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Treating tender breasts

Anyone who suffers from premenstrual breast 'tenderness' will know that the term is a bit of a misnomer - it can actually be very painful, says health journalist Deanne Pearson.

Your breasts can become a lot larger and heavier in the run-up to your period, and so sore that just climbing out of bed in the morning, before you've put your bra on, can be a nightmare.It's easy to accept that premenstrual symptoms (PMS), such as sore breasts are just an unfortunate fact of life. But they don't have to be - there are natural remedies that can help.
What makes them so sore?
Swollen, tender breasts can occur for a number of reasons, including starting taking the contraceptive pill, or hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy and infections and diseases such as mastitis during breast-feeding and fibrocystic breast disease. But PMS is the common cause. During the second half of your menstrual cycle, hormonal changes can cause fluid to accumulate in the fatty part of the breasts, which makes them swollen and sore.
Take a look at your diet
A survey of 1,000 women conducted by the Women's Nutritional Advisory Service (WNAS) found that 82 per cent suffered from premenstrual breast tenderness: 24 per cent described the pain as mild, 26 per cent moderate, and 32 per cent severe. The organization also reports that in the vast majority of cases, women who change their diet and take specific nutritional supplements resolve the problem.
Hidden salt may be the culprit
The WNAS have found that fluid retention - which can build up in other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, as well as the breasts - is most common in women who have too much sodium (salt) in their diet. At least two thirds of the salt we eat is 'hidden' in foods such as ham, bacon, sausages, cheese, butter and margarine, bread, tinned foods, crisps, salted nuts and most savoury snacks, convenience and fast food. Simply avoiding these foods can make a huge difference. Instead, go for fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly prepared meat and fish, beans and rice, which are all low in sodium and high in the mineral potassium which, along with magnesium, seems to help neutralise salt. (Incidentally, conventional diuretics, or water tablets, increase the excretion of these important minerals.) If you do eat tinned and processed food, go for low-salt versions - and try not to add salt to meals.
Scientifically proven remedies
Many scientific studies have shown that supplements of evening primrose oil (EPO) can reduce breast tenderness. Quite large amounts are needed. Kate Neil, a nurse, lecturer in nutrition and specialist in women's hormonal problems, recommends taking 1500mg of EPO, twice a day, during the first two weeks of your cycle, and two grams twice a day from mid-cycle to the start of your period. Start by taking half the recommended amount during the first few days of your cycle, gradually increasing the amount throughout the month. But don't expect an instant result - you'll need to take these high doses for at least three months before you're likely to notice an improvement.

Studies also show that vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin E can help to reduce fluid retention. Take 50mg vitamin B complex, 400mg magnesium and 300iu vitamin E, along with a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to help absorption.

How herbs can help
Caffeine can make breast tenderness worse, so avoid drinking coffee and cola drinks if you can. A good substitute is dandelion tea (root or leaf), which contains lots of potassium and is probably the most effective herbal diuretic.

Rosemary, juniper and cypress essential oils also have natural diuretic properties. Add a few drops to your bath, or up to six drops of a single oil, or a combination, to a tablespoon of grapeseed or sweet almond oil and gently massage it into your breasts, using sweeping, circular motions.

Fun with flowers
The Bach Flower remedies can help soothe the irritability, weepiness and despair that often accompanies premenstrual symptoms such as sore and aching breasts. Rescue Remedy is a good remedy to take in an emergency, when you're feeling ready to explode. Otherwise go for crab apple, which is said to help women who feel bloated, undesirable and miserable, feel better about themselves.
More tips
The following will help reduce breast tenderness:
Avoid drinking tea and coffee as much as possible
Stick to a low-salt diet
Don't smoke
Cut back on dairy produce
Avoid, or cut down on, alcohol
If you're using the Pill, try another type, or use another method of contraception
Take care
If you could be pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant, take professional advice from a complementary practitioner before using herbs and essential oils.
About the author
Deanne Pearson is a freelance health journalist who regularly contributes to Here's Health, The Sunday Times, The Express and Aromatherapy and Natural Health.