For 80% of women, stomach cramps are a familiar symptom of PMS. But could omega-3 fatty acids help reduce them?
Did you know eight out of 10 of women experience at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) every month? For 50%, the impact is severe enough to disrupt their relationships and daily life.
We tend to accept period pain, cramps and mood swings as regular, if unwelcome, monthly companions, with most of us reaching for painkillers to deal with them. But for women coping with severe PMS, radical hormone treatments or even antidepressants are recommended.
However, a far simpler, more natural solution could provide relief: omega-3 fatty acids.
Handpicked content: 5 surprising reasons you need omega-3
What's cramping your style?
Painful menstrual cramps are thought to be caused by prostaglandins, hormone-like chemicals produced by the body in response to infection, illness or injury. They cause inflammation as part of the healing response. Evidence shows women who experience painful periods tend to have higher concentrations of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins in their blood.
When we get injured, PGE2 prostaglandins - formed from omega-6 fatty acids - are produced at the site of the injury. Similarly, when the womb lining starts to shed at the start of your period, it is these prostaglandins that trigger uterine contractions, or period pains.
The more PGE2 that’s released, the greater the intensity of the contractions, and the more painful the stomach cramps. Prostaglandins are thought to affect other PMS symptoms too.
Out of balance?
When we eat equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, the inflammatory effects of PGE2 are balanced out by PGE1, which is formed from omega-3s. Unfortunately most of us eat too much omega-6 - found in vegetable oils and eggs - and not enough omega-3, which is mainly found in oily fish.
A natural solution
Research suggests that women who experience PMS may have particularly high levels of omega-6 in their blood. However, the results of several trials show that omega-3 supplements can provide significant relief from painful cramps.
And the benefits don’t stop there: omega-3s have also been found to relieve bloating, breast tenderness and headaches, as well as symptoms of depression, anxiety, nervousness and a lack of concentration.
Handpicked content: 6 easy ways to beat bloating
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
Shop our Vitamins & Supplements