Can Supplements Ease PMS Symptoms?

Mood swings. Fatigue. Breast tenderness. Bloating. The hallmark symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are no joke, and it’s estimated that three out of every four women experiences them. While there’s no singular cause of PMS, experts believe the uncomfortable symptoms follow from a combination of body processes, including shifts in hormones and chemical fluctuations in the brain. Fall short on the neurotransmitter serotonin as you near that time of the month, for example, and your sleep, food cravings, and mood may all be affected.

Among the most common treatments for PMS are antidepressants and oral contraceptives, but neither option is perfect. Both pharmacologic interventions come with considerable side effects and neither has been shown to be more than 60-70% effective. Luckily researchers realize the need for alternatives, and they’re studying the association between certain nutrients and PMS symptoms. The bad news? The science isn’t all that conclusive.

Deficiencies in B vitamins have long been thought to be associated with worse PMS symptoms, and many physicians advise patients to take B vitamin supplements if they experience mild PMS symptoms. But a 2011 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplemental intake of B vitamins like thiamine and riboflavin was actually associated with an increased risk of PMS symptoms. Thiamine and riboflavin intake from whole food sources, on the other hand, was found to improve PMS symptoms.

Adding to the confusion is a 2010 study that found that taking a magnesium supplement that also contained vitamin B6 helped soothe PMS symptoms more than a pure magnesium supplement or a placebo. So B6 in supplement form actually is good for treating PMS?!

Here’s our bottom line: There is some scientific evidence that minerals like calcium and vitamin B6 can help reduce PMS symptoms, but the jury is still out on magnesium and polyunsaturated fatty acids, AKA omega-3s and omega-6s. For now, your best bet may be to load up on whole foods (not supplements) that are high in calcium and vitamin B6. Opt for Greek yogurt, tofu, almonds, and kale to add calcium to your plate. Vitamin B6 can be found in fish, poultry, whole grains, eggs, and peanuts.

As for other dietary choices you can make when the PMS pain feels real? Eat smaller, more frequent meals to avoid bloating, limit salt intake to drive down fluid retention, and avoid caffeine and alcohol that can further disrupt your sleep cycle. For sustained energy, pair complex carbohydrates (think: fruits, veggies, whole grains) with high-quality sources of protein—we love wild salmon, organic eggs, and grass-fed, organic beef, in moderation—and healthy fats.

By Anthea Levi

Jennifer Maeng