Using the Pill for Menstrual Cramps

What is it?
PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. It is a set of symptoms that are experienced by many women during the days just prior to their period. These symptoms are triggered by the hormonal changes that the body is undergoing at that time.

The Symptoms
Women with PMS may experience all or some of the following symptoms:

  • Bloating and water retention
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irritability
  • A craving for sugar

Treating the Symptoms
For the treatment of premenstrual syndrome, women have a rather wide spectrum of options, ranging from simple changes in diet and exercise all the way up to having her ovaries surgically removed. However, ovary removal is a very extreme option, and it will leave the woman infertile.

For most women, PMS is a one-two punch of water retention and moodiness that usually begins about two weeks before menstruation. Water retention usually appears in the form of weight gain and a feeling of bloating, but it is also responsible for breast tenderness. Ironically, increasing fluid intake alleviates this symptom. These should be clear liquids such as water, NOT Coke. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol are also believed to help alleviate the bloating symptoms, because these upset the body's natural fluid balance. Avoiding salt is more questionable, since your body has mechanisms to keep you in balance with respect to salt and fluid. If you restrict salt intake, your body will retain more of the salt that it does get.

Hormonal changes of the pre-menstrual phase effect blood sugar metabolism. These changes can contribute to moodiness. Worse yet, women crave sugars to alleviate the symptoms. Studies have shown that women with more severe premenstrual symptoms also eat a diet higher in simple sugars. A better route to take would be to reduce those simple sugars but replace them with more complex carbohydrates eaten in a number of smaller meals throughout the day. Carbohydrates are sugars strung together in a complex structure. They will address this craving and its related symptoms. But they will release their energy and calories to the body in a slower, more steady fashion than would simple sugars, which just dump into the bloodstream all at once. Thus, carbohydrates are not associated with the roller coaster fluctuations in blood sugar and resulting mood swings. Carbohydrate intake is also associated with increased serotonin levels in the brain. This is the brain chemical increased by many anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs, like Prozac or Zoloft. The presence of serotonin in the brain tends to act against depression.

These dietary changes may be given a further kick with regular exercise. Something as simple as brisk lunch hour walks for a mile or two a few days a week is enough to ward off symptoms of PMS, not to mention a host of other health problems. In general, regular exercise is associated with less depression and less mood swings.

Diet and exercise changes may be further enhanced with the help of mineral supplements. Some doctors recommend taking 1000 mg of calcium every day, plus 400 IU of magnesium. While these have been clinically proven to alleviate symptoms, their mechanism is unknown. Previously, it had been believed that substances like vitamins B6 and E may help out also, but there has been no scientific evidence to support this. Of course, taking a multivitamin every day is a good idea anyway.

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