The search for PMS relief

You may find some relief from PMS symptoms by browsing 3 aisles at the drugstore: the vitamin and supplement section, the pain medication row, and the natural remedies nook.

Head down the vitamin and supplement aisle. Either explore for yourself or ask a pharmacist for help. You may be able to find a PMS multivitamin, a supplement specially formulated for preventing and managing the monthly hormonal fluctuations. If you don't spot an all-in-one product, a woman's multivitamin will likely provide all of the vitamins and minerals you need on a daily basis. Getting the nutrients you need from food is best, but a multivitamin can fill in any gaps.

Should you opt for a multivitamin, check the label to see how much calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium is contained within. That's because research has pinpointed calcium as a potent ally against PMS symptoms. In a study, women who got at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium and at least 400 IU of vitamin D per day had less risk of symptoms than those who didn't get the vitamin-mineral power boost. Vitamin D, along with magnesium, helps your body to absorb the calcium. Aim for 400 milligrams of magnesium, since the mineral has the potential additional benefit of reducing fluid retention, breast tenderness, and bloating.

Other supplements have been linked to PMS relief, but there is less scientific evidence to back up supposed benefits. Vitamin E, for example, is an antioxidant that may help with breast tenderness, and cramping. Vitamin B6 should be approached with caution. While it is thought to reduce symptoms, B6 can be toxic if taken in too high a dosage. Limit your daily dose to 50 to 100 mg. Always speak to your doctor first before starting any new vitamins, such as vitamins E or B6, as some may not be appropriate for your medical history.

Down the pain medicine aisle, you'll find lots of over-the-counter options to deal with the headaches, joint or muscle pains, breast tenderness, and cramps of PMS. Aside from NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin, and general pain killers like acetaminophen, you will likely see products marketed as PMS pain relievers. Usually these products are NSAIDs or acetaminophen coupled with a diuretic to work on water retention.

Next stop: the natural products section. Some of the potions and tinctures found here have been used for ages to ease PMS symptoms. But that doesn't mean that these remedies have been clinically proven. You may spot the herbs dandelion, ginger, and juniper - all 3 are natural diuretics that discourage water retention. The extract of the chasteberry fruit may help some women deal with premenstrual breast tenderness, as well as the mood swings and headaches associated with the more severe form of PMS known as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Other natural products sometimes used to treat PMS are ginkgo, soy, St. John's wort, and evening primrose oil. Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist first before starting any new herbal or natural remedy.

If your symptoms fall into the realm of PMDD, you may want to make one more stop on your shopping trip - to the pharmacist. There you can inquire about prescription-only medications, such as oral contraceptives or anti-depressants, and other treatment options that have been found effective against PMDD.

Before your next bout of hormone-induced aches, pains, and mood swings, talk to your doctor about using supplements, pain medicines, and natural remedies - and then go shopping!

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