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Can supplements ease premenstrual symptoms?

Lady in green jumper with smiling expression
Curious to find out if supplements can ease PMS symptoms? We explore how vitamins and supplements may help address signs like cramps & bloating.
If you’re looking for some natural ways to relieve the discomfort, pain, and psychological strain that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is often associated with, you’re in the right place. 

In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, many people choose to take supplements in order to feel more comfortable throughout their menstrual cycle. Feeling curious? 

While research on taking supplements for PMS is ongoing, conclusive results are limited at this time. That said, in this article, we'll take a closer look at some popular options that may be worth exploring alongside healthy lifestyle choices.

What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)? 

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is the collective name given to the range of symptoms experienced in the weeks leading up to your period.1 

These symptoms can impact you both physically and emotionally and can become triggered when oestrogen and progesterone levels start to fluctuate in the lead-up to menstruation1 – anytime from five days to two weeks before your period starts.2,3 

They’ll typically start to ease off once you start menstruating, or soon afterwards.4 

What are the symptoms of PMS?

PMS symptoms can come in a wide variety of forms, and include a range of emotional and physical changes.

Since everyone is different, the symptoms and severity level can also vary hugely from one person to another. You may even experience different symptoms from month to month.
Some of the most common PMS symptoms include:4
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • bloating
  • cramping
  • breast tenderness
  • changes in sexual feelings
  • spots and greasy hair

PMS supplements 

Following a healthy diet and performing gentle exercise can help relieve PMS symptoms for some people but, for others, lifestyle changes may not be enough on their own.

If you’re looking for alternative remedies to help battle your PMS symptoms, here are some supplements you may want to consider. These traditional herbal medicinal products have a history of use for relieving PMS. However, it's important to carefully read the patient information leaflet before using any supplements, and discuss them with your healthcare provider to ensure they’re appropriate and safe for your individual needs.

1. Evening primrose oil 

Made from the seeds of the evening primrose plant, O.biennisevening primrose oil (EPO) contains high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) – an omega-6 essential fatty acid that’s thought to have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce some of the symptoms of PMS. 

Some women have found that regularly taking an evening primrose oil supplement can help reduce breast tenderness, irritability, and general symptoms of PMS. However, there isn’t a huge amount of scientific evidence to support its use as a general treatment for PMS yet.5,6,7

2. Starflower oil 

 Starflower oil is extracted from the seeds of the borage plant, found to be another rich source of the omega-6 fatty acid GLA.8 

It’s a popular herbal supplement that many women believe helps with certain symptoms caused by hormonal fluctuations. Users claim this plant seed oil may reduce hot flushes, breast tenderness, and general PMS symptoms.

The main difference between starflower oil and evening primrose oil is the concentration of GLA. Approximately one-third of the content of starflower oil is GLA (around 26%–38% to be more precise).9 This is significantly more than in evening primrose oil.9 

3. Omega-3 fatty acids 

 Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in our overall health, from promoting our brain and heart health to reducing inflammation in the body.10 But did you know the beneficial effects of omega-3s may appear to extend to reducing symptoms of PMS?11,12 

During a meta-analysis of studies investigating the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on PMS, researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids could reduce the severity of PMS symptoms.11 

Not only that, they also found that the longer the treatment duration with omega-3 fatty acids, the greater the improvement was in the severity of symptoms.11 However, it’s to be noted that the researchers advise to take this conclusion with caution as more research needs to be conducted. 

In another randomised, double-blind, controlled trial involving 124 participants, there was also a noticeable reduction in the severity of PMS symptoms in those prescribed omega-3 fatty acids compared to the control group. Reduced severity of depression and bloating were some of the symptoms noted.12 

Omega-3 supplements come in the form of fish oil, algae oil, and flaxseed oil.13

4. Calcium 

Calcium may already be widely known for its benefits on bone health, but it may also help if you’re struggling with PMS symptoms.14,15 

A systematic review of current research shows a strong link between PMS symptoms and calcium intake.16 In the majority of the studies, blood serum calcium levels weren’t only shown to be lower in subjects with PMS but calcium supplements were found to significantly improve the incidence of PMS and its related symptoms.16 

A randomised, double-blind study from 2017 has also showed that an increased calcium intake is associated with decreased menstrual cramps and fewer emotional symptoms of PMS, including food cravings, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.17

Likewise, an earlier study back in 2008 showed reduced symptoms of depression, early fatigue, and depression in people who took 500mg of calcium supplements twice daily for three months.15 

However, clinical trials with a larger sample size need to be researched in order to strengthen the possible use of calcium supplements for PMS-related symptoms.

5. Vitamin D 

Vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining our general health and well-being, from supporting bone health and immune function to boosting mood.18,19 

In addition to it’s better known benefits, some women also use vitamin D supplementation to help with PMS symptoms.20 

A large clinical study of 897 participants in 2018 showed a reduction in the incidence of PMS symptoms, such as backache and mood changes, after treatment with high-dose vitamin D supplements. After treatment, the prevalence of PMS was reduced by 10.1%.21 

Some people report taking vitamin D helps them with menstrual cramps. A randomised clinical trial indicated that vitamin D supplementation could decrease the severity of menstrual cramps due to reduced production of prostaglandin (hormone-like substance involved in uterine contractions) and reduce the need for pain relief medications.22,23 

Most people cannot get enough vitamin D from their diet and sun exposure alone, so vitamin D supplements can help you maintain healthy levels of this essential vitamin.24

6. Vitamin B6 

The B-family complex is responsible for more than 100 enzyme reactions in the body, including creating neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers that carry information between your brain cells.25,26 

Vitamin B6 plays a vital role in the pathway for serotonin production, the chemical messenger that helps control your moods.27,28 

In a classic study published in the British Medical Journal back in 1999, researchers found that taking vitamin B6 could help soothe PMS symptoms and improve the low mood often associated with premenstrual syndrome.29 A more recent study at the University of Cambridge yielded similarly promising results.30 

So if you struggle with the psychological effects of PMS, you may find that getting a daily dose of vitamin B6 or vitamin B-complex could help improve your feelings of low mood, anxiety, or irritability.31 

7. Magnesium 

Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 processes in the body.32 With several known benefits, from contributing to the health of your bones and blood pressure regulation to balancing your mood and brain function.33 Magnesium glycinate recently hit the headlines as the key ingredient of TikTok’s viral Sleepy Girl Mocktail. 

More recently, people have started looking to magnesium to improve a number of women’s health concerns including PMS, painful periods, and postmenopausal symptoms.34

In 2010, researchers investigated the effects of taking vitamin B6 and magnesium together for managing PMS symptoms. The study found that this nutrient duo significantly improved a wide range of PMS issues compared to taking magnesium alone or a placebo. Improvements were seen in symptoms like depression, anxiety, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, lower back pain, and even acne.35 

If you’ve previously tried vitamin B6 or magnesium separately without substantial relief, you might find combining these two nutrients more effective.

8. Agnus Castus 

The fruits of the Vitex agnus castus plant (more commonly known as chasteberry) have a reputation for helping with hormonal wellbeing and have been used as a traditional herbal remedy for centuries.36 

Although its association with relieving PMS symptoms still needs more research, a systematic literature review of chasteberry did find that the herbal supplement is a safe, well-tolerated, and effective treatment for moderate-to-severe PMS symptoms.37,38 

Women generally use Agnus Castus to treat mild to moderate PMS symptoms, including breast tenderness, PMS fatigue, bloating, irritability, and mood swings.

Encouragingly, in 2011, the International Society for Premenstrual Disorders concluded that chasteberry shows encouraging results for decreasing premenstrual emotional and physical symptoms compared to placebo.39

The final say

While there’s no ‘cure’ for PMS, you don't have to simply accept the symptoms. Many women find relief by incorporating certain supplements into their routine, although the benefits aren’t scientifically proven. Boosting your intake of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, vitamin B, and others mentioned above could potentially help reduce the impact of PMS on your daily life.

It's also really important to remember that having a balanced diet and drinking enough water are crucial foundations for overall health. Ensuring you’re properly fueled and hydrated will go a long way to supporting important bodily functions and managing PMS.

A balanced approach combining a healthy lifestyle, adequate hydration, a nutrient-dense diet, and potentially beneficial supplements may offer the best chance for managing PMS symptoms.

Sources

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  9. ‌‌Asadi-Samani, M. et al. ‘The chemical composition, botanical characteristic and biological activities of Borago officinalis: a review’. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 2014;7:S22–8. doi: 10.1016/S1995-7645(14)60199-1.
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  16. ‌Arab, A., et al. ‘Beneficial Role of Calcium in Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Current Literature’. International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2020;22:11. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7716601/.
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  18. Office of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin D [Internet]. Nih.gov. 2015 [cited 2024 May 1]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
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  21. Bahrami A, Amir Avan, Hamid Reza Sadeghnia, Esmaeili H, Tayefi M, Ghasemi F, et al. High dose vitamin D supplementation can improve menstrual problems, dysmenorrhea, and premenstrual syndrome in adolescents. Gynecological endocrinology [Internet]. 2018 Feb 15 [cited 2024 May 1];34(8):659–63. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29447494/
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Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
 
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Copyright © Holland & Barrett Retail Limited, 2024. All rights reserved. hollandandbarrett.com is a trading name of Holland & Barrett Retail Limited,. Registered office: Samuel Ryder House, Barling Way, Nuneaton, Warwickshire CV10 7RH. Registered in England: company no. 2758955. Registered VAT no. 211727395.