'Take Two and Call Me'

Mainstream medicine validates calcium therapy for PMS.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) has come a long way. For years dismissed as a figment of women's (overactive) hypochondriacal imaginations, it has only recently achieved recognition as a condition which has physiological causes, and which, therefore, may yield to physiological interventions, like nutrition. In fact, today it is the rare physician who will tell a woman that the symptoms she is experiencing are "all in your head" or "just part of being a woman."

Addressing PMS
Many recommendations have been made for alleviating the symptoms of PMS. These include lifestyle changes, such as following a low-fat diet, incorporating more exercise, and decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption. Support groups, stress management techniques, and drugs (including Prozac) that relieve specific symptoms have been tried with different degrees of success. Supplementation with vitamin E (150 to 400 IU each day) or vitamin B-6 (50 to 200 mg each day) may work for some women, but not for others.

The calcium connection
Numerous healthcare professionals, including the author, have been recommending calcium (with magnesium) to women with PMS for many years. Until recently, definitive studies have been few. With the publication in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reporting the results of a large, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study (the type accepted by conventional medical practitioners), we may soon hear, "take two calcium tablets and call me in the morning."

The evidence suggests that disturbances in calcium regulation may cause or contribute to the symptoms of PMS. The study concluded that calcium supplementation is a simple and effective treatment in premenstrual syndrome, resulting in a major reduction in overall luteal phase symptoms. (The luteal phase is from 7 to 14 days before menstruation.) In the study, women who were given 1,200 mg a day of calcium carbonate showed a 48-percent overall reduction in total symptoms from baseline. Negative-effect symptoms (mood swings, depression, and tension-irritability) were diminished to an extent similar to that achieved by Prozac in another study.

The Journal article also mentioned magnesium, indicating that a severe deficiency of this mineral could cause neuromuscular irritability and other symptoms reflective of PMS. According to Better Nutrition columnist, Michael T. Murray, N.D., as with calcium supplements, the form of magnesium is important. Aspartate, malate, succinate, fumarate, and citrate forms may be better absorbed than oxide, chloride, or carbonate forms.

In an interview with Murray, he indicated that calcium has been part of his professional recommendations for helping his patients with PMS, along with magnesium, a high-potency multi-vitamin/mineral, extra vitamin E, other nutrients, and the herb chasteberry (Virex agnus-castus).

Of course, a value-added side effect of calcium is that it has a positive effect on bone health.

PHOTO (COLOR): Jean Barilla, M.S.

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, Home Edition. Whitehouse Station, N.J.: Merck Research Laboratories, 1997.

Carlson, K.J., Eisenstat, S.A., Ziporyn, T., eds. The Harvard Guide to Women's Health. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Murray, M.T., N.D. Premenstrual Syndrome. How You Can Benefit from Diet, Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and Other Natural Methods. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1997.

Thys-Jacobs, S., Starkey, P., Bernstein, D., et al. "Calcium carbonate and the premenstrual syndrome: Effects on premenstrual and menstrual symptoms," Am J Obstet Gynecol. 179(2):444-452, 1998.


By Jean Barilla

Jean Barilla, M.S., is one of the nation's foremost medical and nutrition experts, and is the author or co-author of many books, including Huperzine A: Boost Your Brain Power (1998). The assistant editor of Natural Medicine, Jean co-edited the book, Natural Health Secrets From Around the World (1997). A veteran host of radio and television health programs, she has counseled clients in health and nutrition for over 20 years.

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