From Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS

Women today have an estimated 450 periods during the course of their lives—and for many women, that also means more than 400 rounds of premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. Around 75 percent of menstruating women are currently dealing with PMS symptoms (which usually start 7 to 10 days before menstrual flow begins and end shortly thereafter), and some of the most common PMS symptoms include fatigue, bloating, skin issues, emotional changes, breast tenderness and cramps.

If you’re one of the many women who dread “that time of the month” and are wondering if there’s a non-pharmaceutical way to ease symptoms, the short answer is: Absolutely! Here are five of the best natural remedies for menstrual relief.

Tweak your diet. 

One of the best and most natural ways to improve your health—including hormonal imbalances and PMS symptoms—is to focus on your diet. Women who experience PMS symptoms are typically missing out on key nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, B vitamins (especially B6) and vitamins K and E. And when you don’t get an ample daily supply of these essential nutrients, your body demands urgent attention by intensifying PMS symptoms. Some of the best foods for replenish these nutrients and decrease symptoms include green leafy vegetables, flaxseed, wheat germ, avocado and wild-caught fish like salmon and sardines.

There are also foods that are known to make PMS symptoms worse so you’ll want to reduce or completely avoid those dietary triggers. The “bad” list includes caffeine, alcohol, trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar and any food allergens you may have.

Try vitex, aka chasteberry. 

Vitex is an herb commonly used to regulate hormones and fertility in women, and the most commonly used variety of vitex is chaste tree, which produces a small brown berry about the size of peppercorn called chasteberry. This little berry is then made into a supplement that is one of the most popular herbal remedies for PMS and cramps.

Increased production of the hormone prolactin may be a factor in cyclic breast tenderness and other PMS symptoms, and vitex is believed to provide menstrual cycle relief because it suppresses the release of prolactin from the pituitary gland. Numerous studies also support this theory. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine found that after being treated with vitex for three menstrual cycles, 93 percent of women reported a decrease in the number of PMS symptoms or a complete end of PMS complaints.

Take evening primrose oil.

Evening primrose is a plant native to North America that has yellow flowers that bloom only in the evening—hence its name. Women around the world take evening primrose oil to naturally treat PMS symptoms because of its essential fatty acid content, especially of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid.

Women with PMS have been shown to have trouble converting linoleic acid (another essential fatty acid) to gamma linolenic acid, and since evening primrose oil contains significant amounts of GLA, researchers have studied it as a natural way to reduce PMS symptoms. To date, several double-blind trials have demonstrated how supplementing with evening primrose oil can help reduce PMS, especially for women who experience monthly breast tenderness as of one their symptoms.

Use clary sage essential oil.

Clary sage is considered to be one of the top essential oils for hormones, especially in women. Clary sage essential oil has antidepressant, antifungal, anti-infectious, antispasmodic, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also a nerve tonic and sedative with soothing and warming components. In women, clary sage works to regulate the menstrual cycle by balancing hormone levels naturally and stimulating the opening of an obstructed system.

A 2012 study using clary sage demonstrated the positive effects of aromatherapy as a painkiller during the menstrual cycle. Study subjects either had an aromatherapy massage or took the pain suppressant acetaminophen. The females in the aromatherapy group had their abdomens massaged using clary sage, marjoram, cinnamon, ginger and geranium oils in a base of almond oil. And after 24 hours, the researchers found that the reduction of menstrual pain was significantly higher in the aromatherapy group than in the acetaminophen group.

For cramps, try rubbing 2 to 3 drops of clary sage oil combined with a carrier oil (like almond or coconut) on the lower abdomen and then applying a warm compress for 2 to 5 minutes to alleviate pain.

Exercise more to reduce stress.

Conventional medicine believes that the exact cause of PMS is not known, but it appears to be related to fluctuating hormone levels, including estrogen and progesterone, that occur in preparation for menstruation. And while we all know that exercise can benefit our health by helping us maintain a healthy weight, few know about its ability to reduce PMS symptoms.

Exercise helps to balance hormones naturally and reduce stress, which can decrease the symptoms of PMS. Research has even shown that PMS is more likely if you’re obese or if you don’t exercise enough. When you’re stressed, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise, which then has a negative effect on hormone balance. Simply put: the more stressed you are, the more PMS symptoms you are likely to experience each month.

Find out which vitamins you should be taking!

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Want more from Dr. Axe? Learn to which foods encourage detox and which spices can turn your pantry into a medicine cabinet!

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All content on The New Potato (even when supplied by a medical professional) is intended for educational and conversational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider before beginning any new diet, exercise regime, or wellness routine.