When the heating pad is not enough and you’re fed up with swallowing the naproxen, aspirin or ibuprofen, and you can’t handle their side effects, you just might be ready for natural PMS herbal alternatives. Here is a different approach to menstrual cramps and PMS. Traditional Chinese Medicine hasn’t been the accepted answer. We’ve always been “plugged-into” the Western approach. It’s time to get UNPLUGGED!
Herbs have been around longer than mankind. Through the ages every culture has discovered the healing properties nature provides; this has been a universal phenomenon. The Chinese began embracing natural botanicals and documenting their medicinal value circa 300 BC. The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon was one of the first ancient Chinese medical texts from this era and the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic) was the first to index 365 medicinal plants and compiled circa 100 AD. Some 2,000 years later, these same medicinal plants are still in use and have been extensively studied and dissected by Western science looking for keys to how they work.
When I first began studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) I was in awe of all the possibilities herbal formulas offered. When I discovered an herb blend or “formula” written in 1113 AD to help menstrual cramps, PMS and irritability, I only wished I had seen it sooner. As both men and women know all too well, it’s not only the physical symptoms of a woman’s menstrual cycle but the emotional and psychological swings as well. Chinese herbs have been proven to help these mood swings and without the side effects of prescription drugs.
A study by the Cochrane Library — an international, not-for-profit, independent organization which promotes and disseminates systematic reviews of heath care interventions — found evidence from 39 clinical trials involving 3,475 women, that Chinese herbal medicine can be used safely and has merit as therapy for women suffering with menstrual cramps also known as primary dysmenorrhea: “Chinese herbal medicine gave significant improvements in pain relief when compared to pharmaceutical drugs. It also reduced overall symptoms. The research revealed that Chinese herbal medicine was also better at alleviating pain than acupuncture or heat compression.”(1)
“All available measures of effectiveness confirmed the overall superiority of Chinese herbal medicine to placebo, no treatment, NSAIDs, OCP, (oral contraception pills) acupuncture and heat compression, and, at the same time, there were no indications that Chinese herbs caused any adverse events,” said lead author Xiaoshu Zhu, who works at the Center for Complementary Medicine Research at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.(2)
The Japanese adopted TCM into their national medical system decades ago. It was 1976 when the Japanese Department of Pharmaceutical Affairs and Ministry of health and Welfare Service first approved 148 traditional Chinese herbal formulas as part of their National Health Insurance coverage. Today herbal medicine in Japan is prepared as pharmaceuticals which insures dependable potency levels from batch to batch. Some of the same herbs the Cochrane Library studied are part of the menstrual cramp formula commonly used in Japan.
Here’s a little background on five of the Chinese herbs from the Cochrane Library study that have been popular with women for ages for menstrual cramp relief, PMS and pain associated with a monthly menstrual cycle. 1. Angelicae (dang gui), 2. Red and White peony root, (radix peoniae alba and peoniae rubrae), 3. Licorice root (glycyrrhiza), 4. Nut-Grass rhizome (Cyperus) and 5. Ligusticum (lovage root or chuan xiong).
Angelicae Root (Dang Gui)
Dang qui functions as an anti-inflammatory, pain reliever and is often referred to in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the female ginseng. Mary Hardy, M.D. said “Dang qui may have some efficacy for PMS when used in traditional Chinese multiple-herb formulas.”(3) Dang Gui is believed to have an adaptogenic effect on the female hormonal system. It is often included in herbal combinations for abnormal menstruation, suppressed menstrual flow, painful menstruation and uterine bleeding. Dong qui has been traditionally used in balancing the reproductive hormone system, as an anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic agent.(4) The chemical constituents in Dang gui include coumarins, ferulic acid and ligustilide, and essential oils, which are compounds that may be useful for blood flow and for relaxing the uterus in premenstrual uterine cramping.(5) Coumarins are known vasodilators and antispasmodics.(6)
White Peony Root (Radix Paeoniae Alba) and Red Peony (Radix Peoniae Rubrae)
Peony root has many important uses, from headaches to abdominal pain and spasms, blood deficiency, menstrual irregularities and even night sweats. White Peony root (the skin removed) has been an important remedy for female reproductive conditions ranging from primary dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) to irregular menses.
Red peony root (bark or skin still on the root) has some similar pharmacological actions and some varying actions. Studies show the major effect of white peony is to calm nerves and alleviate spasms. Both forms of the roots are commonly used in Chinese medicine. White peony has been studied for use in the treatment of depression-like disorders.(7) The roots are full of anti-oxidants and polysaccharides. Research has found the major marker component of white peony is paeoniflorin, but its flavonoids, tannins and polysaccharides all contribute to its medicinal value.(8)
Peony root has been used to treat menstrual irregularities and amenorrhea, which suggests that it may have hormonal effects. Clinical trials with traditional Chinese and Japanese herbal formulas containing peony have suggested various hormonal effects in both pre- and postmenopausal women.(9)
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza)
Licorice has a long and highly varied record of uses.
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