lemonbalmWhich premenstrual symptoms bug you the most? The irritability? Moodiness? Aches? Sleeplessness? Anxiety? Blues? Fatigue? Indigestion? Gas?

Well, a new study in the Journal of Herbal Medicine suggests that taking the herb lemon balm (which is a member of the mint family and has a lemony flavor) can give you significant relief from all of these premenstrual woes, making your pre-period week easier.

How’d the researchers find this out?

In their study, they gave one group of 31 women with premenstrual syndrome–characterized by emotional and/or physical problems that occur only during the two weeks leading up to menstruation–a pill containing 500 mg. of lemon balm twice daily on each of the 14 days before their period for two consecutive cycles.

Another group of 31 women were given placebos to take on the same cycle days also for two cycles in a row.

Neither group knew which pills they were taking.

What the researchers found:

In the first month, women taking lemon balm saw the severity of their premenstrual symptoms drop by more than half. In the second month, they dropped even more–to just over one-quarter of what they were at the start of the trial.

By comparison, the women taking the placebo saw only a small improvement in premenstrual symptoms over the two cycles.

So, how does lemon balm work? The researchers explain that this herb combats premenstrual woes from a variety of angles:

It contains certain compounds (rosmarinic acid, oleanolic acid and ursolic acid) that increase the brain’s level of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA)–a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety, irritability and depression–which tends to be lower in women with premenstrual syndrome.

It has mildly sedating compounds, which have been shown to curb stress and restlessness and improve sleep–which, in turn, boosts mood and daytime energy and reduces sensitivity to pain.

It improves mood, concentration and memory by binding to certain receptors in the brain (nicotinic and muscarinic).

It reduces flatulence, indigestion and digestive cramping by calming the digestive tract.

If you want to try lemon balm for your own premenstrual symptoms, you can find this herb in supplement form at health food stores, pharmacies and trusted online vitamin and herb stores, such as Vitacost.com and SwansonVitamins.com. The dose used in this study was 500 mg. twice daily on the 14 days prior to your period (the second half of your monthly cycle after ovulation).

Or you can brew lemon balm tea or add lemon balm to recipes during your premenstrual phase. Here are few to try:

Lemon Balm Butter Cookies from Tasty Kitchen
Lemon Balm Bundt Cake from Magnolia Days
Lemon Balm Pesto Spaghetti from AllRecipes
Lemon Balm Lemonade from Food.com
Lemon Balm Vinaigrette from Farm Flavor

Note: Because lemon balm can cause drowsiness, it can make sedating medications (such as anti-anxiety drugs) have a more sedating effect. You can learn more about lemon balm here.

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Gabrielle Lichterman is a longtime women’s health and lifestyle journalist whose articles have appeared in dozens of major magazines and newspapers around the globe including Cosmopolitan, CosmoGIRL, Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Daily News and Woman’s World. Gabrielle began developing Hormonology and the Hormone Horoscope in 1999 and has been sharing menstrual cycle-related research and tips through her apps, blog, book, newsletter and magazine articles ever since.

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[Photo: Alice Henneman]