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Essential Fatty Acids Ease PMS

Essential Fatty Acids Ease PMS
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Women taking the dietary supplements had significant decreases in PMS symptoms
Up to 95% of women suffer from at least one PMS symptom, and more than a third of these women have PMS severe enough to interrupt their routine activities. Fortunately, a new study may offer a way for women to get some much-needed relief from monthly bouts of PMS.

PUFA vs. PMS

The exact causes of PMS aren’t known, but health experts suspect that certain essential dietary fats, called polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, may play a role. Not getting enough of and the right types of PUFAs may worsen PMS symptoms.

Researchers set out to test this theory by enrolling 120 women into a six-month study. The study authors randomly selected the women to receive a daily 1- or 2-gram PUFA supplement, or a placebo (no fatty acids).

Blood levels of cholesterol and prolactin, a hormone produced in the body that may affect PMS, were tested before and after the study. The women kept symptom diaries to track the details and severity of their PMS from month to month.

After 6 months, the researchers found that compared with the initial PMS ratings:

  • Women taking the PUFA supplements had significant decreases in PMS symptoms at three and six months.
  • Women taking 2 grams of PUFAs, the highest amount given, experienced the largest decrease in PMS symptoms over time.
  • Women taking the placebo had a small decrease in PMS symptoms at three months, but no improvement of symptoms at six months.

None of the women in the study experienced significant changes in blood levels of cholesterol or prolactin. This suggests PUFA supplements do not raise cholesterol in otherwise healthy women experiencing PMS, nor exert their anti-PMS effects through changes in prolactin levels.

Getting your essential PUFAs

If you are interested in trying a PUFA supplement, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Talk to your doctor about whether PUFA supplements are right for you. Dietary supplements can interfere with medications, so err on the side of caution when adding new supplements to your self-care routine.
  • The 2-gram PUFA supplements used in the study provided 420 mg of gamma linolenic acid, 350 mg of oleic acid, 690 mg of linoleic acid, 500 mg of other PUFAs, and 40 mg of vitamin E. Ask your doctor or dietitian to help you find a supplement with a similar mix of PUFAs.
  • You can get more PUFAs from the food you eat as well. Try walnuts and other nuts and seeds, ground flaxseed, green leafy vegetables, tofu and other soy foods, and fatty fish, such as wild-caught salmon.
  • Other lifestyle changes that may help ease PMS symptoms include getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours), exercising regularly, limiting intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sweets, and eating a healthy diet based around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes.

(Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Accessed January 20, 2011; Available at: NewsRelease_Essential_oil pill_prevents_PMS.pdf)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.


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