The calcium cure for PMS

VITAL SIGNS

NEW YORK IF YOU'RE AMONG the tens of millions of women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome, relief may be only a pill pop away. A new study has found that a simple calcium supplement could be the best treatment yet for PMS.

A PMS sufferer taking the Calcium tablet

Knowing that some PMS symptoms resemble those of severe calcium deficiency, Susan Thys-Jacobs, a physician at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, got to wondering if calcium could tame the monthly monster. After doing a couple of small-scale studies that suggested it might, she put her theory to a tougher test.

She recruited 466 PMS sufferers, had half of them take four 300-milligram calcium tablets a day (in two doses), and gave dummy pills to the rest. The women ranged in age from 18 to 45; some had mild symptoms and some severe, but all of them had consistently experienced premenstrual misery during the preceding year.

For three months the women kept diaries in which they recorded 17 VMS symptoms in four categories: pain, food cravings, mood changes, and water retention.

During the first month the two groups differed little, but by the second menstrual cycle the calcium takers reported fewer signs of PMS. During the third cycle their symptoms had diminished overall by a whopping 48 percent. The antidepressant drugs that have been the strongest PMS treatment available reduce symptoms by only 32 to 44 percent.

Calcium supplements, of course, are inexpensive, easy to take, and free of the side effects that come with remedies like Prozac. The 1,200-mg dose used in this study is just a notch above the government's recommendation of 1,000 mg per day for women aged 19 to $0. While the study volunteers got their calcium from Tums, any supplement containing calcium carbonate will do. Researchers don't fully understand why the mineral works, but they suspect low calcium levels cause the body to secrete PMS-causing hormones.

Remember to take your calcium pills in a couple of doses during the day-preferably at mealtimes-to ensure optimal absorption. And don't skimp on milk. The vitamin D it contains will help your body onto more of the calcium you give it.

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Vital Signs by Christie Aschwanden, Susan Freinkel, Rachele Kanigel, and Evelyn Strauss.

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