Dr Charlotte Hay
The 12 Best Supplements for PMS
"PMS is just a normal part of being a woman."
Have you heard this before? I was told these exact words by my doctor when I described some symptoms of hormonal imbalance to her several years ago.
Yet the truth is that, while PMS (e.g. mood swings, bloating, cravings, painful cramps, heavy bleeding, etc.) is common, is it not 'normal', nor healthy; in fact, it is a sign of hormonal imbalance, and, if left unchecked, can lead to more serious health problems later on in life, including a greater risk of developing cancer, heart disease and dementia.
In order to cure our PMS, we therefore have to deal with the underlying hormonal imbalance, whether that's high estrogen, low progesterone (or a combination of both), or another imbalance. Since there are many complex factors that may have led to this imbalance, the solution is also complex and multi-layered, involving diet, lifestyle, movement, and so much more. And supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbs) can also help to address some of these imbalances.
So what are the best supplements for beating PMS, and can supplements 'fix' a hormone imbalance?
Well, while there are certainly supplements that can help, they are exactly what the name suggests - ‘supplementary’ - and won't solve the problem if you’re not also addressing diet and lifestyle. (If you need some guidance and support with where to start, book in here for a free consultation to discuss how health coaching can help.)
Which supplement you take will depend on your symptoms (as well as your unique situation and body, including whether you are taking any prescribed medications or other supplements, and if you have any other health issues).
With that said, here are 12 of the best supplements for general hormone issues such as PMS, as well as which exact symptom(s) they help to address. Please note, if you have a diagnosed hormonal condition, such as PCOS or endometriosis, there are other specific supplements I would recommend for each condition. While you might still benefit from some of the ones listed below, you will need more specific, tailored recommendations. Get in touch if you’d like more info.
As always, please consult with your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, so is a great supplement to take if you suffer badly with cramps during your period (and many of us are deficient in magnesium these days). There are many different forms of magnesium; the glycinate form is the best option for helping with cramps and relaxation. Along with zinc and B6, magnesium is also important in helping your body convert omega-6 (found in vegetable oil, and many other foods) into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins (as opposed to pro-inflammatory prostaglandins, which are responsible for menstrual cramps, among other things). If you don’t have enough of these vitamins and minerals the body has a harder job making this conversion, so may convert the omega-6 into the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins instead (which can also cause inflammatory skin problems such as eczema, as well as pain).
B6 is really important for hormonal health, and may be especially helpful if you experience painful menstrual cramps (due to the action explained above). B6 also helps to control inflammation in the body by controlling homocysteine levels, and is important for thyroid health. B6 comes in different forms; pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) is the active form, whereas pyridoxine is a cheaper form and not as easy for the body to use (it has to convert it into P5P, which it doesn't always do effectively). 25mg per day is a good amount.
Vitamin C is best known as an important antioxidant, found in many fruits and vegetables, that helps to mop up ‘free radicals’ in the body which can lead to ageing, as well as being crucial for collagen production (important in maintaining the appearance of the skin and for good bone health) and for boosting the immune system. It also helps to reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so is really important for heart health, and is essential for iron absorption, so if you suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding it is recommended to take vitamin C alongside your iron supplement. As vitamin C is water soluble our bodies cannot store it for very long, so, if you can, it’s best to take it in two doses: 500mg in the morning, and 500mg later in the day. The ascorbate form is best (the label will say ‘magnesium ascorbate’), rather than ascorbic acid.
Zinc is essential for the production of many hormones, including the thyroid hormones, insulin, and leptin, which is a hormone that signals when we are full (too little leptin means you may therefore overeat). Taking a zinc supplement can actually increase leptin production! You can take around 25mg daily.
Magnesium, B6, vitamin C and zinc form the foundation of good hormone health. You can take them separately, or, one of the few products that combines them all together is Motion Nutrition’s “Balance”, which I love because it saves money buying them separately, and contains the best version of B6 (P5P), vitamin C (as magnesium ascorbate) and a magnesium glycinate blend.
For specific PMS symptoms
Also known as Chasteberry/Chastetree (or Vitex in the US), Agnus Castus is the go-to herbal supplement for most pre-menstrual issues and symptoms (as well as for menopause symptoms). It helps to increase luteinising hormone (LH) and progesterone so is very helpful for women who suffer from excess estrogen, and/or low progesterone.
Evening Primrose Oil
EPO can help with tender breasts (a common PMS symptom), and also may be helpful for endometriosis. However, EPO is high in omega-6 so make sure you are also taking an omega-3 supplement if you consume EPO.
Diindolylmethane, a substance that derives from cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and kale), is commonly used in cases of excess estrogen, and in PCOS. It seems to help lower estrogen, which can be helpful for treating acne and other symptoms involved with high estrogen (such as heavy clotting during your period).
Chaga is a type of medicinal mushroom, recommended for women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding, as it has a high iron content and is rich in minerals so helps to replace what you might be losing during your bleed. For this reason it can also help to give you a bit more energy and vitality during your bleedtime.
As the name suggests, cramp bark is really helpful for painful menstrual cramps! It can be taken in tea form, or as a tincture, just before and during your period.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb (meaning it helps your body adapt to different life stresses and challenges) that is one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine (from India). As well as balancing hormones, it is also helpful for stress, depression and low mood (I have used this myself – taking high dose ashwagandha (1121mg) - and within 48 hours felt a definite lift in my mood, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders). It can be taken in capsule form, or as a powder (that you would add to smoothies, bliss balls, etc.), although the taste may need to be disguised (ashwagandha translates to 'horse smell' in English!).
Schisandra is another adaptogen, and helps to lower cortisol and to stabilise blood sugar levels (particularly important for women with PCOS). As well as being anti-inflammatory, Schisandra may help protect the liver (which is so important for those suffering from excess estrogen). It can help boost energy and promotes mental clarity, and is usually taken in capsule form.
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable that looks similar to turnip, found high in the mountains in Peru. It is also classed as an adaptogenic plant (ashwagandha is to India what maca is to Peru), which has been shown to help with symptoms of hormonal imbalance (both PMS and menopause symptoms), as well as helping to boost energy, reduce fatigue, and improve men’s fertility, too. Maca comes in powder form, or as a supplement. This brand in particular specialises in maca for women’s health.
If you’d like more specific support for your unique issues, book in for a free discovery call with me to see how health coaching could help you.
Have you tried any of these before? Were there any you hadn’t heard of? Let me know in the comments below!