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Dr. Barry Sears
Dr. Barry Sears
President of Zone Labs
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Please visit the Zone Living Web Site for books like The Anti-Inflammation Zone, The Omega-Rx Zone, Zone Perfect Meals in Minutes, and more!
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Women’s Health: PMS, Menopause, and Beyond

Dr. Barry Sears
Zone Living In my last column, I wrote about women’s health, specifically fish oil and fertility and the surprising connection between the two. Now let’s examine how my dietary plan can impact a woman as she ages.

Premenstrual Syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects about one-third of all pre-menopausal women, and about 5 to 10 percent of these sufferers have significant impairment, including severe depression that lasts for two weeks of the menstrual cycle.

Although many theories abound as to the cause of PMS, the most likely explanation is that it occurs due to disturbances in the balance of “good” and “bad” eicosanoids. My own experience in treating women with PMS confirms that thinking.

Previous research suggests that women with PMS have a defect in the ability to make gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Like alcoholics, women with PMS appear to have a blockage of the enzyme that makes this key fatty acid, which is the building block of “good” eicosanoids.

Supplying extra GLA in combination with my dietary recommendations can have a dramatic effect in boosting “good” eicosanoid levels in PMS sufferers.

There is one caveat: Taking too much GLA can cause a harmful build-up of arachidonic acid, which can make PMS worse. Thus, you need a little but not too much GLA if you have symptoms of PMS.

What is the right amount of GLA? My experience suggests that 40 mg of GLA is sufficient. By supplementing the diet with 40 mg of GLA per week (one evening primrose capsule) and following my dietary plan, many women can dramatically reduce the symptoms of PMS.


During menopause, the ovaries slowly shut down, reducing the production of estrogen by about two-thirds (adrenal glands and fat cells make the remaining amount). During this time of rapid hormonal changes, the body’s eicosanoid balance gets thrown off, giving rise to hot flashes, as well as other discomforts.

New evidence suggests that hot flashes may stem from rapidly changing levels of eicosanoids and may be due in part to an over-production of the “bad” eicosanoid PGE2. One reason may be that the plunge in estrogen levels during menopause also leads to a corresponding increase in the production of insulin. This increase in insulin leads to an increased production of arachidonic acid, the building block of “bad” eicosanoids such as PGE2.

Since high-dose fish oil will reduce the production of this eicosanoid by reducing arachidonic acid levels, this may explain why your grandmother rarely complained about hot flashes. Her daily dose of cod liver oil would have reduced or even eliminated this symptom.

Moreover, Japanese women who consume large amounts of seafood and soy rarely suffer from hot flashes. As I pointed out in my book, The Soy Zone, soy is rich in chemicals called phytoestrogens, which mimic the effects of estrogen in your body. Researchers have found that eating 20 grams of soy protein per day (in the form of soybeans, tofu, and tempeh or soy milk) provides a modest decrease in the severity of menopausal symptoms.

However, phytoestrogens are not the cure-all that they were hoped to be because they don’t contain adequate levels of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids, found in ultra-refined EPA/DHA fish oil concentrates. Soy alone won’t fully inhibit excess PGE2 production.


A rise in insulin that begins after menopause helps explain why women’s heart disease rates catch up to men’s within 10 years following menopause. It is the number-one cause of death in both women and men. Following the Zone Diet to lower your insulin levels and reduce the AA/EPA ratio will give you a far better defense against heart attacks than hormone replacement therapy (HRT). What’s more, Dr. Bruce Holub at the University of Guelph in Canada has shown that high-dose fish oil can decrease the TG/HDL ratio (an indirect marker for decreased insulin levels) and change the AA/EPA in postmenopausal women within 30 days.

Although heart disease is the number-one cause of death in women, breast cancer is the disease that’s the most feared. Following my dietary program is your best bet for maintaining an appropriate AA/EPA ratio and for decreasing your risk of breast cancer, as well as any other type of cancer.

Another major health problem seen in post-menopausal women is osteoporosis. Although HRT can slow the loss of bone that leads to debilitating spine curvatures and hip fractures associated with osteoporosis, hormones only delay the process and can’t reverse it. Just as with heart disease, the underlying rise in osteoporosis after menopause may not be primarily due from a lack of estrogen. Physicians have long known that corticosteroids will induce rapid bone loss. It turns out that another mediator of the development of osteoporosis is the overproduction of “bad” eicosanoids, in particular PGE2.

Bruce Wadkins at Purdue University has demonstrated that high-dose fish oil has the ability to significantly reduce bone loss by decreasing PGE2 levels. Therefore, reducing excess production of both cortisol and “bad” eicosanoids may be the optimal treatment for osteoporosis.

As I discussed earlier, two of the best ways to reduce cortisol output is through the use of high-dose fish oil (to reduce inflammation) and by stabilizing insulin levels (since stable blood sugar levels lower your body’s production of excess cortisol.) Thus, my dietary recommendations can be your best dietary weapon to reduce the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. I know of a 66-year-old woman who had been following my dietary program for about three years but had not been using any supplemental fish oil. Within a year after starting to take 3 grams of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids every day, the loss of bone mass in her backbone ceased, and her overall bone density went from being well below average to being 10 percent higher than the norm for women her age.

That’s why I always find it interesting that our grandmothers rarely had menopausal problems, heart disease, or osteoporosis. We know their bones didn’t turn to dust, nor did their hearts stop beating before their time, probably because their diet was similar to my current dietary recommendations. The one difference is that they used a tablespoon of cod liver oil each day instead of high-dose ultra-refined grade fish oil.

The hormonal communication system is vastly more complex in a woman’s body than in a man’s. My dietary program can see a woman through those phases of life when her hormones are likely to fluctuate. My dietary plan gives you the advantage of maintaining hormonal communication within your body throughout pregnancy, menopause, and post-menopausal years. It’s a “drug” that’s far superior to fertility shots or hormone replacement therapy. And unlike these pharmaceuticals, my dietary recommendations will help you improve your overall health as well as the fidelity of your female hormonal system.

Excerpted from The Omega RX Zone: The Miracle of the New High-Dose Fish Oil by Dr. Barry Sears. Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Barry Sears. Used by permission.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product, individual results will vary.

For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit

If you purchase any Zone Labs, Inc. products, part of the proceeds support CBN ministries.

Dr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. Patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

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