There are plenty of awesome things about being a woman. PMS is not one of them.
Unfortunately, far too many women deal with PMS. Over 90% of women report premenstrual symptoms. And while the symptoms occur in a predictable pattern (some women can practically set their watches by the regularity of their periods) that doesn’t make the symptoms any more bearable.
We say enough is enough. Life doesn’t slow down for PMS and you shouldn’t have to slow down either. There’s a whole wide world to conquer out there. So it’s high time to tackle PMS head-on. Here’s everything you need to know about PMS supplements and how to choose the right one for you.
What is PMS?
To understand how supplements can help hold PMS at bay, it helps to understand what PMS is (besides Mother Nature knocking on your door to throw confetti in your face and scream, “You’re not pregnant!”)
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a wildly common issue for women, particularly in their reproductive years (when you have your periods, which makes sense because PMS is tied to your periods). However, while most women have premenstrual symptoms of some kind, 5% to 8% of women experience PMS so severe that it significantly interferes with daily life.
Scientifically speaking, PMS occurs during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, right before ovulation. This is the window when an egg can be fertilized. If the egg is not fertilized, it passes through the uterus instead of implanting there and the uterine lining breaks down, beginning the next menstrual period.
The list of PMS symptoms is long and varied, but most women only experience a handful of them. There are two groups of symptoms: physical and emotional/psychological.
Common physical symptoms include things like:
Constipation or diarrhea
Joint or muscle pain
Common emotional/psychological symptoms include things like:
Appetite changes or food cravings
Change in libido
Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
Irritability or anger
Tension or anxiety
While PMS generally goes away within four days of the start of a woman’s period, every woman experiences PMS slightly differently. A small number of women routinely experience severe, disabling PMS symptoms, a form of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
What Causes PMS?
The obvious cause of PMS is monthly menstrual cycles. However, it remains unclear why some women experience PMS more strongly than others.
Several known factors can contribute to PMS, such as cyclical hormone changes tied to your period and cyclical chemical changes in the brain. Fluctuations of key mood-regulating neurotransmitters can significantly affect your mood, and if you already have low levels of these neurotransmitters, changes during your period can contribute to premenstrual depression.
Some women with severe PMS have undiagnosed or untreated depression, though depression does not cause PMS. The issue goes back to brain chemistry and hormones–if you’re already operating with insufficient neurotransmitters, period changes can make this even worse.
Because the exact cause of PMS is not clear, all currently available treatment options focus on symptom relief, not curing the problem.
Why Try Supplements?
If supplements aren’t a cure for PMS, why should you try them?
For one thing, supplements work by operating on natural bodily functions to provide relief. This makes them more sustainable than living off of ibuprofen or Aleve for a week each month.
Also, supplements can provide an accessible treatment option for some women. Many women rely on hormonal birth control to regulate hormonal fluctuations and mitigate symptoms of PMS. However, not all women can take hormonal birth control for health reasons–some avoid hormonal birth control due to mood disorders, while others have significant complications.
Plus, if your PMS is the result of an underlying health issue such as a vitamin deficiency, supplements kill two birds with one stone. Taking supplements in those cases wouldn’t just treat PMS–it would resolve various other health issues attached to vitamin deficiencies.
The Best PMS Supplements Include These Ingredients
The best PMS supplements should include a range of vitamins and essential minerals that support your body through its menstrual cycle. Vitamins B6 and D can both ease symptoms, along with calcium, iron, and magnesium. There are also other PMS supplements that can address specific symptoms such as trouble sleeping.
Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
Vitamin B6, like many of the complex B vitamins, is like a Swiss army knife–it’s so universally useful that you should always have it within arm’s reach.
Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions in the body, most of them concerned with protein metabolism. Taking vitamin B6 has a wide range of positive health implications, including:
Reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease
Reducing your risk for certain kinds of cancer
Reducing cognitive decline over time among older adults
Reducing nausea and vomiting in pregnancy
And, of course, reducing PMS symptoms
One randomized crossover study looked at the effects of vitamin B6 on PMS symptoms for a group of 63 women between the ages of 18 and 49. That study found that B6 had a significant beneficial effect on emotional symptoms (i.e. depression, irritability, and fatigue) but no significant effect on PMS symptoms of any other type.
What It Treats
Because vitamin B6 has been observed as primarily useful in treating emotional symptoms, it should be taken as a supplement for that class of symptoms. For example, if you experience PMS-related depression, irritability, or fatigue (i.e. mood-related fatigue, not physical tiredness) then vitamin B6 may be beneficial to you.
For women, the recommended daily dose of vitamin B6 is 1.3 milligrams until the age of 50. At age 51, you need to boost your daily dose to 1.5 milligrams. However, if you’re recovering from alcoholism, have experienced kidney failure, or have a bowel disorder like Crohn’s or celiac disease, you will need a higher dosage of B6.
Conversely, if you take certain medications, such as oral contraceptives, tuberculosis medication, epilepsy medication, or medication for breathing issues, your B6 levels will also be affected. Talk to your doctor about how much B6 you get and how much you should use in a supplement.
The good news is that you can find a significant portion of your daily B6 requirement in food. A cup of chickpeas, for example, gets you a whopping 1.1 milligrams. You can also find it in yellowfish tuna, sockeye salmon, chicken breast, a medium banana, or even cooked potatoes.
B6 is far from the only B vitamin to keep in your arsenal. Vitamin B12, like other B vitamins, is an all-purpose vitamin.
Typically, vitamin B12 is used to support your nerves and blood cells. It’s particularly important in red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis (you know, just the little things). It can also help reduce your risk of macular degeneration and may help reduce symptoms of depression.
What It Treats
Vitamin B12’s superstar role in blood cell formation is what makes it so useful for PMS. Since it helps your body to form new blood cells, it works to replenish the blood you lose during your period, keeping your energy levels up.
The good news about vitamin B12? Unless you’re a vegan, you’re probably getting enough B12 from your diet. The vitamin is naturally found in a wide variety of animal foods, including:
Beef liver and clams (the best sources of B12)
Some fortified products
Vitamin B12 is also unusual in that the body can store it for a surprisingly long time. Unlike many vitamins, which the body uses and discards the excess, the human body stores excess B12 in the liver until the body needs to use it. Your liver is astonishingly good at it–it can store several years worth of vitamin B12 at any given time.
Because of this, B12 deficiency is quite rare, except in a few specific cases. Vegans and vegetarians (specifically vegetarians who don’t regularly consume dairy or eggs) are prone to B12 deficiency because plants don’t naturally contain B12. Also, individuals with digestive disorders or pernicious anemia may have issues absorbing B12.
If any of those situations apply to you, talk to your doctor about whether a B12 supplement could help you. However, make sure to check with your doctor about a recommended dosage–remember, your body is excellent at storing B12, so you don’t want to take too much.
Did your parental unit harp on you about drinking your milk? Turns out, they were on the money–particularly when it comes to PMS.
Milk is the most popularly known source of calcium, an essential mineral. Humans store calcium primarily in our bones and teeth since we use calcium as a building block to support healthy bone structure. It also helps play a role in regulating the release of various hormones and enzymes, which means that calcium plays an indirect role on most major bodily functions.
What It Treats
While calcium is best known as a builder of healthy bones, research shows that it’s quite useful in treating mood-related symptoms of PMS.
One study of 66 women taking 500 mg supplements of calcium daily for two months saw significant changes in:
Somatic changes (i.e. breast tenderness, bloating, joint and muscle pain)
Of all the supplements on this list, calcium has some of the strongest scientific backings.
Many recommendations say that adults between the ages of 19 and 50 should get 1,000 mg of calcium daily, while teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 should get about 1,300 mg per day. However, the World Health Organization disagrees, recommending about 500 mg per day.
The higher calcium recommendation comes from old scientific reasoning about bone density. Your bone density drops when bone breakdown outpaces bone formation, so scientists originally reasoned that a higher calcium balance in the blood would keep the body from drawing calcium out of the bones.
However, the 1,000 mg recommendation is based on a few brief studies in the 70s which only lasted a few weeks. In reality, your calcium balance (like your B12 levels) is determined over the years. Also, the studies were based on the logic that higher calcium would reduce the risk of bone fractures, which has since been proven false.
If you go by the 500 mg recommendation, eating right can help bolster your calcium naturally. Collard greens, for example, provide 350 mg per 8 ounces, while broccoli provides 200 mg per 8 ounces. But the big hitter for most people is milk (skim, low-fat, or whole) which provides 300 mg per 8 ounces.
However, many people don’t necessarily get enough calcium. Women of childbearing age whose menstrual periods stop because they exercise too much, eat too little, or both are at significant risk. Vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat dairy lose access to most major calcium sources, as do people with lactose intolerance.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, most of the major supplements on this list are heavy hitters in your overall health. Magnesium is no exception.
It’s a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems in the body. It’s a prerequisite for DNA and RNA synthesis and plays a major role in blood glucose control, muscle and nerve function, and blood pressure regulation. Plus, it helps transport other key minerals (like calcium and potassium) across your cell membranes.
Your body keeps a small store of magnesium available, generally about 25 mg at any given time, with 50% to 60% of that stored in your bones and the rest in your soft tissues.
What It Treats
The trouble with magnesium is that while the mineral is good for your health, current research seems to indicate that (like PMS) its usefulness varies by person.
One study found that magnesium levels are significantly compromised in women suffering from PMS, though the study consisted of 62 university students. A separate study looking at the efficacy of magnesium infusions found that magnesium had little advantage over the placebo.
On the other hand, a separate study found that magnesium in combination with B6 helped reduced PMS mean scores across the board.
So, what gives?
One explanation is that some groups are at a higher risk of magnesium deficiency than others, and taking a magnesium supplement may prove more beneficial to them than other groups. Diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s and celiac disease, chronic alcoholism, and certain medications can all increase your risk of magnesium deficiency.
If any of these apply to you, talk to your doctor about whether magnesium could help you. Also, if you take any medications, ask your doctor if those medications may interfere with your ability to absorb magnesium, creating a magnesium deficiency.
If you’re not a fan of taking a batch of pills every morning, certain herbal remedies have been shown to be effective in reducing PMS symptoms. Some of them have been used for centuries as a home remedy, long before humans invented multivitamins.
That said, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate herbal remedies and doctors cannot prescribe them. Herbal remedies would be consumed as an over-the-counter remedy and dosage is far less precise, so treat them with caution and always check with your doctor to see if you take any medications or have health issues that could cause complications.
Chasteberry, the fruit of the chaste tree, has been used to treat various ailments for centuries. The plant itself is a delight for gardeners, but if PMS is your first concern, focus on the berry.
Most women who use berry know of it as a treatment for hormonal imbalances brought on by periods. As such, it can help treat some symptoms of PMS like bloating, low mood, and breast pain. You can find the fruit dried and added to liquids, capsules, and tablets.
If you have a hormone-sensitive condition, make sure to talk to your doctor before trying chasteberry. And if you do add chasteberry (or any herbal supplement) make sure to ease into it by starting at a low dosage.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose is a plant native to North America with lovely yellow flowers that bloom in the evening (thus the name). Traditionally, Native Americans used the whole evening primrose plant as a treatment for bruises, while the roots were used as a treatment for hemorrhoids.
Today, many people use evening primrose oil and a home remedy for eczema, PMS, breast pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and menopause, among other conditions.
The tricky part about evening primrose is that while some women swear by it, there are very few scientific studies examining the benefits of evening primrose and those studies that do exist have conflicting results. It’s safe to take for a short time, though some people report mild side effects like headaches and stomach upset.
St. John’s Wort
While some herbs on this list have shaky results or limited research, St. John’s Wort is not one of them. The herb has been studied extensively, particularly for its effects on depression and interactions with other medications.
St. John’s Wort is a long-recognized herbal treatment for depression. Some studies show that it has similar effects to prescription antidepressants and may prove useful in the treatment of mild depression, including PMS-related depression.
However, St. John’s Wort is known to have significant, sometimes life-threatening interactions with several medications. It is known to weaken the effects of several medications, including:
Birth control pills
Cyclosporine, a medication which prevents the body from rejecting transplanted organs
Digoxin, a heart medication
Some HIV drugs
Some cancer medications
Taking St. John’s Wort with antidepressants is considered unsafe, as antidepressants combined with the herb can lead to an unsafe spike in serotonin levels with potentially serious consequences.
Fun fact: those dandelions you love to butcher as ugly weeds are quite nutritious.
Yes, dandelions. They’re an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C and have substantial amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. As a home remedy, the dandelion leaf has long been used to decrease swelling.
The beauty of hipster foodies is that you can now find dandelion leaves at some farmer’s markets. Whole Foods even carries dandelion greens these days. But whatever you do, don’t pick dandelion leaves from your yard–the last thing you want is to ingest harsh weed killers and fertilizers you use on your lawn.
Unless, of course, you let your lawn grow au naturel and don’t use any funky chemicals. In which case, pick some greens, clean them, and give it a whirl.
Make PMS a Thing of the Past
We know that PMS is real and that it has a detrimental effect on the lives of far too many women. And we say it’s time to change the way you think about PMS.
Our PMS supplements have shown positive results–many of our customers now swear by them over other PMS treatments. Instead of taking a handful of pills, you can get an easy-to-use, time-release patch that provides all-day treatment to keep your worst PMS symptoms in check.
If you’re tired of letting PMS hold you back, click here to check out our available supplements today.