Premenstrual syndrome or PMS : What women should know

Here are some ways to make life with PMS easier as culled from various sources.

SUGAR and spice and everything nice? What about breast pain, bloating, weight gain and acne? Or cramping, headaches, food cravings and mood swings? When it comes to describing that aspect of womanhood known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), "nice" isn't exactly the first word that pops to mind.

PMS is believed to affect to vary degrees between one-third and one-half of all women between the ages of 20 and 50. Certain factors, like bearing several children or being married, seem to increase the risk of having PMS, according to Dr. Susan Lark, director of the PMS Self-Help Center in Los Altos, California. The problem may be inherited genetically, says Dr. Edward Portman, a PMS researcher.

Not all PMS sufferers have the same symptoms and the same intensity of discomfort. Generally, the physical symptoms include backache, bloating, breast fullness and pain, changes in appetite, constipation, dizziness, fainting, headache, heaviness or pressure in the pelvic area, hot flashes, insomnia, lack of energy, nausea and vomiting, severe fatigue, skin problems (such as acne), tissue swelling or joint pain, and weight gain.

A woman suffering from PMS also changes her mood, which may include agitation, anger, depression, irritability, and nervousness. She may also experience mental changes like confusion, difficulty in concentrating, and memory loss or forgetfulness.

Usually, symptoms occur a week or two before the menstrual period, last from a few hours to about 14 days, and stop when the next period begins. "Women close to menopause may have symptoms that persist through and after the menstrual period," the Merck manual states. "The symptoms of PMS are often followed each month by a painful period."

Here are some ways to make life with PMS easier as culled from various sources:

1. Don't worry, be happy. A positive, confident attitude can help you cope and maybe even prevent future episodes of PMS. If you feel PMS getting the best of you, it is suggested to recite some positive affirmations. Sit in a comfortable position and repeat the following two or three times: "My body is strong and healthy. My estrogen and progesterone levels are perfectly regulated. I handle stress easily and competently."

2. Eat a little a lot. Poor nutrition doesn't cause PMS, says Dr. Portman, but certain dietary factors can accentuate the problem.

3. Avoid empty calories. Stay away from low-nutrient foods like soft drinks and sweets containing refined sugar, says Dr. Abraham. Giving in to a craving for sweets will only make you feel worse, contributing to anxiety and mood swings. Try fresh fruit as a substitute.

4. Decrease dairy. Eat no more than one or two portions per day of skimmed or low-fat milk, cottage cheese, or yogurt, Dr. Abraham says. Reason: The lactose in dairy products can block your body's absorption of mineral magnesium, which helps regulate estrogen levels and increases its excretion.

5. Forget fats. Several studies show a link between a diet that is low in fat and fewer PMS symptoms, says Dr. Ullman. Saturated fats especially increase estrogen production.

6. Skip salt. Water retention and bloating are two of the main symptoms and salt promotes water retention. Ergo, avoid salty stuff for 10 days to two weeks before your period, including restaurant food, Chinese, canned soups or packaged and processed items.

7. Fill up with fiber. Fiber helps the body clear out excess estrogens, says Dr. John McDougall, author of "Twelve Days to Dynamic Health." Eat plenty of vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

8. Cut the caffeine habit. Consume very limited quantities of coffee, tea, chocolate, and other caffeine-containing substances, says Dr. Abraham. Caffeine has been shown to contribute to painful breast tenderness, anxiety, and irritability.

9. Abstain from alcohol. The depression that often accompanies PMS will be accentuated by alcohol, says Dr. Portman. Alcohol can also worsen PMS headaches and fatigue and cause sugar cravings, says Dr. Lark.

10. Get more active. Moderate exercise increases your blood flow, relaxes your muscles, and fights fluid retention, says Dr. Lark. What's more, adds Dr. Portman, exercise increases your brain's production of endorphins, natural opiates that make you feel better all over. Walk at a fast pace in fresh air, swim, jog, take up ballet or karate--do something you enjoy on a daily basis, Dr. Portman suggests. For best results, increase your level of activity for the week or two before PMS symptoms set in.

11. Breathe deeply. Shallow breathing, which many women do unconsciously, decreases your energy level and leaves you feeling tense, making PMS feel even worse, says Dr. Lark. Practice inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply.

12. Get an advance from your sleep bank. If insomnia is part of your PMS, prepare for it by going to bed a few hours earlier for a few days before the problem generally sets in, says Dr. Lark. It may help alleviate the tiredness and irritability that go hand in hand with insomnia.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

By Henrylito D. Tacio
Health 101

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