Of 120 women with PMS or the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), those who took 1- or 2-gram capsules of vitamin E and a combination of gamma linolenic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, and other polyunsaturated acids daily showed marked improvements in their PMS symptoms at six months, compared to women who received dummy pills.
The capsules were provided by the Brazilian supplement company Hebron Farmaceutica.
The women who received the higher 2-gram dose of the new supplement showed greater improvements in PMS symptoms than those who received the lower 1-gram dose, the study shows.
PMS symptoms were assessed over six menstrual cycles using the Prospective Record of the Impact and Severity of Menstruation (PRISM), a standardized tool that measures PMS symptoms and their intensity.
Precisely how these supplements combat the symptoms of PMS is not fully understood. But the researchers speculate that the essential fatty acids may affect production of chemicals called prostaglandins, which, in turn, reduce the effects of the hormone prolactin. Too much prolactin or an abnormal response to this hormone may cause PMS symptoms.
The physical and emotional symptoms of PMS symptoms can range from the mild to severe; they usually begin five to 12 days before menstruation and disappear once menstruation starts.
“The results of the current study present some evidence in support of the use of essential fatty acids in PMS patients,” conclude researchers who were led by Edilberto A. Rocha Filho, MD, of the Federal University of Pernambuci in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil.
The new supplement was safe and the fatty acids did not raise women’s total cholesterol levels.
Potential PMS Remedy
“A lot of women don’t like to talk about PMS because it is the brunt of bad jokes, but PMS symptoms are no joke and can range from the annoying, like acne and bloating, to serious mood and sleep disruptions,” says Donnica Moore, MD, president of Sapphire Women’s Health in Far Hills, N.J. “PMS is a serious medical problem that affects a majority of women to varying extents.”
“This PMS remedy in the new study can’t be interpreted as a cure, but it is a very promising option for women with PMS,” she says. ”The only cure for PMS is menopause.”
Other PMS treatments include oral contraceptives which stop ovulation, exercise, antidepressants, calcium and vitamin D supplements, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, Moore says. “Some women respond to all of the above, and some don’t respond to any.”
More PMS treatments are needed, agrees Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, director of the perinatal psychiatry of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Women's Mood Disorders.
“Currently available treatments only help half of women with PMS, which means that the other 50% continue to struggle. So anything that shows a promise, such as essential fatty acids, and has minimal side effects, would be a useful contribution,” she says.
Women who think they may have PMS should keep a daily mood-rating diary and follow their moods for two months consecutively, she says. “Really track how your mood fluctuates and correlate it with your menstrual cycle.”
The first step is to make lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and taking a daily multivitamin, exercising, minimizing caffeine intake, and getting good sleep, she says.
These may help minimize PMS symptoms. Also, “Talk to your doctor about available options, which would include oral contraceptives and antidepressants,” Meltzer-Brody says.