Natural Cures for PMS
Teenagers' emotions can go from ecstatic to down-in-the-dumps blue based on a disappointing test score or a derogatory crack made by a "popular" girl. It's just another part of parenting a teen. Still, when you throw PMS into the mix, you may not be sure if those three little letters stand for "premenstrual syndrome" or simply the "predictable mood swings" of adolescence.
Dr. Susan Lark, a physician and author of Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book: A Woman's Guide to Feeling Good All Month (Forman Publishing, 1984), says parents will notice cyclical changes in their daughter's mood around the time of her period. She may become more moody, irritable and sad 10 days prior to the start of her menstruation.
"They wonder why their daughter is so difficult to be around," Dr. Lark says. "Usually she is fun-loving, nice and pleasant and enjoyable and all of a sudden they are a little demon. Other things that might be distressing to the girl herself is she might notice she has more pimples around the time of the premenstrual time. She may have more bloating and swelling and breast tenderness even though she is a young woman."
If your suspicions are confirmed, there are things you can do to help. Keep in mind, though, the safest treatments for PMS are not always the same for teenagers as they would be for adult women.
A Day of Rest
Susun Weed of Woodstock, N.Y., an herbalist and author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years (Ash Tree Publishing, 1986) and New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way (Ash Tree Publishing, 2002), says the most effective and least expensive solution for PMS in teenagers is to rest the first or second day of the menstrual period. Weed, who has a 38-year-old daughter, says more than 75 percent of the young women she counsels with PMS problems find their symptoms disappear by following this simple advice:
"Honor your menses by taking a day off when you begin to bleed," Weed says. "That day you should pamper yourself and not do anything for anyone else. We often tease that PMS stands for 'patriarchal mindset,' and that patriarchal mindset is that the fact you are menstruating is meaningless, and you should act like you are not."
Weed does not think of menstruation as a cleansing. Rather, she views it like many Native Americans might – as the "moon time" to access spiritual power. "Let her take time off, do what she needs to do alone that day whether it's take a bath, go for a walk in the woods, stay in bed, read, dream," Weed says. "Tell her, 'Don't watch TV. Don't listen to recorded music. Really allow your own visions and power to come up.'"
Mothers can set a good example for their daughter by not trying to be super mom and juggling a family, career and social life every day. "Encourage your daughter to take time off by taking time off yourself and setting an example to her of a woman who takes care of herself and takes care of herself by eating well and by having set aside time to honor the menses, to honor that as central to honoring of ourselves," she says.
Weed also encourages young women to consume cooked fruits and vegetables, quality dairy products and lean protein. "What I find especially with young women is that they are trying to stay thin, and they don't get enough minerals in their diet because of it," she says.
Dr. Lark agrees that nutrition plays a part. "Unfortunately that means limiting a daughter's intake of junk food, and that's a little harder with teens," she says. "Teenagers are still living at home, and they are surrounded by friends who drink Cokes and eat hamburgers and pizzas and ice cream and candy and junk. It's definitely harder with a teen but really worth the effort if the mother can serve healthy, whole-food-based meals at home, lots of whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains instead of refined flour products and white rice."
Other natural alternatives include vitamins and minerals, flax seed, fish oil, prim rose oil and chase berry, says Dr. Lark, who does not recommend progesterone cream for young girls. "There are nutrients you can give a young woman to help her make her own progesterone more effectively, like chase berry," she says. "Doctors would tend to put a young woman on birth control pills, but a more natural option is to put a young woman on chase tree berries. It will help her ovulate and make progesterone more effectively herself."
Ellen W. Freeman, Ph.D., a research professor with the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, says most research studies do not focus on teens, although women often say their problems with PMS started during those formative years. "It appears to be a problem that does gradually worsen with age at least until they are in their 30s," she says. "As they start approaching menopause, it seems to decrease overall. Once they have it, it seems to stay. It does not self-cure."
Freeman, who recently concluded a study that found no difference in intermittent versus continual use of antidepressants to treat severe premenstrual syndromes, says many of the non-pharmaceutical treatments may also help some young women. She suggests shaping up the diet, exercising and relaxation approaches. Freeman says calcium has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of PMS in some women. She also advises teenagers to cut back on caffeine intake, particularly if they are feeling anxiety.
While experts don't know the exact cause of PMS, Freeman says it's not caused by a hormonal imbalance. "These people have normal hormones," she says. "You don't have menstrual periods if your hormones are not normal, so their hormones are in normal range. The current biological theory is that the women are sensitive to the normal changes of the reproductive hormone cycle every month. They go up and down. Some women are very sensitive to these changes, and that is really a brain chemical issue."
Regardless of why your daughter is feeling out-of-sorts once a month, implementing these experts' suggestions can't hurt. It will only help your daughter to see you setting a good example by understanding the importance of rest, exercise and good nutrition. Letting other family members in on what to expect during this phase will lead to more sensitivity. And in the end, you just might chase that demon from your midst and welcome home your fun-loving daughter again!