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Fennel was introduced to Britain by the Romans, whose warriors are said to have eaten it to make them strong. Now, research suggests fennel could help millions of women beat the monthly misery of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) / premenstrual tension (PMT).

Young women who took drops made from the plant’s seeds felt less depressed and found it easier to get on with their jobs, their friends and their family. It is believed that the liquorice flavoured seeds could help to rebalance the female sex hormones which lay behind some of the symptoms of PMT.

Around three-quarters of women suffer with PMT, with up to 40 per cent claming that it impacts on their quality of life, and minority becoming violent or suffering severe depression. PMT is also said to have an economic impact with time off or loss of productivity estimated to cost employers £3,000 a year for every female staff member.

Scientists in Iran, where fennel already has a variety of medical uses, looked the affect it had on 36 women who were split into three groups. One group took a fennel extract from three days before their period until three days afterwards, the second exercised regularly and the third did nothing differently. The symptoms eased for those exercising, but the biggest difference was for those taking the fennel supplement, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s annual conference heard.

Dr Hassan Pazoki, of Urmia University, said: “After eight weeks, the severity of symptoms had reduced so much that they could do their jobs and have a normal relationships with their friends and family. Depression was also reduced.”

His team believe that combining exercise with the fennel extracts could have an even bigger impact. Although bitter, the drops do not have any side effects.

But Professor John Studd, of the London PMS and Menopause Clinic, dismissed the findings, claiming any impact was likely to be psychological.

Earlier this year a separate study suggested that eating broccoli, sesame seeds and other plant foods rich in iron could help combat PMT.

Magnesium

One possible explanation about the benefit of broccoli for PMS / PMT is it’s magnesium content.

Increasing dietary magnesium often decreases menstrual cramping as well as PMS / PMT. Calcium causes muscles to contract, while magnesium helps them to relax. Dietary calcium gives temporary relief of menstrual cramps. However, calcium also depletes the body of magnesium and ensures cramping will occur in the following month if magnesium is not replenished.

Magnesium is used by some doctors to treat mental stress. On the periodic chart, magnesium appears near lithium. Lithium is often used to treat stress and related disorders. Magnesium is needed to shift calcium into and out of cells. Cells require a small amount of calcium, however too much calcium is a problem. Magnesium serves to regulate essential cellular minerals.

Raw spinach is perhaps the best source of dietary magnesium, providing 79mg per 100g portion.

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