PMS research study attracts global notice

A study of the effects of calcium and vitamin D on lowering the risk of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) led by assistant professor of Public Health Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson is attracting international attention.

The research findings, which were published in the June 13 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, were reported in USA Today, the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, New Scientist, WebMD, National Public Radio, Reuters, CBS, Forbes.com and on KRON-TV in San Francisco. An Associated Press story on the study appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsday, Boston Herald and on CNN.com. The study also was reported by news outlets in India, Great Britain, Australia, China, Italy and Poland.

As the study notes, most women may experience mild emotional or physical premenstrual symptoms, but as many as 8 to 20 percent of women experience symptoms severe enough to meet the definition of premenstrual syndrome, characterized by moderate to severe symptoms that substantially interfere with normal life activities and interpersonal relationships. Previous studies have suggested that calcium supplements and vitamin D, a hormone that regulates the absorption of calcium, may reduce premenstrual occurrence and severity.

Bertone-Johnson and colleagues compared the diets and supplement use of 1,057 women aged 27 to 44 years who reported developing PMS over the course of 10 years to 1,968 women who reported no diagnosis of PMS or no or minimal premenstrual symptoms in the same time period. The women, who participated in the Nurses Health Study (NHS), all reported no PMS in 1991, at the beginning of the study period. Their intake of calcium and vitamin D from diet and/or supplements was calculated from food frequency and standard NHS questionnaires administered in 1991, 1995 and 1999.

“We observed a significantly lower risk of developing PMS in women with high intakes of vitamin D and calcium from food sources, equivalent to about four servings per day of skim or low-fat milk, fortified orange juice or low-fat dairy foods such as yogurt,” the authors write. “These dietary intakes correspond to approximately 1,200 mg. of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D from food sources. While previous studies have observed the benefits of calcium supplements for treating PMS, this is the first, to our knowledge, to suggest that calcium and vitamin D may help prevent the initial development of PMS.”

“Our findings, together with those from several small randomized trials that found calcium supplements to be effective in treating PMS, suggest that a high intake of calcium and vitamin D may reduce the risk of PMS,” the authors conclude. “Clinical trials of this issue are warranted. In the interim, given that calcium and vitamin D may also reduce risk of osteoporosis and some cancers, clinicians may consider recommending these nutrients even for younger women.”

The study was supported by grants from GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and the National Cancer Institute.