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March 2013

High Iron Intake Linked to Reduced PMS Risk

A recent study suggests that high iron intake may reduce the risk for premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

PMS is a group of symptoms that start one to two weeks before the period. Four out of 10 menstruating women experience PMS. There have been as many as 150 symptoms associated with PMS. Most women have at least some symptoms of PMS, and the symptoms go away after their periods start. The most common symptoms are: irritability, anxiety, depression, headache, bloating, fatigue or excessive tiredness, feelings of hostility and anger, and food cravings, especially for chocolate or sweet and salty foods.

Iron is an essential mineral and an important component of proteins involved in oxygen transport and metabolism. Iron is also essential in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Approximately 15 percent of the body's iron is stored for future needs and mobilized when dietary intake is inadequate. The body usually maintains normal iron status by controlling the amount of iron absorbed from food. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Sources of heme iron include meat, fish and poultry. Sources of nonheme iron, which is not absorbed as well as heme iron, include beans, lentils, flours, cereals and grain products.

In a recent study, researchers analyzed data on women from the Nurses' Health Study II. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants reported having PMS symptoms. After 10 years, the researchers identified 1,057 women with PMS and 1,968 without. Data on iron intake and other minerals was collected through questionnaires throughout the study.

The researchers found, after adjusting the data for other factors including calcium intake, that women with the highest nonheme iron intake had a 36 percent reduced risk of developing PMS when compared to those with the lowest intake. Conversely, high potassium intake was linked to an increased risk for PMS. Significant links with magnesium, manganese and sodium consumption were lacking.

The authors concluded that monitoring mineral intake may be helpful in preventing PMS. Well-designed clinical trials are necessary before any firm conclusions can be made.

In addition to iron, there is some evidence that taking vitamin B6 may improve symptoms of PMS such as mastalgia (breast pain or tenderness) and PMS-related depression or anxiety in some patients. Additionally, initial research suggests that ginkgo may relieve PMS-associated symptoms, including emotional upset. Further well-designed research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

For more information about integrative therapies with evidence of benefit for PMS, please visit Natural Standard's Comparative Effectiveness Database.

For more information about iron, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Chocano-Bedoya PO, Manson JE, Hankinson SE, et al. Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome. Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Feb 26.
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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