Do you dread the second half of your cycle because of the deep depression, uncontrollable anger, over-the-top anxiety, out-of-control cravings, unrelenting fatigue or other major symptoms that plague you month after month? You may among the 20% of women with severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or among the 5% to 8% who have a form of PMS called “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” (PMDD), which is characterized by symptoms that are intense enough to impact your relationships, work performance and overall well-being.
Many doctors prescribe antidepressants or hormone birth control to treat severe PMS and PMDD. Now there may be a new–and natural–way to ease symptoms: chromium, an essential trace element that’s found in onions, tomatoes, whole grains and potatoes.
In a new small study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 11 women with PMDD were given 200 mcg. of chromium twice daily or an identical-looking placebo during the second half of their cycle (Week 3 and Week 4) either alone or in conjunction with antidepressants they were already taking. In the cycles when they were taking the chromium, the women experienced dramatic relief in premenstrual symptoms. In fact, a few said they were actually surprised when they got their period because their premenstrual phase was so easy, they didn’t even realize they’d gone all the way through it. In cycles when the women were taking placebos, they experienced little to no improvement in symptoms.
As the researchers discovered, chromium provided relief on its own, but also improved the performance of anti-depressants, resulting in more of an improvement than either the chromium or anti-depressants alone even in women who’d had difficulty finding relief in the past.
So, how’s it work? Chromium affects insulin, glucose and serotonin in ways that balance mood and appetite.
While it’s safely tolerated in most people, you should talk with your doctor first before starting chromium, especially if you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, liver or kidney disease or if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. The most common side effects experienced by women in this study were vivid dreaming and slight jitteriness similar to drinking coffee.
If you want to try it for yourself, opt for chromium picolinate, which is a more readily absorbable form of chromium. You can find it in health food stores and online at vitamin retailers.