Prepackaged bars do battle with PMS

It's not as if chocolate needs a boost among women who crave it while pre-menstrual. But now, savvy manufacturers are seizing on the association and marketing products that play up the connection between PMS relief and a fix of chocolatey goodness.

Canadian vitamin and health product manufacturer Jamieson Laboratories is the latest, with its PMS Support Chocolate Bars. In addition to chocolate, the 14-gram bars are laced with natural botanicals, including white willow bark extract, which is purported to be a natural pain reliever, artichoke leaf extract, which acts like a diuretic, and chasteberry extract, said to reduce the irritability, depression and bloating associated with pre-menstrual syndrome.

Each dark chocolate bar is 70 calories and the recommended dose is three bars a day for up to five days. A package of 15 bars is about $20.

"This is not convenience-store chocolate," says Jamieson spokesman John Challinor.

An American company called Ecco Bella is selling a similar product, the Women's Wonder Bar, which it claims will soothe and alleviate the symptoms of PMS and menopause thanks to such ingredients as flaxseed, chasteberry and rose essential oil.

While the natural supplements market has been somewhat stagnant in recent years, with 43 per cent of Canadians taking vitamins and minerals daily, Mr. Challinor says it is starting to expand again as the population grows and ages.

"More and more, you find natural supplements have a role to play in preventative health," he says.

Robert Reid, a PMS researcher at Queen's University, says he knows of one paper suggesting a "modest benefit" from chasteberry extract, but asks: "Who would think to mix it with 10 other ingredients to come up with a tasty treat?"

Anything with chocolate that works for PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) would be popular, says Dr. Reid, but advises women not to forget that manufacturers of non-medicinal products can make any claims they like.

Premenstrual syndrome is the name given to a group of symptoms that can occur one to two weeks before the start of a woman's menstrual period - everything from bloating and abdominal pain to irritability and anxiety. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a more severe expression of those symptoms.

Mr. Challinor says that in the two weeks since the product has been on sale, the feedback has been positive, if anecdotal.

His wife and daughter have given the product a thumb's up.

"If it works for them, it works for me," he says.



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