“Late night?” I joked with my friend Kendra. She’s not much of a drinker, but she looked awful.
“It’s cramping,” she replied. “I almost couldn’t get out of bed this morning. And I don’t want to go to the doctor — they usually put you on the pill for bad PMS. I don’t want to be on the drug. You’re always on about natural remedies. Any suggestions?” When I got home, I hopped on the phone.
I first spoke with Steve Marmor of Herbs & More in Encinitas (760-753-7272; herbsandmore.org). “Our goal is to get to the underlying causes of health problems,” he explains. “Problems with PMS or menses suggest that the female system is out of balance. But it’s not a sentence that you have to put up with because it’s very easy to balance out. There are quite a few combinations of herbs that will help — I have probably 15 or so. When someone comes in, I’ll do a muscle test and an assessment to help determine what in particular she needs — there’s no one thing that’s right for everybody’s system.
“Some women have irregular cycles, some have moodiness, some have cramps, and some have heavy flow. A combination I might suggest would be red raspberry, dong quai, licorice root, black cohosh, blessed thistle, and queen of the meadow leaves.” The cost of this particular combination is $16.20 for 90 doses. “Some women might need to take three a day for two or three months, but they would notice a difference by their next cycle,” he adds.
Each herb, Steve explains, addresses a different issue. “Blessed thistle, for example, is a glandular regulator and a digestive tonic. Many people don’t realize that the digestive system and bowel function relate very closely to what is happening with menses. Women who are having these kinds of problems are sometimes constipated or have liver congestion.”
That seems to jibe with what I learn from Cleve at Henry’s in La Mesa (619-460-7722; www.henrysmarkets.com). “Bad PMS symptoms are related to an imbalance — usually excess estrogens, either natural or synthetic. We get synthetic estrogens from our environment — from paints, body-care products, even plastics. Your car has plastic in it, and when it sits in the sun all day and gets hot, it off-gases chemicals which have estrogen. The first thing I suggest to help balance estrogen is ground flaxseed [$1.49 a pound]. It contains lignan, which has a chemical in it that is identical to estrogen. That will fill your cells’ receptor sites for estrogen, so when the excess estrogen floats by it can’t get into your cell. It goes to the liver and then gets sent to the colon, where it should be excreted through bowel movements. That’s why it’s important for humans to have two to four bowel movements a day, and that’s why you should consume more grains and fiber.”
Cleve also suggests black cohosh for helping the estrogen balance. “And soy isoflavones — you can get them in our store as capsules under the name ‘genistein’ [$11 for 60; $20.50 for 120]. Pomegranate is another source. And we have a product called Hot Flash [$15], which helps in balancing the female system. It contains genistein, pomegranate, dong quai, wild yams, and other things that balance sex hormones.”
Lynell at Whole Foods in La Jolla (858-642-6700; wholefoodsmarket.com) has other blends “to balance hormones and relieve PMS symptoms. Oöna PMS [$22.99 for 20 tablets] contains Chaste tree berry, black cohosh, and passion flower. The first two regulate hormones, and the third is a calming herb. You start taking it mid-cycle, and you get results in one to three cycles. It’s more of a long-term thing; if you need something on the spot, we have Aunt Flo Cramp Relax [$12.99 for 20 tablets].” Aunt Flo contains cramp bark as a muscle relaxant, ashwagandha for tension relief, and dandelion root for bloating.