Millions of women retreat to their beds, baths and heating pads each month as they wait for their PMS to pass. But more of them are demanding better treatment options and physicians, herbalists and nutritionists are trying to meet their needs.
Experts estimate that more than one in three women, in their reproductive years, experience some form of premenstrual syndrome. Many of them have tried everything from eating pretzels to chewing calcium supplements to alleviate its sometimes-devastating symptoms.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania say they have come up with a new medical treatment for PMS. Ph80 — a medication in the form of a nasal spray — is in the second phase of clinical trials at nine different medical centers, and is probably a few years from being placed on the market.
"The interesting thing about it is its delivery system," ABCNEWS' Dr. Nancy Snyderman said. "It's inhaled through the nose, which is the fastest way to get the medicine into the body and brain."
PMS sufferers usually experience at least one of the following symptoms two weeks before their periods: bloating, depression, irritability, mood changes, weight gain, breast tenderness, swelling of hands and feet, aches and pains, poor concentration, sleep disturbance and change in appetite.
"But it's different for every woman, and some women don't even get it," Snyderman said.
Sniffing Toward Sanity?
The medicine, ph80, uses molecules, which like pheromones can influence physiology and behavior when breathed through the nose.
It is one of the first drugs developed to use the pheromone method of drug delivery, Snyderman said. Pheromones are chemical substances secreted by animals that serve as a kind of messaging system. They stimulate nerve receptors just inside the nasal passages.
When stimulated, those receptors send a signal to the hypothalamus, which regulates the endocrine and central nervous system.
"One of the big benefits of ph80 is that it produces quick relief in small doses, which means women can treat their PMS symptoms as they occur," Snyderman said. "But it's probably a few years away from regular use."
Forget the Latte, Try Chasteberry
Although some women believe otherwise, caffeine does not alleviate the symptoms of PMS. In fact, it makes them worse.
"Stimulants like coffee, tea and Coke actually aggravate PMS symptoms and deplete nutrients," Snyderman said. "It's also false that things like salt in chips or pretzels or chocolate help PMS symptoms."
Some over-the-counter supplements can help alleviate the symptoms. The best one is chasteberry, which can either be purchased in its pure form, or found as a main ingredient in other remedies, Snyderman said. Chasteberry (also called vitex), improved symptoms for 52 percent of women who took 20 mg a day as part of a German study. Calcium, magnesium and vitamin E may also work, Snyderman said.
A study at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York found that in tests involving 466 women, calcium carbonate was an effective treatment for all the main symptoms of PMS. More than half of the women — 55 percent — experienced at least a 50 percent improvement in their symptoms, while 29 percent saw at least a 75 percent improvement.
Prescription anti-depressants such as Prozac or drugs that have Prozac in them, like Sarafem work especially well for those suffering from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is the most severe version of PMS, affecting about 5 to 10 percent of menstruating women.
Sarafem is the first and only FDA-approved prescription to help the symptoms of PMDD. It works by correcting the imbalance of serotonin that may lead to the disorder.
Parents should remember that teenage girls are just as affected by PMS as women, and in some cases it can be even worse.
"Mothers should think about this and know a teenager's moodiness might not just be part of being a teenager. It could be PMS," she said.
Here are some other tips from experts on how to stave off PMS symptoms:
Avoid sugary foods or drinks and eat small meals at regular intervals.
Refined foods made with white flour or rice can encourage mood swings. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates, like brown rice or oats.
Salty foods can make you retain more water, so try substituting herbs or low-sodium salt to food.
Increase your intake of fresh fruit, vegetables and water (six to eight glasses daily.) You should also exercise to help ease stress.
Some doctors believe drinking rosemary tea three times during the week before your period may help you deal with the PMS blues by bringing hormone levels into line. Pour one cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary leaves, and let steep, covered, 10 to 15 minutes. Drink warm.