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PMS Sufferers, Listen Up

Women who escape the wrath of PMS eat more foods with calcium and vitamin D.

Most women experience fatigue, moodiness and physical discomfort a few days before getting their period. However, for up to 20% of women, the symptoms are so severe that they interfere with normal activities and personal relationships, warranting an official diagnosis of PMS, or premenstrual syndrome.

Perhaps what these women need is not another dose of ibuprofen but a daily lunch of yogurt, a multivitamin with dinner or a glass of skim milk before bed. Women who escape the wrath of PMS tend to eat more foods with calcium and vitamin D, a mineral that allows the body to absorb and use the calcium in food, according to research that looked at the diet of over 1,000 women over the course of 10 years.

Women who get the most calcium and vitamin D in their diets -- about four daily servings of low-fat diary products -- are 30% less likely to feel miserable before they get their period. However, women who eat fatty dairy products like whole milk seem to get less of a benefit, researchers report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

It may be possible to get the same PMS-busting benefit from a calcium and vitamin D supplement, scientists theorize. But the study included too few women who took supplements to answer that question.

Exactly how calcium and vitamin D might work their mood magic is unknown. Previous studies have shown calcium supplements may relieve premenstrual symptoms, says Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, but her study is the first to show that calcium and vitamin D may prevent PMS from developing in the first place.

So, if you don't suffer from PMS, does that mean you're getting the calcium and vitamin D that you need? Not necessarily. And that may be because people are well aware of the importance of calcium for bone health, but they may not know that they also need vitamin D in order for the calcium to find its way to the bone.

A survey by the Society for Women's Health Research found that less than half of women over 50 -- those most at risk for the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis -- know that vitamin D is important for maintaining their bones.

Nearly 75% of women falsely believe that green leafy vegetables contain vitamin D. The only foods that provide the mineral are fortified milk and orange juice, certain cereals and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines.

The easiest way to get your vitamin D is to take a walk in the sun for a few minutes per day. The body can manufacture its own D from sunlight. Studies show sunlight alone is a mood booster, especially in winter months when the days are short.

Still not convinced? There are plenty of important reasons to drink your milk (or fortified orange juice). Calcium and vitamin D are also linked to lower rates of Crohn's disease -- an immune disorder -- as well as of breast, colon and prostate cancer.