WOMEN'S HEALTH
April 9, 2011

Omega-3s for PMS?

Fatty acid supplements may help women beat the symptoms of PMS. How do they work?

If you pull your hair out every month suffering from the symptoms of PMS and hoping for a more effective remedy, take heart: a new study shows that omega-3 fatty acids may relieve PMS symptoms in women who suffer from them.

Researchers gave 1 gram or 2 grams of an omega-3 fatty acid supplement that contained gamma linolenic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, and "other" polyunsaturated acids to 120 PMS sufferers. (A control group got placebo pills made of mineral oil.)

Women who took the 2-gram capsules had even greater reduction in symptoms than women who took the 1-gram capsules. This trend was true at 3 months into the study, and became even more pronounced by the study’s end (6 months), indicating that the effect was cumulative over time.

The women took their respective capsules every night, beginning on the 15th day of their cycle and continuing for 15 days. This pattern was continued for 6 months, and the women reported on their symptoms periodically.

The results were promising: women who took 1- and 2-gram omega-3 capsules had significant improvements in their symptoms over the course of the study. And women who took the 2-gram capsules had even greater reduction in symptoms than women who took the 1-gram capsules. This trend was true at 3 months into the study, and became even more pronounced by the study’s end (6 months), indicating that the effect was cumulative over time. The placebo group showed a slight initial improvement in symptoms, too, but at six months, it was not significant.

The women did now show any changes in cholesterol levels over the course of the study.

The team suggests that omega fatty acids might work by affecting certain hormones and neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) and/or their receptors. They may also work by affecting the sensitivity of various tissues to the female hormone prolactin, which has been linked to PMS in earlier work. The researchers found no measurable changes in prolactin levels over the course of the study, which supports the idea that the body’s sensitivity to the hormone, rather than the hormone level itself, might be a cause of PMS.

In the study’s press release, researcher Edilberto Rocha Filho underlines how difficult PMS can be on a woman: "The negative effect of PMS on a woman's routine activities and quality of life may be significant, in addition to the repercussions on economic costs resulting predominantly from a reduction in productivity. Essential oil capsules can now be said to show much promise as a treatment". More research will be needed to figure out the best dosing for the omegas, but the early results of the study seem promising as offering an effective natural remedy for PMS.

The study was conducted at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil, and published in the January 17, 2011 issue of Reproductive Health.

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