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Vitamin B6 and PMS

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 |
Vitamin B6 Premenstrual Syndrome

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS – also know as Premenstrual Tension or PMT) is a set of symptoms that occur in the week or two leading up to menstruation (period).

These symptoms can include stomach bloating and water retention, stomach cramps, tenderness and/or swelling of the breasts, depression, sadness and tearfulness, anxiety, stress, irritability and mood swings, tiredness and problems with sleeping, joint and muscle pain, headaches, and skin problems and acne.

What Causes PMS?

PMS affects many women but its cause is not clear. PMS usually begins around ovulation (mid-cycle) and ends when the period starts, and so would appear to be linked to the changes in hormones that take place as part of the menstrual cycle. However, women with PMS have the same hormone levels as women without PMS.

PMS might be connected with low levels of the neurotransmitters (naturally-occurring chemicals that transmits messages in the brain) serotonin and dopamine. PMS seems to run in families, and may be linked with stress. Women who have had depression in the past are more likely to have PMS. Smoking and caffeine can make PMS worse, as can eating too much salt.

Vitamin B6 and PMS

The body needs vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) to make serotonin and dopamine, and vitamin B6 supplements may help the mood-related symptoms of PMS (see also ‘The Importance of B Vitamins’ and ‘Can Vitamins Prevent Disease?’).

A meta-analysis (a large analysis of a lot of smaller studies) of clinical trials of B6 in PMS showed that B6 at up to 100 mg per day is likely to help premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual depression. Other studies show that B6 might help with premenstrual irritability and tiredness.

Vitamin B6 may improve fertility and improve some of the side effects associated with the contraceptive pill, and may also help to treat morning sickness, but pregnant women should only take vitamin supplements after talking to a doctor or pharmacist.

Vitamin B6 is found in whole grains and wholemeal bread, eggs, meat (including liver), fish, vegetables including spinach, peas and green beans, nuts and bananas. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is contained in some amounts in all foods. However, to get the levels required to treat PMS may mean also taking a B6 supplement. Vitamin B6 needs to be taken every day, and it may take three or four months to work.

Vitamin B6 probably won’t help symptoms of breast pain or tenderness, but adding evening primrose or starflower oil may relieve this.

Magnesium can help the body absorb and use vitamin B6. Magnesium is found in nuts and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B6 and Safety

High doses of vitamin B6 (over 200 mg per day) can cause numbness and tingling (pins and needles) in the hands and feet, which may lead to permanent nerve damage. Other side effects from taking too much can include stomach upsets, pain, tiredness, headaches and depression. However, lower doses shouldn’t cause side effects. If you have any concerns, or if you take any other drugs, talk to a doctor or pharmacist.

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