I'm curious as to whether there are any natural remedies that work for PMS. I suffer from headaches, sore breasts, bad bloating, lack of energy and low mood for about a week to 10 days before my period. Other than that, I consider myself healthy and eat a good diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and no fast food, alcohol or caffeine. Can you recommend anything to help with the symptoms?
T.C., via email
Some 70 to 90 percent of women of reproductive age suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—believed to be caused, at least in part, by changes in hormone levels and linked to more than 200 different symptoms from tender breasts and bloating to anxiety and depression.1
But you don't have to just put up with it every month. Here are some of the top natural remedies with good evidence of success.
Deficiencies in certain essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium may play a role in PMS, so make sure you are getting enough in your diet, and consider taking supplements to make up for any lack. In fact, the following supplements have been shown to be effective for a wide range of PMS symptoms:
Calcium. A large trial found that women taking calcium for three menstrual cycles had a 48 percent reduction in PMS symptoms—including pain, water retention and low mood—compared to a 30 percent reduction in the placebo group.2
Suggested dosage: 1,200 mg/day
Magnesium. A daily dose of this mineral can reduce fluid retention, breast tenderness, bloating, migraines and mood changes.3 It may take two to three months to see results.
Suggested dosage: 200-400 mg/day
Potassium. In a small, preliminary study, women with severe PMS taking potassium supplements saw all their symptoms disappear after four cycles.4
Suggested dosage: 600 mg/day
Taking omega-3 supplements seems to be useful for PMS,5 but you may be better of going for krill oil rather than fish oil to get these beneficial fatty acids. In one study, krill oil—which comes from tiny shrimp-like crustaceans found at the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean—outperformed fish oil for improving breast tenderness, bloating, joint discomfort and feelings of stress, irritability and depression. Moreover, the krill-oil group also took fewer painkillers around the time of their period compared with the fish-oil group.6
Suggested dosage: 2 g/day
Vitex agnus-castus, also known as chasteberry, is a favorite among herbalists and naturopaths for treating PMS. In a recent review of 14 trials, 13 of them found the herb to have a positive effect on PMS symptoms.7 It's thought to work by balancing hormone levels.
Suggested dosage: 40 drops/day of a liquid, concentrated vitex extract, taken in the morning with water—but ideally consult a naturopath or herbalist first
Women getting plenty of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin) from their diet were significantly less likely to have PMS in one study,8 so fill up on food sources of these important vitamins (see box, below). Other research shows that taking vitamin B1 and B6 supplements can improve all kinds of PMS symptoms including depression, irritability, acne, bloating and breast tenderness.9
Suggested dosage: try a high-potency B complex supplement such as Solgar's Vitamin B-Complex "100" and follow the label instructions
Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing if you have PMS, regular aerobic exercise can help with physical symptoms.10 Alternatively, try a yoga class. It's been found to improve menstrual pain, bloating, breast tenderness and cold sweats as well as reduce the need for painkillers during that time of the month.11 Aim for two to three sessions a week.