Women’s menstrual cycle means, for most of them, going on a rollercoaster of feelings. Indeed, the menstrual cycle comes with familiar symptoms that are typical and descriptive of each hormonal stage. Furthermore, the culmination of this circle is menstruation and menstrual cramps, which are the most common symptom reported by 50% of the female population. Prostaglandins induce uterine spasms, which allow the blood flow from the endometrium to the outside. However, alternative botanicals can improve premenstrual symptoms due to their antispasmodic potential.
Chasteberry: Vitex agnus-castus
Chasteberry is commonly used to treat premenstrual syndrome by Greece’s female population. This berry is obtained from the dried ripe fruit of the chaste tree. Furthermore, the mechanism of action of this berry can be mediated by the dopamine receptors. Consequently, this action decreases thyrotropin-releasing hormone and prolactin levels, thus relieving PMS-associated symptoms.
Besides this action, in vitro studies have demonstrated that chasteberry has a low affinity for estrogen receptors. In addition, chasteberry can function as an opiate receptor agonist due to its high phytochemical content. Some of the phytochemicals reported in chasteberry are apigenin and pendulentin, which have a weak affinity to ER-B.
Chasteberry’s efficacy has been reported by many randomized controlled trials as significant to treat moderate to severe PMS. However, these beneficial effects are predominately seen on the central nervous system of these patients.
Cramp Bark and Black Haw: Viburnum opulus and Viburnum prunifolium
Animal models have seen positive antispasmodic and relaxant effects with the use of Cramp Bark and Black Haw. Furthermore, when these botanicals were used in clinical trials, they reported a relaxant effect in uterine tissue.
Dong Quai: Angelica Sinensis
Dong Quai is the dried root of Angelica Sinesis, a plant widely used in traditional Chinese. Furthermore, the bioactive compound of Dong Quai is Z-ligustilide, which can inhibit contractile spams in the uterus and promotes microcirculation. Therefore, TCM uses Dong Quai to encourage blood circulation and treat women’s health conditions such as dysmenorrhea.
Other observations linked to the use of Dong Quai in a dose-dependent manner are related to its anti-inflammatory effects. Consequently, the anti-inflammatory effects also result in fewer PMS-associated symptoms.
Ginger: Zingiber officinale
Ginger is one of the most studied plants due to its multiple benefits as a potent anti-inflammatory agent and immune-modulating properties. Furthermore, this extensive research has elucidated that ginger has over 60 different bioactive compounds that benefit human health. However, among these bioactive compounds, zingerone stands out due to its antispasmodic activities. Furthermore, a small clinical trial reported that the use of ginger at a dosage of 250 mg four times a day was as effective as using NSAID to reduce menstrual cramps.
Valerian: Valeriana officinalis
Valerian has multiple properties and functions. Therefore, this rhizome (or root) can be used for its tranquilizing and relaxing properties by women suffering from PMS. Besides this, valerian has over 150 phytochemicals, from which pyridine alkaloids and valerenic acid have demonstrated antispasmodic properties in vivo and in vitro.
Furthermore, a clinical trial with 100 young women demonstrated that the use of valerian in a dose of 255 mg three times per day reduced the severity of the pain associated with menstrual cramps.
Evening primrose: Oenothera biennis
The clinical trials using evening primrose cannot deny or confirm its beneficial effects due to inconsistent results between trials. However, the active compounds in evening primrose, such as γ-linolenic acid and polyphenolic compounds like γ-linolenic acid, have potent antioxidant effects. An Iranian study intervened 40 young women with femicomfort (evening primrose, vitamins B6 and E) during two menstrual cycles and compared them with a placebo. Furthermore, the treated group showed a significant reduction of PMS- associated symptoms.
As a woman, I have always been looking for ways to reduce my menstrual cramps. Thankfully that is the only thing that limits me when I am on my period, but I am very active, and I’m not too fond of not going to my cycle class. Herbs and teas have always helped me. Nevertheless, multiple factors promote uterine contractions and the pain signal. Keeping an average fat mass, enjoying physical activity, promoting relaxation, and reducing caffeine can reduce inflammatory processes, which will improve PMS symptoms.- Ana Paola Rodríguez Arciniega, MS.
Dietz, Birgit M et al. “Botanicals and Their Bioactive Phytochemicals for Women’s Health.” Pharmacological reviews vol. 68,4 (2016): 1026-1073. doi:10.1124/pr.115.010843
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