To Relieve PMS, Look to Fatty Acids

A type of fat found in vegetable oils and nuts and known to help to lower "bad" cholesterol levels can also prevent symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), according to a new study.

Women who took 1 to 2 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids during their menstrual periods had fewer PMS symptoms than women who took a placebo, the study said.

Symptoms of PMS depression, acne flare-ups, mood swings and fatigue that occur during the days preceding a woman's period can be debilitating, said Dr. Armando Hernandez-Rey, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Fertility and IVF Center of Miami, who was not involved in the study.

"PMS can impact quality of life to such a degree that during that period of time and after, it can lead [women] into almost a major depressive disorder ," Hernandez-Rey told MyHealthNewsDaily.

About 75 percent of menstruating women experience some form of PMS, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The study was published Jan. 17 in the journal Reproductive Health.

Reduced symptoms

Researchers from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil studied the PMS severity of 120 women over a six-month period. The women completed a survey to rank the severity of their PMS symptoms at the study's start and end.

The researchers gave each woman 1-gram fatty acid pills, 2-gram fatty acid pills or placebo pills to take during the first 15 days of their menstrual cycle each month. The pills contained vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids including gamma linolenic acid, linoleic acid and oleic acid (found in olive oil).

After three months, women who took the 1- and 2- gram doses of the fatty acids reported fewer PMS symptoms than women who took the placebo, according to the study.

And after six months, the decrease in symptoms was even greater for the women who took the fatty acids, the study said.

Explaining the effect

The researchers said some PMS symptoms might be caused by hypersensitivity to prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates milk production .

But when fatty acids are ingested and metabolized, they may reduce the effects of prolactin and relieve symptoms of PMS, the researchers said.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids could also reduce the severity of PMS symptoms by increasing estrogen and progesterone levels, which tend to be low at the start of menstruation, Hernandez-Rey said.

Other small studies have shown that other natural compounds may help relieve PMS symptoms. A 2005 study in the British Journal of Nutrition of 23 women found that eating soya proteins significantly reduced symptoms of PMS, including headache and breast tenderness.

Pass it on: Polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

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Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.