What really helps with PMS

Lots of supplements promise “escape”, “relief”, or “support” for sufferers of PMS and menopause. And they’re pretty tempting – who wouldn’t want an easy fix for cramps, mood swings, hot flashes, seating, and all those other symptoms that can make you miserable for a few days or even a few years or more?

Well, the research shows that relief might not be as easy as popping a pill. It depends on your symptoms and how your body responds to treatment. Some products appear to help with PMS, but claims that they can ease menopause symptoms might be overblown. Here’s a rundown of the supplements you’ll find on store shelves and the summary of the research and experts’ perspective on what might be worth a try, including some simple lifestyle changes that can really help.

Help for PMS

For PMS, there’s pretty good evidence that some supplements can help. Keep in mind that supplement manufacturers can legally sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they’re safe and effective. And ingredients can vary. So if you try supplements, stick with larger, well-established manufacturers and look for the “USP Verified” mark, which indicates that the quality, purity, and potency have been verified by USP. Avoid products labeled “megadoses”, and ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions with any medications. If you use any of the following, you should take them all month long, not just when symptoms strike.

Calcium, vitamin D and Magnesium – Blood levels of calcium and vitamin D can fluctuate along with hormones. And calcium deficiency and PMS share similar symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Research shows that women with a high intake of calcium and vitamin D might reduce their risk of PMS. In fact, a recent study review showed that taking calcium supplements to relieve PMS symptoms works better than taking a placebo. But the research is unclear for magnesium, which plays a role in how the body regulates calcium. It might help with cramps and counteract the constipating effects of calcium pills. Your best bet is to try taking a combination supplement twice daily that delivers a total of about 1,200 milligrams of calcium, 300 milligrams of magnesium, and 800 to 1,000 international units of vitamin D.

Vitamin B6 – Your body needs this to make neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, which affect mood. Unfortunately, clinical trials have failed to support any significant benefit from taking B6, though some studies suggest that continuous use of it might ease PMS symptoms, particularly a depressed mood. If you try it, stick to less than 100 milligrams daily from food and supplements; larger doses can lead to nerve damage.

Vitex Agnus Castus (Chaste tree) – A trial published in the British Medical Journal found that aobut half of the women who took chaste tree exact daily reported an improvement in PMS symptoms, compared with about one-quarter of those taking a placebo. Dosage varies by brand and type, so read labels and talk to your doctor.

Evening Primrose Oil – Trials of this herb have been of low quality; it might now work any better than a placebo at relieving PMS symptoms.

Some multivitamins aimed at women age 50+ contain more of vitamins B6 and C and various minerals than other multis, and possibly lutein, which might help prevent age-related macular degeneration.

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