You may have heard that the California Milk Processor Board has launched an ad campaign that claims to be targeted at men, suggesting that milk is effective for premenstrual syndrome. There are a lot of reasons why this ad campaign is controversial (it was originally launched in 2005—keep reading and you'll see why). Many women, and, we hope, men, feel that this ad campaign misguidedly minimizes women's legitimate health concerns and suffering by focusing on how PMS affects men—as if men bear the brunt of PMS. Unfortunately, these ads play into those tired, worn-old stereotypes of women as irrational and overly emotional. You can read more about that in my earlier blog post, PMS Is Pushing Forty. Lampooning and satirizing PMS is old hat—but, in our opinion, it is in bad taste, and just plain offensive. (Addendum: this ad, thankfully, was pulled. Apparently, we weren't the only ones who found this objectionable.)
However, the subject of the media portrayal of women cannot be given its just due in a short blog post like this. Many capable authors have tackled it before, and in great depth. Given that, we want to focus on a subject that is more immediately useful: Does drinking milk help PMS? What is the evidence for that, and where does it come from? And, what about women who can't or don't or won't drink milk? Is this a calcium issue, a vitamin D issue, or both?
Here's the lowdown: in 2005, a medical research article showed that women who had the most vitamin D in their diet had 40% less PMS compared to those who had the least, and that women who had the most calcium had 30% less PMS compared to those who ate at the least. And, women who drank low-fat or skim milk were almost 50% less likely to have PMS.
This study followed over 1000 women for more than ten years, making it a reliable study. But don't forget, this is research: it doesn't necessarily mean that eating more yogurt and drinking more milk will relieve your PMS, or that of a friend or daughter! Since the benefit was in the 30-50% range, there's an equal or better than even chance that drinking more milk will do nothing to help someone's PMS. And, given that many people are sensitive to dairy products, and better off avoiding them altogether, we're pretty sure it could make things worse for some women.
There is an interesting story here, about the way food and nutrition research is treated differently from research into supplements by both the media and the medical community: both have an obvious prejudice against nutritional and herbal supplements. The reason the milk study was done is because of some excellent research that showed that calcium supplements—pills, not food—are very effective for treating PMS.
There is so much excellent scientific evidence of the beneficial effects of nutritional supplements and almost always without the risks or side effects of medication. But, chances are, you only ever hear about the negative studies on supplements in media reporting.
Here's our position on the issues raised here:
- We don't believe women, and women's health, should be demeaned or parodied.
- Milk is a good food for those who can tolerate it, particularly if you can find organic milk, but many people have reasons for avoiding it. Since calcium can be hard to get from food, and since calcium supplements work well to reduce PMS symptoms, not everyone needs to drink milk.
- Based on our experience helping thousands of women with PMS, we feel certain that calcium supplements should be combined with the full array of nutrients and botanicals, not to mention a complete holistic plan that takes the whole person into account, to relieve and resolve PMS.
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