Will supplements and herbal cures help ease my PMS symptoms?

Q: Will taking supplements help my PMS? What about the herbal cures I’ve heard about?

A: When it comes to herbal cures, remedies come in and out of fashion just like hemlines. You may have heard that black cohosh, wild yam root, dong quai, and evening primrose oil can help relieve your symptoms. The only problem is there’s no scientific evidence that shows any of them relieve PMS symptoms. Not only are they ineffective, some of them can be downright dangerous for some women so I cannot recommend any of them. St. John’s wort and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) may be beneficial, but they are too potent to take without a doctor’s guidance. If you want to try them, talk with your physician.

Some supplements, however, have been shown to help some women. If you experience PMS and are looking for fixes beyond my food suggestions, there are a few supplements I recommend trying:

  • Multivitamin. In order to assure that you get all the nutrients important for mood and physical symptoms of PMS, look for a multivitamin that contains 100% DV manganese (2 milligrams), at least 25% DV of magnesium (100 milligrams or more), 100% DV of vitamin B6, and at least 800 IU vitamin D, all of which may help improve mood and reduce bloating. (The vitamin D is necessary to help the body absorb calcium.)


Calcium plus vitamin D3 (and optional magnesium). I always prefer that women get their calcium from food, but if you’re not consistently consuming at least 3 daily servings of calcium-rich foods or beverages, you may want to consider taking a separate supplement. When buying supplements, remember that calcium is worthless without vitamin D3, so make sure you’re getting a total of at least 800 IU vitamin D3 through your multi and/or calcium supplement. Also consider buying a brand with additional magnesium, especially if you’re not regularly eating magnesium-rich foods.

Chasteberry extract. If the food and nutritional supplements aren’t enough to calm your premenstrual symptoms, scientists have found that chasteberry extract may also help. Preliminary studies have found that this extract can help relieve mood swings, irritability, headache, and breast tenderness in some women. Scientists believe that the benefits of chasteberry are due to flavonoids and other phytochemicals that seem to relieve stress and reduce inflammation. While the current research looks promising, it’s still in the early stages, so we aren’t yet able to draw firm conclusions about chasteberry for premenstrual syndrome. If you do decide to give chasteberry a try (with your physician’s consent), typical dosage is a 20 milligram tablet, one to two times a day. Important note: If you experience headaches, gastrointestinal distress, or rashes while taking chasteberry extract, discontinue using it. Chasteberry lowers prolactin levels, so it should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing. Because of possible interactions, do not use chasteberry if you are also taking drugs or hormones that affect the pituitary, such as bromocriptine or a birth control pill.

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