A PMS cure at your fingertips?

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LOS ANGELEs--When the aches and moods of premenstrual syndrome strike, science often has little to offer. But effective relief may be at a woman's fingertips, a new study suggests-through reflexology, a soothing therapy similar in concept to Chinese acupressure.

Reflexology operates on a somewhat mystical premise: that any ailment can be treated by applying pressure with the fingers to certain points on the ears, hands, and feet that are believed to correspond to the affected areas of the body. No one knows exactly why or how that would work.

Whether it does work, at least for PMS, was the question that psychologist Terry Oleson, at the California Graduate Institute, set out to answer. With reflexologist William Flocco, he recruited 35 volunteers who regularly suffered premenstrual complaints such as cramps, bloating, and feelings of depression.

Each woman was told she'd receive reflexology for PMS for 30 minutes every week for two months. But only half got the real thing; the rest got sham therapy, involving pressure at points not thought tobe therapeutic for the ovaries or uterus. All the women kept daily diaries tracking 38 physical and psychological symptoms during the treatment period, and for two months before and after.

Those who got the placebo treatment reported a 19 percent drop in their PMS symptoms, which makes sense since the women believed they were being treated for their discomfort. The women who got real reflexology, though, reported a much bigger benefit: a 46 percent drop in symptoms. The treated group continued to experience fewer symptoms in the two months after the reflexology sessions ended.

PMS can be difficult to investigate, so the study must be repeated and checked. But if these findings hold up, says Oleson, reflexology could offer a useful, side effect-free alternative to the anti-depressants and hormones sometimes prescribed. What's more, says the researcher, "it's a technique people can use on themselves."

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By Ingfei Chen, Katherine Griffin, and John Hastings

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