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Thursday, February 24, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Simple Changes In Diet And Exercise Can Alleviate Pms

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

If you suspect you have PMS, specialists suggest charting your symptoms - mood swings, cravings, irritability - over a couple of months.

The calendar provides clear indication that the symptoms are premenstrual and it's a valuable history for your doctor.

The vast majority of women can find relief through simple environmental and dietary changes, doctors say.

Other PMS coping tips:

Stress. Work and family stress are PMS triggers, says Dr. Barbara Peters, a Palo Alto, Calif., gynecologist. Simplify your life, exercise and use stress-reduction techniques.

Nutrition. Eat regular meals, especially high-carbohydrate foods (whole-grain cereals and breads, rice cakes, buckwheat pancakes) that help stabilize blood-sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings, advises Dr. Susan Lark, a Los Altos, Calif., women's health specialist.

Vitamins and minerals. For a while, vitamin B6 was heralded as a natural way to beat PMS. But scientific studies found no benefit. However, Lark and Peterson say some patients have found it helpful. Don't exceed the recommended daily dosage of 50 to 100 milligrams, because overdoses of B6 can cause nerve damage, indicated by tingling fingers.

Calcium-magnesium supplements are considered a helpful mood stabilizer. (Doctors suspect that PMS sufferers may experience chocolate cravings because it's fairly rich in magnesium - although chocolate worsens PMS mood swings and body tenderness). Magnesium naturally occurs in many beans, almonds, greens, salmon and other foods.

Progesterone supplements. Nearly a dozen scientific studies have shown progesterone to have little benefit.

Both Lark and Peters say they consider medication only in severe PMS cases. "We need to empower people to do this without medication," Peters says.

Oral contraceptives. Although it has not been scientifically tested, the most common treatment for PMS is to prescribe the birth control pill to moderate hormone levels or, in high dosages, to stop menstruation.

Antidepressants. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications have been prescribed to patients suffering severe PMS turmoil for years. Now researchers are studying the effect of antidepressants, such as Prozac and Zoloft, which boost serotonin, a natural, mood-elevating brain chemical.

PMS Access in Madison, Wis., offers free PMS information packets and consultations with pharmacists on vitamin and mineral supplements. (800) 222-4767.

The pill and cancer protection

Women over 50 who at any time have used birth control pills may have more protection against endometrial cancer than women who have never taken oral contraceptives, according to a study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Susan Jick, along with researchers at Boston University Medical Center and the Harvard School of Public Health, studied 142 women with endometrial cancer. The study, which compared the women to a control group of 1,042 women 50 to 64 who had not used a birth control pill, found the older women who had used oral contraceptives at some time may have as little as half the risk of developing endometrial cancer when compared to the control group.

Researchers, studying women in a Seattle health maintenance organization, found that the protective effect was present even if a woman had used oral contraceptives for only a year or if more than 20 years had passed since she had last used them.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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