Walk down the supplement aisle of your local pharmacy, and you may see many products promising to fix one common problem: PMS.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is something a lot of menstruating women experience -- as many as 3 out of 4. It refers to the physical and emotional changes that can happen before or during your period, including everything from food cravings and cramps to mood swings and anxiety. If the symptoms are bad enough that they interfere with your life every month, you might have PMS.
Many companies manufacture products that claim to cure or at least reduce the symptoms of PMS. But most of these supplements haven’t been tested or proven to really help.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before trying any supplements, but this guide can help you know which ones may be worth your time and which ones you should skip.
Research shows that calcium actually can help you cope with some of the symptoms of PMS. A study of women taking 500 milligrams (mg) of calcium carbonate twice a day for 3 months found they had less fatigue, fewer changes in appetite, and less depression than women with PMS who did not take the supplement.
Another study found that a high intake of calcium and vitamin D from food was linked to a lower chance of developing PMS. That’s equal to about four servings of skim or low-fat dairy or fortified orange juice a day.
The effects may be due to how calcium and vitamin D affect certain hormones. Experts recommend getting 1200 mg of calcium a day either from food or a supplement.
If you have symptoms like bloating, fluid retention, and tenderness in your breasts, you might benefit from taking about 360 mg of magnesium a day. But there’s no guarantee it will help. Some research has shown it’s beneficial, while some has not.
For instance, one study found that women who took 200 mg of magnesium a day had less fluid retention by their second month on the supplement, while a separate study found no evidence that magnesium supplements helped.
Since these supplements can cause side effects like diarrhea or upset stomach and changes in blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor before trying to figure out if taking magnesium is right for you.
Essential Fatty Acids
But according to one study, they may also be helpful in treating PMS. Women who took 2 grams of a combination of EFAs and vitamin E had significantly improved PMS symptoms after 3 months of treatments, and again 6 months later. They also didn’t appear to have any major side effects related to taking the supplement.
The chaste tree grows in Central Asia and in the Mediterranean. The fruit, known as chasteberry, has been used for centuries to treat various conditions in different parts of the world.
The supplement has been shown to reduce physical symptoms like breast tenderness and fluid retention, and psychological symptoms like depressed mood and irritability. One study found that women taking 1 tablet (20 mg native extract) of chasteberry over several cycles saw improvement of their symptoms.
Another study found that women with PMS who took chasteberry for three cycles in a row had less breast fullness and bloating.
Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate herbal remedies, it’s impossible to know how safe or effective supplements like chasteberry are for you. But according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the supplement is generally considered safe and is usually well-tolerated. Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking of trying it.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil is another herbal supplement that some manufacturers claim can help with PMS. But a review of clinical trials suggests there’s not enough evidence to support the claims that EPO helps.
While it may lead to side effects like low blood pressure and increased risk of bleeding, the supplement generally is considered safe when taken as directed for up to 1 year. In studies about PMS, participants took doses of 500 to 6,000 milligrams (6 to 12 capsules) one to four times a day for up to 10 months.
Some evidence suggests ginkgo may be effective for treating some PMS symptoms. One study found that women who took 40 mg leaf extract tablets three times a day for several days of two menstrual cycles had significantly reduced symptoms. But more research is needed to back up these results, and currently, there’s not enough evidence to say with certainty whether ginkgo works for PMS.
St. John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum L, commonly called St. John’s wort, is a supplement that’s often used for mild to moderate depression. There are some studies that suggest it’s effective for treating PMS symptoms like depression and anxiety, as well as food cravings, but more research is needed.
It’s important to know that St. John’s wort can cause serious interactions with other supplements and herbs, as well as prescription drugs. So it’s very important to talk to your doctor before you consider taking St. John’s wort.