IN YOUR 20s
During this decade, your ovaries are trying to reach peak fertility, say researchers at UCLA. And this prompts hormone surges that can overstimulate uterine muscles and disrupt levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin, leading to cramps, PMS or both. To head off snafus:
Tame PMS with Lean Meat
PMS is often triggered by zinc shortfalls, say researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "This mineral is essential for the production of the hormone progesterone," says Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., author of Before the Change. "And when zinc levels drop, hormonal mayhem can occur!" To replenish levels, eat three ounces of zinc-rich lean meat daily.
Cure Cramps with a Walk
Numerous studies show that the more exercise women get, the less they are bothered by menstrual cramps. That's because exercise naturally increases the brain's production of painkilling hormones. "A 30-minute stroll every other day is enough for you to get the benefit," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., author of A Womans Guide to Menopause & Perimenopause.
IN YOUR 30s
"As your ovaries become more mature, their ability to keep progesterone levels steady in the second half of each month falters," explains Dr. Minkin. And that can lead to troublesome symptoms like fluid retention and between-period bleeding.
To sidestep woes:
Beat Bloat with Dairy
Loading up on calcium-rich dairy prevented monthly bloating for 73 percent of women, according to research at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y. "That's because calcium helps your kidneys flush out trapped fluids," says Gittleman. Aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily an amount equal to 3 cups of nonfat milk or 2 1/2 cups of yogurt.
Stop Spotting with Soy
Progesterone keeps the uterine lining firmly in place until your period starts. So when hormone production falters, preperiod spotting often results, explains Dr. Gillespie. Soy to the rescue! Although no one has yet determined how it works, this bean can quickly correct the problem giving you four more period-free days each month. Two tablespoons of tofu or eight ounces of soy milk daily is enough to do the trick.
IN YOUR 40s
This decade is often called the "storm before the calm." Why? Your ovaries are producing huge bursts of estrogen and progesterone, trying hard to keep you fertile, notes Dr. Minkin: "And that can lead to a few weird symptoms." For relief:
Head Off Heavy Periods with Iron
One in five women is iron-deficient, say researchers at Cornell University. Combined with the hormonal upheaval experienced in your 40s, this mineral shortfall can trigger super-heavy periods. But Swedish studies show taking 100 milligrams of iron daily can up iron stores and lighten periods within six months.
Dodge Intestinal Upsets with Peppermint
Estrogen surges increase production of hormones called inflammatory prostaglandins, and these can cause muscle spasms in the GI tract that lead to nausea, diarrhea, and more, says Dr. Minkin. But, the muscle-calming extracts in peppermint oil can prevent this prostaglandin damage, say researchers from Yeshiva University in New York City. In fact, this remedy helped 79 percent of women soothe digestive woes in one month. For the benefit, sip two cups of peppermint tea daily.
IN YOUR 50s
Ovulation may now be a memory, but at least 50 percent of women still struggle with symptoms, thanks to hormone shortages, say experts at Yale University. To better cope:
Prevent Hot Flashes with Calming Breaths
Soothing your nervous system can be enough to prevent these bouts. In fact, practicing "paced respiration" can cut hot flashes in half, say researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit. And it's easy: Lying down with a book in your lap, inhale slowly to a count of five, relaxing your belly so your lungs fill fully, then exhale slowly to a count of five. (A tip: The book on your lap should rise and fall.) Take 6 to 8 breaths per minute for 15 minutes daily.
Soothe Vaginal Dryness with Flax
Flax is packed with plant estrogens that mimic a woman's own estrogen, filling in when hormone levels dip too low. And that's why eating 1/4 cup of ground flax daily has been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness for 66 percent of women, says Gittleman. You'll find flaxseeds whole or preground in health food stores. Just sprinkle on cereal, yogurt, or salads.