• By Jane Hart, MD

Can B Vitamins Prevent PMS?

While drugs are available to treat premenstrual syndrome, many women prefer natural options such as nutrition and lifestyle changes to help ease or avoid symptoms such as mood swings, sleep disruption, and bloating. In the nutrition category, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that a woman’s diet may be a factor in this syndrome and suggests that women who eat an abundance of dietary riboflavin and thiamine may lower their risk of PMS by as much as 35%.

Women who ate the most dietary riboflavin and thiamine had a lower risk of developing PMS

Dietary vitamin B linked to lower PMS risk

B vitamins, including thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12, are an important part of a daily diet in order to ensure optimal health. While prior research suggests that taking a B-vitamins complex may help ease PMS symptoms, this study looked at whether or not dietary vitamin B might actually help prevent them.

In this study, 3,026 women (ages 25 to 42) in the Nurses’ Health Study II were surveyed through questionnaires about their diet and premenstrual symptoms and followed for ten years.

Results showed that women who ate the most dietary riboflavin and thiamine had as much as a 35% lower risk of developing PMS compared with those who ate the least of these B vitamins. Getting B vitamins from supplements was not associated with a lower risk of PMS.

The study authors comment, “Current treatments for PMS include oral contraceptives, gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, and antidepressants—all of which have significant side effects. Therefore, prevention of PMS through identification of modifiable risk factors [such as diet] is of primary importance.”

While this observational study appears promising, the study design does not prove a cause-and-effect association, so the role of B vitamins in PMS prevention is not conclusive. The authors recommend further research on this important topic.

Tips for dealing with PMS

While the exact cause is not known, PMS is probably caused by a variety of physical, emotional, and environmental factors and certainly relates to hormonal changes that occur just before a woman gets her period. In addition to talking with a doctor about premenstrual symptoms, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the following lifestyle changes to help women ease the symptoms of PMS:

  • Exercise. Regular exercise—particularly aerobic exercise—may help increase energy and lessen mood swings. Try walking briskly, swimming, or running for 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Assess your diet. Some women crave food with refined sugars and starches during their premenstrual phase, but the experts recommend an abundance of complex carbohydrates such as whole grain foods to ease mood swings and food cravings. PMS is also characterized by water retention, so avoiding food sources that increase water retention such as excess salt is important. Both alcohol and caffeine may contribute to PMS symptoms, so avoid these in excess or altogether if possible.
  • Learn to intentionally relax. Relaxation is an excellent tool for managing the irritability and mood swings that heighten during PMS. Take a tai chi, meditation, or yoga class to learn how to stay calm when emotions are rocky.

(Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.009530;www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp057.cfm

Jane Hart, MD

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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