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Supplements for PMS: Is 5-HTP the happy pill?

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A week or two before menstruation (period), mood swings, low energy, sleep changes and other symptoms are experienced by over 90% of women around the world [1]. Most women can function normally since their symptoms are mild. For 20-40% of these women, these symptoms can interfere with daily lives and are referred to as PMS (premenstrual symptom). For a small percentage of women (2-8%), these symptoms are severe and need attention. This is referred to as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) [1]. The good news is that nutrition offers a ray of hope to help you feel better during PMS. An easy way to produce more happy brain chemicals like serotonin is by using supplements like 5-HTP.


PMS: what happens in your brain?

Your hormones fluctuate during your menstrual cycle. 7-10 days before periods, there is a decrease in sex hormones like estrogen. This is the phase when most women experience symptoms [2]. Changes in hormones also affects serotonin levels, which regulates your mood and sleep. This also explains some of the PMS symptoms. Understanding how your body changes during the menstrual cycle can make it easy to manage symptoms effectively.

Serotonin’s building block, tryptophan, is found in protein rich foods. Oestrogen increases the production of the chemical that converts tryptophan to serotonin [3]. It also helps serotonin to be available for longer to perform its function. In simple terms: 

More oestrogen = more serotonin = happier you.


Treatment for PMDD: Is 5-HTP a good option?

The current therapy for PMDD are antidepressants that work on prolonging serotonin available in the brain [4], despite this, 15% of women report limited benefits [5]. These antidepressants have many serious side effects. There are natural alternatives that can help increase serotonin without the side effects. Irritability is another PMS/PMDD symptom, which can lead to aggressive behaviour. This is connected to low serotonin levels [7]. Increasing serotonin levels increased sociability and agreeableness [7]. Since serotonin has a major impact on mood and behaviour, ways to safely increase serotonin must be explored.

5-HTP is the shortcut to serotonin. When tryptophan is consumed, a small amount enters the brain where it is first converted to 5-HTP and then to serotonin. Directly taking 5-HTP bypasses the need for oestrogen to facilitate the conversion. Brain feed’s 100mg 5-htp, can help you easily and safely increase serotonin levels whenever you feel the need. Read more here.

5-HTP has been evidenced to benefit those with depressive symptoms. A review of 7 studies showed that 60% of those taking 5-HTP reported full treatment of depressive symptoms [6]. This means, 5-HTP can simplify the equation: 

More serotonin = happier you


Nutrition for PMS/PMDD

5-HTP is the most efficient way, currently available to increase serotonin levels so you can feel happier and sleep better, easing some of your PMS/PMDD symptoms. You can also incorporate certain foods that can help ease your menstrual journey. Some of the best foods for pms mood swings and other symptoms include foods rich in:

Nutrient

Food sources (per 100g) and their nutrient content

Vitamin B6

A review of 12 studies recommended supplementing vitamin B6 to help with PMS symptoms due to its involvement in production of brain chemicals [9].


Women need 1.2mg Vitamin B6 per day.

  • roasted pistachios (1mg)
  • tuna (1mg)
  • lima beans (1mg)
  • sunflower seeds (1mg)

Tryptophan

It the building block of serotonin and found in protein rich foods

  • tofu (750mg)
  • chia seeds (720mg)
  • pork (630mg)
  • mozzarella cheese (600mg)

Zinc

Zinc is involved in maintaining hormonal balance and improving mood. Its levels drop during PMS levels and supplementation has shown to relieve symptoms [8].


Non-pregnant/lactating women need 7mg zinc per day.

  • beef (10mg)
  • sesame seeds (8mg)
  • dried mushrooms (8mg)
  • roasted peanuts (7mg)

Calcium

Oestrogen is involved in calcium regulation in the body. Low calcium levels are seen in those with PMS. Calcium is involved in production of serotonin. Reviews have shown benefit of increased calcium intake in lowering PMS symptoms [10]


Non-pregnant/lactating women need 700mg calcium per day.

  • tofu (prepared with calcium sulphate) (2134mg)
  • roasted almonds (291mg)
  • parmesan cheese (1376mg)
  • Milk, skim (204mg)


References

  1. Gao, M. et al. (2022). Global and regional prevalence and burden for premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder: A study protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine101(1), e28528.
  2. Draper, C. F. et al. (2018). Menstrual cycle rhythmicity: metabolic patterns in healthy women. Scientific reports8(1), 14568.
  3. Rybaczyk, L. A. et al. (2005). An overlooked connection: serotonergic mediation of estrogen-related physiology and pathology. BMC women's health5, 12.
  4. Tiranini, L., & Nappi, R. E. (2022). Recent advances in understanding/management of premenstrual dysphoric disorder/premenstrual syndrome. Faculty reviews11, 11.
  5. Casper, R. (2021). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate.
  6. Javelle, F. et al. (2020). Effects of 5-hydroxytryptophan on distinct types of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews78(1), 77–88.
  7. Moskowitz, D. S. et al. (2001). The effect of tryptophan on social interaction in everyday life: a placebo-controlled study. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology25(2), 277–289.
  8. Ahmadi, M. et al. (2022). The Effect of Zinc Supplementation on the Improvement of Premenstrual Symptoms in Female University Students: a Randomized Clinical Trial Study. Biological trace element research, 10.1007/s12011-022-03175-w. Advance online publication.
  9. Sayehmiri, K. et al. (2016). Effects of vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome: A systematic review and meta- Analysis. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science.
  10. Arab, A. et al. (2020). Beneficial Role of Calcium in Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Current Literature. International journal of preventive medicine11, 156.
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