used by the ancient Greeks as an aphrodisiac and anaphrodisiac.

Both the berries and leaves of these plants are used as tonic herbs although the berries are more potent.

Chasteberry is one of the few herbs traditionally used for treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS) whose efficacy has been confirmed in modern medicine. Besides its use in the management of PMS, chasteberry is also effective in the treatment of recurrent mastalgia (breast pain), a condition related to PMS.

In fact, chasteberry is approved for the management of PMS and mastalgia in Germany.

Chasteberry is also confirmed to help with other PMS-related imbalances with female reproductive health such as luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia, and problems associated with menopause.

How Chasteberry Helps PMS

Bioactive compounds in chasteberry include alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes, vitexin, casticin and precursors of steroidal hormones. These compounds have been shown to improve hormonal balance and especially act on the pituitary gland.

In addition, studies indicate that chasteberry extract can reduce pains and aches by binding to opiate receptors in the nervous system.

This mechanism of action is believed to be responsible for the effectiveness of chasteberry in relieving the discomfort and fatigue experienced during PMS.

However, the major benefits of chasteberry in the management of PMS involves hormones and neurotransmitters. Researchers discovered that chasteberry binds to dopamine receptors in the brain and then blocks the release of prolactin.

High levels of prolactin are usually reported in women during the luteal phase and while experiencing PMS. Prolactin is released from the anterior pituitary and it promotes the enlargement of breast and lactation in women.

A reduction in prolactin levels lowers estrogen levels and raises progesterone levels. This hormonal profile is ideal for improving the symptoms of PMS.

Researchers believe that the diterpenes in chasteberry are chiefly responsible for the effect of the herb on dopamine pathways as well as for the suppression of prolactin release.

Overall, chasteberry can help relieve the following PMS symptoms: bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, and cramps.

Chasteberry: Dose and Safety

The recommended dose of chasteberry extract is 20 mg taken 1 – 2 times daily. Chasteberry extract is available in tablet form.

However, you should consult your physician before starting on this herbal supplement.

Because chasteberry blocks breast enlargement and the production of breast milk, it should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women. In addition, chasteberry should not be combined with birth control pills, estrogen supplements, antipsychotic drugs and medications that act on the pituitary gland.

Chasteberry is generally considered as safe. However, it may cause mild side effects such as headaches and gastrointestinal discomforts.

2. Dong Quai

Dong Quai or Angelica Sinensis is also referred to as female ginseng although it does not belong in the ginseng family.

This plant is native to China where it has enjoyed centuries of medicinal use in the treatment of menstrual problems. Since it was introduced to Western traditional medicine, dong quai has been used to treat menstrual and PMS complaints successfully.

Besides its benefits for treating menstrual ailments, dong quai can also be used to treat anemia, fatigue and high blood pressure. The herb also has antioxidant properties.

The major bioactive compounds found in dong quai are flavonoids, phytosterols, coumarin, ferulate, and polysaccharides.

In the management of PMS, dong quai can provide relief for headache, insomnia, cramps, fatigue, irritability and mood swings. It is commonly combined with black cohosh when given as a PMS remedy.

Dong quai should not be combined with anticoagulants such as warfarin because it is also a blood thinner. Such a combination will only increase the risk of severe bleeding.

In addition, care should be taken when using dong quai because it can make the skin photosensitive.

3. Black Cohosh

Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa) is also known as fairy candle or black snakeroot.

This flowering plant is native to North America. Its roots and rhizomes have been used as medicinal herbs for centuries by Native Americans.

Historically, the Native Indians used this herb to treat menstrual and menopause problems as well as depression, sore throat, and kidney problems. The herb was immediately adopted into the US Pharmacopeia in the 19th century.

This herb is used in traditional medicine because of its anti-inflammatory, analgesic and sedative properties. It is available as tinctures and tablets.

How Black Cohosh Can Help PMS

Currently, black cohosh is used to treat symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome. Curiously, while the herb has been sparsely investigated for these uses, it was found to be potentially helpful in the treatment of osteoporosis.

Although black cohosh was once believed to possess estrogenic properties, recent evidence confirmed that this herb does not increase the level or activities of estrogen in the body.

This finding indicates that black cohosh may verily improve PMS symptoms.

However, the discoveries of serotonin derivatives in black cohosh, as well as the ability of the herb to activate serotonin receptors, are more important findings.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter closely involved in memory, sleep, and depression. By activating serotonin receptors and increasing serotonin activities, black cohosh can provide relief for PMS symptoms such as depression, moodiness, and insomnia.

Although there were concerns that black cohosh may increase the risks of womb cancer and liver cancer, recent meta-analyses of past studies did not find such risks.

Side effects of black cohosh include headache, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, constipation and low blood pressure.

4. Maca

Maca or Lepidium meyenii is an herbaceous plant grown for its fleshy roots and native to Peru.

Its inverted pear-shaped root structure is eaten as a root vegetable, used an aphrodisiac and taken as a medicinal herb.

However, different varieties of maca vary greatly in shape, size, and color of their roots.

Most of the varieties of maca are rich in proteins, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, selenium, magnesium, iodine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, amino acids, and fatty acids. In addition, maca contains bioactive compounds that are active in the central nervous system.

With such constituents, maca can improve stress, mood, anxiety and sex drive.

For example, calcium has been demonstrated to be helpful in reducing PMS symptoms and the high iodine content of dark-colored maca roots can increase the production of thyroid hormones and, therefore, increase metabolism and reduce fatigue.

A 2009 review found that maca improved both energy, mood, and sex drive while reducing anxiety.

All of these medicinal benefits of maca can significantly reduce the symptoms of PMS.

5. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort or Hypericum perforatum is a popular herb known for its antidepressant property.

St. John’s wort is approved for the treatment of mild depression in Germany. Furthermore, studies indicate that it can even be used to treat major depression.

A 2008 Cochrane review found St John’s wort to be an effective antidepressant and that its antidepressant effect was similar to those of prescription antidepressants. In addition, the reviewers concluded that the herb produced fewer side effects when compared to standard antidepressants.

St. John’s wort contains a number of bioactive compounds. The ones believed to be responsible for its antidepressant effects are hyperforin, hypericin, tannins, and flavonoids.

How St. John’s Wort Helps PMS

While the exact mechanism by which St. John’s wort works is unclear, researchers believe that it is effective in the treatment of depression because it inhibits the removal of serotonin from gaps between the neurons in the brain.

This inhibition prolongs the activity of serotonin and, thereby, produces a prolonged lift in mood.

Besides its action on serotonin, studies also indicate that the hyperforin in St. John’s wort also enhances the activities of other neurotransmitters including dopamine, noradrenaline, glutamate, and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

Therefore, St. John’s wort exerts a number of significant effects in the central nervous system. The result of these effects produces improvements in PMS symptoms such as depression, moodiness and irritability.

Safety of St. John’s Wort

Common side effects of St. John’s wort are dizziness, sedation, and gastrointestinal discomforts.

Care should be taken not to combine St. John’s wort with certain medications. Drugs that may interact negatively with the herb include birth control pills, statins, immunosuppressants, benzodiazepines and drugs used to treat heart problems.

To avoid the worsening of symptoms, women with PMS should not take St. John’s wort when placed on antidepressants, opioids, psychedelic drugs, stimulants and precursors of serotonin.

Such combinations can lead to a life-threating reaction known as serotonin syndrome.

6. Dandelion Leaf

Dandelion is the herb derived from plants in the Taraxacum species. The leaf extract is used as an herbal remedy to treat infections as well as liver problems. Dandelion leaf extract is also a potent diuretic.

Using dandelion leaf for your PMS simply requires that you adopt dandelion greens into your diet.

This herb is rich in essential nutrients and some of these can even help relieve the symptoms of PMS. However, the chief reason to use dandelion leaf in the management of your PMS is its diuretic effect.

As a diuretic, dandelion leaf can help eliminate excess water and reduce bloating, a common complaint in PMS. Because dandelion is also rich in potassium, its diuretic effect does not reduce the potassium level in the body.

Dandelion is a safe herb for most people. However, it may trigger allergic reactions in people with ragweed allergy. In addition, dandelion should not be combined with certain antibiotics and lithium.

7. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm or Melissa officinalis is an herb in the mint family. Both the leaves and the essential oil extracted from the herb are useful medicinal agents.

Bioactive compounds in lemon balm include geranial, citronella, linalyl acetate, and caryophyllene.

As an herbal tea, lemon balm has a calming effect and it is used as an anxiolytic and a sedative. The essential oil is also used in aromatherapy to relieve stress.

To reduce anxiety and promote sleep, some of the bioactive compounds in lemon balm act on the central nervous system. For example, the rosmarinic acid in lemon balm blocks the breakdown of GABA. This inhibition is essential to the anxiolytic effect of lemon balm.

The anti-stress property also extends to the cellular level. Studies confirm that lemon balm has a high antioxidant property and can, therefore, reduce oxidative stress.

Lastly, lemon balm preparations have been demonstrated to enhance cognitive performance and improve mood.

Although lemon balm is used to reduce anxiety and promote sleep in the treatment of PMS, it can also improve mood, reduce stress and promote general wellbeing. 

8. Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba is a widely known herbal remedy. Traditionally, ginkgo is used to improve memory and cognitive performance as well as treat dementia.

However, in the management of PMS, ginkgo is useful for reducing fluid retention and breast tenderness. It can also improve mood and treat insomnia.

Ginkgo inhibits a class of enzymes known as monoamine oxidase. Therefore, it increases the level of monoamine neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. These are the neurotransmitters responsible for improving mood and cognitive performance.

Therefore, ginkgo can help balance the flurry of emotions associated with PMS.

Common side effects of ginkgo include gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, heart palpitation, headaches and increased risk of bleeding.

Ginkgo should not be combined with anticoagulants (such as warfarin) and antidepressants.

9. Valerian

Valerian or Valeriana officinalis is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. It is known for its sedative and anxiolytic properties.

In addition, valerian is used in the treatment of convulsion and migraine as a pain reliever. Therefore, it produces a calming effect on women with PMS as well as reduce migraine headaches and the muscle spasms that cause cramps.

Valerian produces very few side effects. However, in high doses, it may cause stomach ache, mental dullness and even mild depression.

In the management of PMS, a low dose of valerian should be combined with another herb that can reduce cramps.

10. Cramp Bark

Cramp bark or Viburnum opulus is also known as guelder rose. This appropriately named herb is known for its muscle relaxant properties.

Specifically, cramp bark reduces uterine contractions and can, therefore, reduce cramps associated with PMS and menstruation.

This herb is best combined with valerian because they are both muscle relaxants. In addition, while valerian reduces muscle spasms all over the body, cramp bark does the same thing but only in the uterus. Therefore, the combination of both herbs can relieve aches and cramps of PMS.





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