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What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a monthly pattern of symptoms that start about a week before your period. These symptoms tend to go away within four days after starting your period.

For many people, PMS causes both physical and psychological symptoms, including:

The severity of these symptoms varies from person to person. Some people also experience a more severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). People with PMDD experience at least five of these symptoms. The symptoms are often incredibly intense and get in the way of day-to-day activities.

Experts aren’t sure about the exact causes of PMS or PMDD. Although, they’re likely related to changes in your levels of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that play a big role in your menstrual cycle. There may also be other factors involved.

Oral contraceptives and antidepressants are traditional treatments for PMS and PMDD. There are also several supplements you may want to try for relief, often with fewer side effects that traditional treatments.

We explain what these natural supplements for PMS can do and how to use them safely.

Chasteberry is one of the most commonly used supplements for female reproductive health. A 2013 review of its benefits for the female reproductive system suggests it provides many benefits for people with PMS.

It was shown to be particularly helpful for physical symptoms, including bloating, breast pain, and headaches. It even appeared to work better than fluoxetine (Prozac), an antidepressant, for these symptoms. However, it was less effective than fluoxetine at treating psychological symptoms, like mood swings, in people with PMDD.

How to take it: Always follow the manufacturer’s dosage guidelines.

Safety: Talk to your doctor before taking chasteberry if you have a hormone-sensitive condition, such as ER-positive breast cancer. Chasteberry may also interact with oral contraceptives and antipsychotic medications. You should speak with your doctor first if you take any of these drugs.

People with PMS symptoms often don’t get enough calcium from their diet. Calcium levels may also change throughout your menstrual cycle.

A 2017 clinical trial found that calcium supplements helped to reduce some symptoms of PMS, like bloating and fatigue. More so, they concluded that calcium supplementation was effective for reducing psychological symptoms, including sadness, mood swings, and anxiety.

You don’t have to start with a pill if you’re looking to up your calcium levels. Start by adding some calcium-rich foods to your diet. If that isn’t doing it, calcium supplements are available.

How to take it: Start by taking 500 milligrams (mg) per day. It’s good to keep in mind that the daily recommended allowance for calcium in adults ranges from 1,000 to 1,300 mg, depending on your age and sex.

Safety: Calcium supplements are safe for most people, but they may cause constipation in higher doses. Talk to your doctor if you take any other medications, including thyroid hormones or antibiotics. You may need to take them at different times of the day. You should also not take supplements if you’ve had kidney stones or other health issues. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.

Vitamin B-6 is involved in the production of neurotransmitters, which play a big role in your moods. Vitamin B-6 is a water-soluble vitamin found in many foods you eat, including:

  • chickpeas
  • tuna, salmon, and other fish
  • potatoes and other starchy veggies
  • beef liver and organ meats

Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with this essential vitamin.

Several small studies have found that taking a daily vitamin B-6 supplement may help with many of the psychological symptoms of PMS, including moodiness, irritability, and anxiety. However, conclusions are still limited due to poor quality of the current research.

How to take it: Daily intake of water-soluble vitamins is needed because the body doesn’t store B-6. If you can’t get enough from your diet, supplement with 50 to 100 mg per day. Always follow the manufacturer’s dosage guidelines.

Safety: Don’t take vitamin B-6 supplements if you take cycloserine, anti-seizure medications, or theophylline.

Some women with PMS may have low levels of magnesium. With this in mind, a 2010 study found that supplementing with a combination of magnesium and vitamin B-6 helped participant’s ease their PMS symptoms, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, water retention, and breast tenderness.

Foods high in magnesium include:

  • almonds
  • green leafy vegetables
  • peanuts

If you want to try the combination used in the study, you can buy supplements that combine magnesium and vitamin B-6 in a single tablet here.

How to take it: Take 200 to 250 mg per day, keeping in mind that the average daily recommendation for adults should be around 300-400 mg, depending on age and sex. Always follow the manufacturer’s dosage guidelines.

Safety: Talk to your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement if you also take proton pump inhibitors, diuretics, antibiotics, or bisphosphonates. If you take any of these, you may still be able to take magnesium supplements, but you’ll likely need to take them at different times of day.

Certain fatty acids, such as gamma-linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid, have anti-inflammatory effects that may help with PMS symptoms. Gamma-linoleic acid is found in evening primrose oil, which has a long history of being used for PMS. However, more research is needed to back up its uses for PMS symptoms.

Still, a 2011 study found that a mixture of essential fatty acids that included gamma-linoleic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid reduced PMS symptoms in people who took 1 to 2 grams of the mixture every day. This improvement in symptoms was stronger after six months of taking the oil mixture, compared to results after three months.

You can buy supplements containing a similar blend of essential fatty acids here.

How to use: Follow the manufacturer’s dosage guidelines for the blend you choose.

Safety: Talk to your doctor before taking an essential fatty acid supplement if you take any other medications or herbal supplements. This is especially important if you take an anticoagulant or antipsychotic medications.

Ginkgo biloba is best known as an herbal remedy for improving memory, but it can also help with PMS symptoms.

A clinical study in 2009 evaluated its use for treating PMS symptoms. Researchers found that taking 40 mg tablets, 3 times per day reduced the severity of both physical and psychological symptoms in the students studied.

How to use: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dosage. Start with the lowest recommended dose and take for about 10 to 14 days from mid-cycle until a day or two after your period.

Safety: This herb can have serious interactions with medications you’re taking. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. Don’t take ginkgo biloba if you’ve ever had a seizure. You should also talk to your doctor before taking a ginkgo biloba supplement if you also take blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin, or have diabetes.

Many consider St. John’s wort to be an herbal alternative to prescription antidepressants. It affects both serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that affect your mood and that are typically targeted in traditional antidepressants.

Although St. John’s wort is better known for treating depression, it’s one of the most thoroughly studied medicinal herbs, with several studies pointing to its effectiveness in treating PMS symptoms. For example, a 2010 study found that it improved both physical and emotional symptoms, particularly depression and anxiety.

How to use: Dosage recommendations vary significantly depending on the manufacturer. You should follow their recommendations, but it’s advised not to take this herb longer than 6 weeks.

Safety: St. John’s wort is a powerful herb that can interact with many types of medication, including antidepressants commonly used to treat PMS. This herb can also interfere with birth control and heart and blood pressure medications. Talk you your doctor before taking St. John’s wort if you take any type of medication, including other supplements. When taking St. John’s wort, make sure to apply sunscreen before going outside, as this supplement can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

For many people, PMS is a frustrating monthly ordeal. However, there are several supplements that may help with both your physical and emotional symptoms.

Many supplements actually become more effective over time, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t notice immediate results. Some may take 3 to 6 months to work.

But remember, natural remedies — although natural — aren’t necessarily harmless. Always check with your doctor first if you take any other medication or have an underlying condition of any kind.