Is PMS Really a Nutritional Deficiency?
The obvious question raised by the omega 3 and Vitamin D studies -- since both are basic nutrients required for healthy human functioning -- is whether PMS is really a nutritional deficiency, rather than a true medical condition. It's a question that hasn't been studied in traditional western medicine. Although traditional medicine acknowledges the research proving the effectiveness of omega 3 and vitamin D in alleviating PMS symptoms, they persist in talking about "treating" PMS symptoms with these supplements, rather than addressing the real possibility that they work by addressing an underlying nutritional deficiency. Western doctors have become so fixated on illness treatment (mainly with drugs) that they totally overlook their historic health promotion role. The problem is compounded by the reality that most medical research is funded by drug companies, who are very unlikely to fund a nutrition study, as they only benefit from studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of drug treatment.
Anthropological evidence that landlocked early cultures obtained EPA and DHA (two essential omega 3 fatty acids not present in plants) from insects and grubs. Here in New Zealand, huhu grubs (from a native tree beetle) are still considered a delicacy by indigenous Maori. Unfortunately in our modern, highly processed diets, no omega 3 rich food has been found to replace fish and grubs. Nuts and seeds are a good source of ALA (the third omega 3 fatty acid), but not EPA or DHA.
The Official FDA Position on Omega 3 Fatty Acids
In 2004 the FDA gave "qualified" approval of the role of omega 3 as an essential nutrient in preventing cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). However for some reason, they still refuse to acknowledge its importance in maintaining healthy immune function, as well as preventing and alleviating arthritis, depression and PMS, schizophrenia and dermatitis. Canadian and European governments, in contrast, recognize the role of omega 3 in preventing all these conditions.
Both the American and Canadian Dietetic Association recommend a minimum weekly requirement of omega of two servings of fish a week for healthy cardiovascular function. Depression studies suggest somewhat higher consumption (three times a week) is necessary to prevent depression. However dieticians caution against eating more than two servings, owing to contamination of global fish stocks with mercury, lead, nickel, arsenic and cadmium as well as other contaminants (PCBs, furans, dioxins, PBDEs).
These toxins can be avoided by using fish oil instead that is independently certified as contaminant free (and carry NSF and NNFA quality seals). Good advice for people who can't afford or tolerate fish oil is that they stick to small fish at the lower end of the food chain (sardines, anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon), as toxin levels accumulate in large fish (such as tuna and sword fish) at the top of the food change. Pregnant women and children under five shouldn't eat tuna at all, owing to the danger of exposing developing brains to mercury.
The Official FDA Position on Vitamin D
Obviously the FDA acknowledges the role of Vitamin D as a nutrient. Here the controversy is over the minimum daily requirement -- with endocrinologists and geriatricians (specialists who work with the elderly) recommending a daily dose of 1,000 International Units (IU) (1,000 IU equals. 0.025 mg) in summer (when people get more sunlight) and 2,000 IU in winter. Doctors used to believe that the only function of Vitamin D was to enhance calcium absorption. However at doses higher than the current MDR of 400 IU, it also seems to play a significant role in central nervous system and immune function, as suggested by studies showing that healthy Vitamin D levels improve immune function and help prevent colon, breast and prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorder, hypertension, diabetes, schizophrenia and asthma.
Take Home Message: Try Natural Remedies First
In light of all the above studies, common sense would dictate that women who suffer from PMS should try a combination of omega 3 and 1,000-2,000 IU of Vitamin D for a minimum of six months before resorting to either Sarafem or generic fluoxetine. Both have potentially serious long term side effects. Owing to their effect on serotonin receptors in the brain, SSRI's can be very difficult to stop. Moreover they are associated with a loss of bone density, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture, as well as a possible link to breast and ovarian cancer (see http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/740875).
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