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Can Krill Oil Help Relieve PMS Symptoms?


By Cassandra Forsythe-Pribanic, PhD, RD, CSCS


Question on Krill oil and PMS. I've been taking EFA Icon and I just noticed that it mentioned this could be beneficial for PMS. I was wondering if there is any benefit or known research for increasing dosage during the PMS time (for healthy individual with PMS being more of an emotional component than pain). Any comments appreciated. Thanks.

Most women experience some sort of emotional or physical symptoms during the week before their menstrual periods, including irritability, sadness, mood swings, bloating, breast tenderness, carbohydrate cravings, and difficulty concentrating, which the medical community fondly refers to as pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).

The men in our lives on the other hand call this the “bitchy syndrome”, even though most of us don’t purposely try to be like this.  Some women experience symptoms so severe that they interfere with everyday life and relationships, and are given the diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Hopefully your emotional component is not this cruel.

Researchers are not entirely clear what exactly causes PMS and PMDD symptoms. Many point to fluctuations in the sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, with co-changes in central nervous system neurotransmitters, such as GABA and serotonin. Whether it be alterations in normal fluctuations of hormones themselves, or a woman’s heightened sensitivity to these changes, the answer is not known yet.

Since mood and behavioral symptoms are key features of PMS, the brain must be involved. Serotonin and GABA are two of the feel-good neurotransmitters in our head influenced by the sex hormones; research suggests, these hormones can interfere with binding of serotonin and GABA to receptors in the brain and in turn, cause mood disorders. In turn, one nutritional therapy for PMS is to consume a higher complex carbohydrate diet during the few days before menses, since carbs usually increase serotonin and GABA production. However, take note: we’re talking complex carbs, like those found in whole grains (sprouted grain bread, brown rice, and quinoa), not simple carbs like that in chocolate…  

As far as the effect of omega-3 fatty acids from krill or fish oil on PMS symptoms, the literature is sparse, but does point to some beneficial effects. A 1995 epidemiological study of Danish women showed that those with low omega-3 fatty acid intakes from marine sources experienced more PMS pain and moodiness than those who regularly ate fish and other omega-3 fat sources. In another study, treatment with 2 g omega-3 EPA and DHA from fish oil daily for 2 months markedly reduced PMS mood symptoms in adolescents.

Then, specific research with krill oil compared a daily dosage of 2 g krill oil for one month, following by 2 g daily for eight days prior to menstruation, and the two days during menses for another two months, to 2 g of fish oil in 70 women with PMS. Results showed that krill oil at this dosage significantly reduced both the emotional (stress, irritability, depression) and physical symptoms of PMS after 45 days and 90 days, whereas the fish oil only reduced some of the physical ailments.

Speculation why omega-3 fatty acids, especially those from krill, benefit the mood swings of PMS relate to enriching the EPA and DHA content of brain phospholipid structures which positively influences emotional balance according to clinical research.  Indeed, omega-3 fatty acids are often used in psychiatric treatment for depression and bipolar disorders, and women with PMS have been found to have lower levels of DHA in brain membrane structures (which contain phospholipids).

Overall, slightly increasing krill oil dosage during PMS may reduce some of the emotional disturbances you experience right before your period. However, as far as specific research goes, there isn’t any that we know of. But, there is research that does clearly point to improved mood with regular omega-3 EPA and DHA intake, with krill oil being more effective than fish oil.


NEXT: Why Fish Oil Isn't As Powerful As Krill Oil


Yonkers, KA , O’Brien PM, Eriksson, E. Premenstrual Syndrome. Lancet 2008; 371: 1200-10

Deutch B.  Menstrual pain in Danish women correlated with low n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake.  Eur J Clin Nutr 1995; 49(7): 508-516

Harel Z, Biro FM, Kottenhahn RK. et al.  Supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the management of dysmenorrhea in adolescents.  Am J Obstet Gynecol 1996; 174(4): 1335-1338

Deligiannidis, KM and Freeman, MP. Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the Treatment of Depressive Disorders in Women. Psychiatric Clinics of North America 2010; 33(2)