Does Milk Really Help PMS?

You may have heard about last summer’s advertising campaigns by the California Milk Advisory Board, which showed men rushing to give their wives or girlfriends milk to remedy PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Although these ads were an attempt to be humorous (albeit at women’s expense), the ads were quickly taken down after a firestorm of controversy. Many considered the ads to be demeaning to women, and promoted the sexist suggestion that it is men, not women, who suffer most from PMS. There was also a not-so-subtle hint that there is something “crazy” about women with PMS, which of course plays into decades-old stereotypes that belong on the set of Mad Men, not in advertisements for food.

But what about it? Does milk actually help relieve PMS symptoms? It appears that the milk advertisers were treating the science somewhat loosely.  It is true that calcium – taken in pill form as a dietary supplement – has been proven to help relieve symptoms of PMS, but calcium from food has never been tested or proven in this capacity. There is no reason to think that a diet with the appropriate amount of calcium wouldn’t help; it’s just that it’s never been tested, or proven. So claiming that milk could help PMS – well, there’s just no scientific evidence for it.

Calcium supplements, on the other hand, have been the subject of several studies for PMS symptoms, and with very good results. The premenstrual symptoms that were helped in these studies were fatigue, depression, mood swings, tension and anxiety, bloating and breast tenderness, and cramping and generalized aches and pains. The studies have used 1000 – 1200 mg doses of calcium carbonate, which is the most common form of calcium pills, and is the active ingredient in many antacids.

Calcium is not the only natural remedy that holds great promise for PMS and its more severe cousin, PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). Vitamin B6, magnesium, several herbal remedies, as well as exercise, stress relief, and healthy diet are all first-line suggestions for troublesome premenstrual symptoms.

Whether that healthy diet includes milk or not, where natural PMS relief is concerned, is an unresolved question. Usually when the question of getting nutrients in pill form or food form is raised, food is preferable to pills. This is one of those cases in which the supplements have much better proof than diet.