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This Vitamin Helps Ease the Pain of PMS
Vitamin E is one of the vitamins commonly recommended for women with premenstrual syndrome. The most important benefit of vitamin E is its antioxidant property. Unfortunately, vitamin E is not a popular subject of research. While only a few studies have been done to investigate the benefits of the vitamin for women with PMS, the available evidence strongly indicates that the vitamin may help. So, how can vitamin E improve PMS symptoms and what symptoms are relieved? Read on to find out.
by Brad Chase
Vitamin E is a group of 8 fat-soluble compounds known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. In these two groups, there are 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols.
The most bioactive vitamer of vitamin E is alpha tocopherol although gamma tocopherol is the most common vitamer found in North American diet.
Dietary sources of vitamin E include wheat germ oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, green leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, cereals, nut oils and nuts. The recommended daily intake of vitamin E for adults is 15 mg.
Although vitamin E is best known for its antioxidant property, this vitamin does have other health benefits.
Vitamin E is essential to the functioning of the nervous system, the inhibition of platelet aggregation and the regulation of certain enzyme systems.
As an offshoot of its antioxidant effect, vitamin E also prevents the oxidation of fatty acids and other lipids.
Vitamin E deficiency is rare but may be caused by impaired fat absorption and genetic fat metabolism in adults.
Signs of vitamin E deficiency usually involve damage to the red blood cells, muscles and nerves as well as impairment of the immune system. Therefore, vitamin E deficiency can cause anemia, neuropathy, oxidative stress and impaired muscle coordination.
Vitamin E deficiency can be treated with vitamin E supplements. However, care must be taken to avoid vitamin E toxicity.
The upper tolerable limit for vitamin E is 1,000 mg per day. When taken in excess, vitamin E can cause vitamin K deficiency and also increase the risk of severe bleeding.
The recommended dose of vitamin E for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is 400 IU per day. The form of vitamin E used is alpha tocopherol.
Besides PMS, vitamin E is also commonly recommended for pregnant women to lower blood pressure during late pregnancy and lower the risk of pre-eclampsia. In addition, women take vitamin E to relieve menstrual pain, cramps and postmenopausal hot flashes.
For PMS, vitamin E can help provide relief for emotion-type symptoms such as depression and anxiety as well as craving and cramps.
But how does vitamin E provide these benefits? Mostly through its antioxidant effect and its neuroprotective role.
As an antioxidant, vitamin E mops up the free radicals released as byproducts of metabolic reactions. In this way, it reduces oxidative stress and prevents the disruption of normal physiological processes. In the central nervous system, this antioxidant property makes vitamin E a protector of neurons and neurotransmitter systems.
This property of the vitamin can explain its effectiveness for reducing PMS symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
The emotion-type PMS symptoms are caused by imbalances in neurotransmission and activities of certain neurotransmitters. For example, low levels of serotonin and dopamine will cause depression.
In addition, by protecting neurons in the brain from damage caused by free radicals, vitamin E can help keep neurons firing optimally.
The same neuroprotective activity can also help with physical symptoms of PMS. Because pain and aches are simply stimuli transmitted via the nerves, they can result from nerve damage too. By preventing nerve damage, vitamin E can protect the nerves running through joints as well as smooth and skeletal muscles.
All these benefits of vitamin E are supplementary at best. The vitamin should not be used as the sole treatment for your PMS.
Rather, vitamin E should be combined with other proven PMS remedies such as calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and herbs such as chasteberry and St. John’s wort.
PMS is commonly associated with nutritional deficiencies especially calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. Is vitamin E deficiency one of the causative factors of PMS?
In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1990, a group of researchers compared vitamin E levels between the luteal phase (when PMS occurs) and follicular phase of the menstrual cycle as well as between women with PMS and those without the condition.
For the study, the researchers recruited 10 women with PMS and 10 women without PMS to serve as controls.
These women gave blood samples every 2 – 3 days during their menstrual cycles for 3 consecutive months.
The results of the study showed that vitamin E levels remained unchanged in both groups during the luteal and follicular phases of the menstrual cycle.
In addition, vitamin E levels were comparable at corresponding phases of the cycle between the PMS group and the control group.
The researchers, therefore, concluded that vitamin E deficiency is not a factor in PMS.
This result is expected because vitamin E deficiency is quite rare. Even though women with PMS do not suffer from vitamin E deficiency, vitamin E supplementation may still provide some benefits.
In a 1987 study published in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, researchers investigated the efficacy of vitamin E in the treatment of PMS.
In this placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study, the researchers recruited 46 women with PMS and 41 of them completed the clinical trial.
These women were randomly assigned to either vitamin E or placebo during the luteal phases of 3 consecutive menstrual cycles. The dose of vitamin given was 400 IU per day and the form of the vitamin used was D-alpha tocopherol.
The results showed that vitamin E supplementation significantly improved certain emotion-type and physical symptoms of PMS compared to placebo.
A 2005 study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology provided some support for the efficacy of vitamin E supplementation for PMS pain even though the study investigated the role of the vitamin in the treatment of dysmenorrhea.
In the study, the researchers gave a group of young girls suffering from the condition either placebo or 200 IU vitamin E daily during the later halves of their menstrual cycles for 6 months.
The results of the study showed that vitamin E supplementation produced significant improvements in menstrual pain by the 2nd month. This reduction in pain steadily became even more significant until the end of the study.
The often quoted study in the discussion of vitamin E supplementation for PMS is this 2011 study published in the journal, Reproductive Health.
For the randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, 120 women with PMS were recruited. These women were divided into 3 groups. While one group received placebo, the other groups received different doses (1 g and 2 g) of a supplement formulated with vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The supplement used contained 210 mg of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), 175 mg of oleic acid, 345 mg of linolenic acid, 250 mg of some other polyunsaturated fatty acids and 20 mg of vitamin E for every 1 g capsule.
This clinical trial covered a duration of 6 months during which the women’s PMS symptoms were monitored and recorded.
The results of the study showed that PMS symptoms were improved in the 2 groups given the supplement.
In addition, more significant improvements were seen in the group that got the higher dose of the supplement.
Much has been said about this study and how it supposedly demonstrated that vitamin E can help reduce PMS symptoms. However, the researchers were clearly investigating the efficacy of essential fatty acids in the treatment of PMS.
The vitamin E included in the formulation is only present as an antioxidant preservative to help protect the fatty acids from oxidative destruction.
It may be that vitamin E did indeed contribute to the observed improvements in PMS symptoms but the researchers clearly discussed only the role of essential fatty acids.
In their opinion, these fatty acids contributed to the production of prostaglandins especially prostaglandin E1. By binding to prolactin receptors, this prostaglandin blocks the activities of prolactin, a pituitary hormone implicated in the appearance of some PMS symptoms.
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