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Women's Health

Escape From Hormone Horrors — What You Can Do

From PMS to perimenopause and on into menopause, hormonal ups and downs can wreak havoc on a woman's life. Here’s how to escape the horror hormones cause.
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But while doctors may not know what is causing your symptoms, there are ways to control them. "You can't change your physiology," says Northup. "But you can change your life. Very often when you do, your hormones respond in a favorable way."

PMS: What you can do

One of the first lines of defense, says Northrup, is to reduce salt intake. Limiting salt will reduce bloating - including water retention in the brain. That, in turn, may ease both physical and emotional symptoms. Northrup also advocates cutting out sugar and limiting caffeine, both of which can make PMS symptoms worse.

And while medical studies remain scant, Northrup also believes women should avoid diet sodas and sweets containing aspartame (NutraSweet) and foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate). "Both are loaded with excitotoxins, chemicals that impact brain cells and can make PMS symptoms worse," she says.

In addition, Goldstein recommends that women increase intake of vitamin B6 - either by taking supplements or by adding more beans, nuts, legumes, and fortified bread and cereals to your diet. Northrup suggests increasing levels of zinc (try poultry, seafood, nuts, and whole grains), and magnesium (found in legumes, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables).

Finally, experts advise women to pay close attention to both weight and exercise, and not to take either one to extremes. "Maintaining a healthy weight - not overweight, not underweight - and exercising regularly, without overdoing it, helps to ease PMS symptoms and make them easier to cope with," says Rebecca Amaru, MD, clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

For additional help, talk to your doctor about birth control pills, which can help stabilize hormone levels. In rare instances, Amaru says, antidepressant medications, such as Prozac, can be used several days a month to help control symptoms.

Hormone horrors: The perimenopause years

It can start as early as your late 30s or as late as your late 40s. It's the life change known as perimenopause, a time when egg production dwindles and hormones can take on a life of their own.

"Your reproductive years may seem to be in full swing," says Goldstein, author of Could It Be Perimenopause? "Then suddenly, you become the mirror image of puberty."

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