Women's Health

Vitamin E and Fatty Acid Supplements May Alleviate Period Cramps

Vitamin E and Fatty Acid Supplements May Alleviate Period Cramps

A new study published in the journal, Reproductive Health, has shown that supplements containing vitamin E and essential fatty acids may relieve the symptoms caused by menstruation. In this study, 120 women with PMS or the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), were divided into two groups. First group received a supplement containing 1 gram or 2 grams of vitamin E and a combination of gamma linolenic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, and other polyunsaturated acids, while the second group received a placebo. Women who received the supplement showed considerable improvement in the symptoms of PMS after six months, when compared to those who received the placebo.

The study also showed that women who received the higher dose of the supplement had greater improvements in the symptoms of PMS when compared to those who had the lower dose of the supplement. Symptoms of PMS were assessed for six months using Prospective Record of the Impact and Severity of Menstruation (PRISM), a standardized tool that measures the intensity and symptoms.

The study does not show how the supplements control the symptoms of PMS. According to the researchers essential fatty acids in the supplements may affect the production of prostaglandin, which, in turn, reduces the effect of the hormone prolactin. Most of the symptoms of PMS are caused by too much of prolactin or due to an unusual response to this hormone.

Symptoms of PMS ranges from mild to severe and usually sets in five to twelve days before menstruation and stops by the time menstruation starts. Researchers led by Edilberto A. Rocha Filho, MD, of the Federal University of Pernambuci in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil, conclude that the results support the use of essential fatty acids for improving the symptoms of PMS. The supplement used in the study was safe and did not increase the levels of cholesterol in the participants.

Donnica Moore, MD, president of Sapphire Women’s Health in Far Hills, NJ, remarks that PMS is a serious problem that affects a number of women at varying degrees. She feels that although the use of fatty acid supplements for controlling PMS cannot be considered as a cure, it can be considered as an option for women with PMS. According to her, the only cure for PMS is menopause. Some of the other options for treating PMS include oral contraceptives, exercise, antidepressants, calcium and vitamin D supplements, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. “Some of the women respond to all of the above said medications, while some may not respond to any of them," says Moore.

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, director of the perinatal psychiatry of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Women's Mood Disorders, also agrees that more treatment options are needed for PMS. Most of the options available now are helpful only for 50% of the women, while the rest continues to struggle with the symptoms of this disorder. “So any treatment that shows promise, including essential fatty acids, would be welcome," says Meltzer-Brody.

The most ideal way to keep the symptoms at bay is to incorporate few lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, taking a daily multivitamin, exercising, minimizing caffeine intake, and getting a good night's sleep. “One can also discuss with the doctor regarding the available options such as antidepressants and oral contraceptives," adds Meltzer-Brody.