For many years, the standard advice to women with PMS was to take evening primrose oil to combat breast tenderness and to take vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) to deal with PMS mood problems.
I often hear from women with PMS that this advice still persists – for example, among counter staff in pharmacies – and as I’ve already considered the effectiveness evening primrose oil, I thought it was time to tackle vitamin B6.
First of all, it’s worth remembering how the link between vitamin B6 and PMS first came about. Back in the 1970s, vitamin B6 started being used to treat depression in women taking oral contraceptives (which had significantly different formulations then, compared to the second and third generation Pill that followed).
This led to interest in the possibility of vitamin B6 also treating PMS symptoms. This seemed logical given that vitamin B6 is needed for the production of serotonin and dopamine, the brain chemicals which lift mood and prevent anxiety. Women who are prone to PMS do seem to have lower levels of serotonin leading to the classic PMS symptoms of irritability, anxiety and depression.
However, scientific trials looking at whether vitamin B6 really reduced PMS symptoms have been anything but conclusive.
Very Little Evidence For The Effectiveness of Vitamin B6 in PMS
The British Medical Journal undertook a review of several research trials looking at the effectiveness of vitamin B6 in PMS treatment. The review noted the small numbers of subjects involved and problems with the study design in most cases, and concluded that:
[The studies were of] insufficient quality to draw definitive conclusions.
The Journal of the American College of Nutrition also reviewed twelve trials and found a mixed picture:
- Three gave positive results for vitamin B6 in PMS treatment
- Five gave ambiguous results for vitamin B6 in PMS treatment
- Four with negative results for vitamin B6 in PMS treatment
Once again, the reviewers concluded that the studies were small and had design shortcomings. Several subsequent research trials, both published and unpublished, also found no significant benefit of vitamin B6 supplementation for women with PMS.
Consquently, the clinical guidelines issued to UK doctors by the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS) state that:
[There is] insufficient evidence of efficacy is available to give a recommendation for using Vitamin B6 in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome.
So the science does not back up vitamin B6 – used on its own – as an effective supplement for PMS.
This doesn’t surprise me, as my experience and studies tell me that vitamins seldom work best in isolation. And in any event, vitamins are generally best obtained from food, rather than pills, (unless there is a proven deficiency) because that is how your body best digests and absorbs the nutrients.
However, the whole family of B vitamins – obtained through good nutrition, naturally – are hugely important to reducing PMS symptoms. They have been shown to reduce stress and irritability, reduce bloating and help with food cravings.
Why ALL the B Vitamins are Important for PMS Management
I’ve written previously about the research showing that vitamins B1 and B2 are really helpful for PMS management. In fact, the whole group of B vitamins (including vitamin B6) actually work best when taken together.
Vitamin B6 is contained in some amounts in all foods. And food really is the best medicine for balancing hormones. So to boost your B vitamins, make sure you eat plenty of
- Beans like chickpeas and kidney beans
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale
- Wholegrains, like brown rice and wholemeal bread
- Sweetcorn and peas
- Hemp protein
Magnesium – which I’ve also written about before – can help the body absorb and use vitamin B6. Magnesium is also found in nuts and green leafy vegetables and wholegrains.
A Note About Correct Dosage of Vitamin B6
If you DO decide to take Vitamin B6 as a supplement, it’s important not to take too much. Actual deficiency of Vitamin B6 is rare and the recommended dietary allowance for Vitamin B6 is around 2 mg per day (although some multivitamins include vitamin B6 at much higher levels).
Concerns have emerged that high doses of vitamin B6 as a supplement can lead to sensory neuropathy – tingling and numbness (pins and needles) in the hands and feet – which may cause nerve damage. Although to be fair, that seems to have only been reported in VERY high dosages (500mg taken for two years or more) and the effect is reversible.
Nonetheless, if vitamin B6 is used, doses should be limited to no more than 100 mg/day to avoid any risk of neuropathy, and the more usual dose is 10mg per day.
Thanks for reading! And let me know your experiences with vitamin B6 in the comments below, or on the PMS Warrior Facebook page.