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Winning the War on PMS

Got PMS?

Look at Your Lifestyle continued...

Different women may benefit from different programs, says Steven Rosenzweig, MD. But in his experience, it is generally helpful to take a stepwise approach and begin with the quality of diet, exercise, and rest.

"Your diet should balance carbohydrates, proteins, and fat at each meal. Emphasize whole grains, natural oils rather than margarine and saturated fats, and vegetable sources of protein. If you follow this sort of diet, many of the mood swings and energy issues associated with PMS can be solved," says Rosenzweig, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

It's extremely important to follow a lifestyle with a natural rhythm of rest and activity. Get an appropriate amount of sleep, and pursue some form of daily exercise followed by the relaxation response. "This will improve the quality of sleep at night and often reduces the total sleep requirement," he says.

And as Rosenzweig cannot resist mentioning, this sort of diet and exercise program has health-promoting effects that extend far beyond control of PMS.

He recommends a good multivitamin, the full range of B vitamins (not just B-6), and often extra magnesium.

"Women with a predisposition to PMS symptoms often tend to have low magnesium stores. But the single most effective supplements, in my opinion, are evening primrose oil and flaxseed oil," he says. While women's needs vary, a usual starting dose would be about 1,000 mg of each per day.

In addition, you can find specially formulated dietary supplements designed to combat PMS. Judith Wurtman, PhD, developed PMS Escape, a powdered drink mix containing a mixture of carbohydrates and vitamins.

"We know the changes in mood and appetite that characterize PMS are related to changes in the amount of serotonin in the brain, says Wurtman, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the TRIAD Weight Management Center at McLean Hospital in Boston. "PMS Escape helps raise serotonin levels in the brain for about four to five hours. It works faster than food, and you only use it on the days you have symptoms."

Suppose you try diet and lifestyle changes but nothing seems to help? First, take a closer look at your personal pattern of symptoms. If you have classic PMS, you'll notice that you start to feel better as soon as your period begins. If you fit that definition, this means your symptoms are clearly cycle-related. In that case, Goldstein says, cycle suppression using birth control pills will alleviate many if not all of your symptoms.

What About Sarafem?

If you watch TV an average amount, you've already seen the ads for Sarafem, those pink and lavender capsules designed to ease premenstrual depression and mood swings. Sarafem is actually a low dose of the antidepressant Prozac, repackaged with a new look and name. It's not supposed to be used for garden-variety PMS. Sarafem is prescribed only for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

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