The first step in helping women with PMS is to determine which subgroup most accurately fits their symptom picture. If it is not obvious from reading this or other information, selected laboratory tests can be called upon.
Abnormal thyroid function and intestinal candidiasis should also be ruled out since these may produce, during the mid-luteal phase, a symptom picture similar to PMS. If you are affected by one or more types of PMS (A, C, D, or H) they will be listed separately. PMS type A is the most common.
General Dietary Guidelines:
Estrogen results in increased copper absorption. Copper is closely related to estrogen metabolism, so an imbalance can cause many female health problems such as premenstrual syndrome. Taking extra zinc and vitamin B6 before the menstrual period can reduce copper levels and thus the symptoms of PMS.
Melatonin can exhibit strong effects on the reproductive system, and the activity of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone is closely tied with its regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. Abnormal biological rhythms and sleep-wake cycle disturbances are often a primary feature of periodic depression, another common characteristic of PMS. Melatonin imbalances have been specifically linked to PMS.
A study reported finding that women with PMS had an earlier decline in melatonin secretion, resulting in a shorter overall secretion time. "The data demonstrate that women with premenstrual syndrome have chronobiological abnormalities of melatonin secretion... The fact that these patients respond to treatments that affect circadian physiology, such as sleep deprivation and phototherapy, suggests that circadian abnormalities may contribute to the pathogenesis of premenstrual syndrome." [Arch Gen Psychiatr 1990;47(12): pp.1139-46]
Magnesium deficiency is strongly implicated as a causative factor in PMS. Red Blood Cell magnesium levels in PMS patients have been shown to be significantly lower than in normal subjects. The deficiency is characterized by a generalized hyperesthesia syndrome (with generalized aches and pains), and a lower premenstrual pain threshold. One clinical trial of magnesium in PMS showed a reduction of nervousness in 89%, mastalgia in 96%, and weight gain in 95%.
Clinical studies using vitex extract show a reduction in headaches, breast tenderness, bloating, fatigue, cravings for sweets, and also feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings, after only one month.
One study compared vitex to vitamin B6 for treatment of PMS. In all, 85 women were given one capsule of vitex that contained up to 4.2mg of vitex agnus castus dried fruit, daily for three consecutive menstrual cycles. At the same time, another 90 women were given a placebo on the first 15 days of their menstrual cycle and 2 capsules of vitamin B6 (100mg per capsule) for the rest of the cycle. At the end of the study premenstrual tension syndrome (PMTS) scores were reduced nearly equally with vitex and vitamin B6. The investigators rated vitex as excellent for 24.6% of the patients compared to 12.1% for vitamin B6. Some 36% of the women reported that they became virtually symptom-free with vitex compared to only 21.1% of the vitamin B6 group.
Several studies have linked caffeine consumption to a higher incidence of PMS symptoms including tension, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbance and breast tenderness. Some of coffee's components have a mild estrogen-like effect on the body. Since estrogen is responsible for premenstrual syndrome and breast tenderness, this may be one reason why coffee aggravates these conditions.
Menstrual cramps, irritability, fatigue, depression and water retention have been lessened by taking supplemental magnesium, usually given along with calcium and often with vitamin B6. Magnesium is often at its lowest level during menstruation, and many symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are relieved when this mineral is replenished. Supplementing magnesium in the same amount (or more) as calcium (about 500-1,000mg daily) is currently recommended for premenstrual problems.
A 1998 study in The Journal of Women's Health found that 200mg a day of magnesium reduced PMS fluid retention, breast tenderness and bloating by 40%. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle relaxation, blood sugar, and to promote sound sleep – all particularly important during PMS.
Vitamin B6 is effective for PMS symptoms because it reduces estrogen while raising progesterone levels. Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated the efficacy of vitamin B6 supplementation in treating PMS. In one double blind crossover trial, 84% of the subjects had a lower symptomatology score during the B6 treatment period. Although PMS is of multifactorial origin, B6 supplementation alone appears to benefit most patients. In another study, premenstrual acne flare-up was reduced in 72% of 106 affected young women taking 50mg of pyridoxine daily for one week prior and during the menstrual period. Pyridoxine acts as a mild diuretic, reducing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Vitamin A has been shown to be beneficial in reducing PMS symptoms when given in doses of 100,000 to 300,000 IU per day in the second half of the menstrual cycle. These levels should only be achieved by a water-soluble form of vitamin A and supervised by a doctor.
Beta-carotenes may be better indicated since they are less toxic and endogenous regulation of conversion to retinol helps maintain more appropriate levels. The enzymatic conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A is increased twofold during mid-ovulation. It is believed that there is a storage capacity for beta-carotene, which is converted to retinol as needed by the corpus luteum.
Although vitamin E research concerning PMS has focused primarily on mastalgia, significant reduction of other PMS symptomatology has been demonstrated in double-blind studies. Nervous tension, headache, fatigue, depression, and insomnia were all significantly reduced.
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