I recently learned something very interesting about our menstrual cycle and how it could be linked to heavy periods. As some of you know, I am studying natural medicine and am currently studying pathophysiology. We are basically looking at all the things that go wrong within the body and what causes things to shift and become out of balance and thereby cause disease. Naturally, when we got to the part about menstruation, heavy periods and the endometrium, my ears perked up in class and I wanted to understand more and of course share it with you.
Let us start at the beginning…
What is considered a heavy period?
Sometimes it can feel like we are having a heavy period when the pain is throbbing and we are wishing for it all to end but the levels may be completely normal. 20% of women with normal menses (30–40ml) call their periods heavy.
The way to determine if your period may be unusually heavy is through these indicators:
- If you shed more than 81 millimetres, which is about five and a half tablespoons.
- If you need to change your pad more than 6 times in a day — like if it is every hour.
- You need several forms of protection and particularly at night. You know, like a pad, a towel and you still feel the need to get up in the middle of the night.
- Bleeding reasonably heavy for more than 7 days. Drips and spotting don’t count.
- You fear going out because you know that you will soak through and the idea of that is just too embarrassing.
Heavy periods that indicate these symptoms are called menorrhagia.
Is your period still fairly heavy but perhaps not as heavy as the above mentioned scenario? The advice I share below would still help alleviate some of that heaviness going on.
What are some likely causes?
To understand the possible reasons for heavy periods, we do need to dive into the understanding of our natural cycle a little. Our normal cycle involves some key hormones being released to signal for things to happen. The first one is the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which tells our pituitary gland to release estrogen. Estrogen is what makes our lining of the uterus grow. It does this for the preparation of a potential baby.
When the egg is not fertilized, that lining is not required and sheds, which we experience as our period.
What happens with heavy periods is that the lining becomes thicker than it should and when the shedding occurs, we experience a particularly heavy period.
There are a few reasons this might occur:
- You may not be ovulating. It is easy to assume that when we shed or have a period that we are menstruating but this is not always the case. The lack of an egg being released may prevent progesterone from being released. Progesterone opposes estrogen, so it will prevent the lining from becoming too thick.
- You are likely estrogen-dominant. There are a number of reasons why a woman could be estrogen-dominant and it is fairly common to experience estrogen dominance with Endometriosis. Too much estrogen will stimulate more growths in the body and particularly the thickening of the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus.
- A Vitamin B12 deficiency could be a factor. Vegan and vegetarian women are low in Vitamin B12 or cannot absorb it well. This leads to heavy periods.
Should you be worried about heavy periods?
Having excess levels of estrogen which are not regulated by progesterone can become more serious. It could develop into a condition called endometrial hyperplasia. It basically means that the number of endometrial cells has increased. Left long enough, these cells may develop into cancer.
This is a warning sign to do something now!
Heavy periods are an indication of an imbalance which is going on in your body. Not having enough progesterone or too much estrogen, or low levels of Vitamin B12 are indicators that you need to do something.
1. Look at your Vitamin B12 levels
If you are vegetarian or vegan, it may be necessary to supplement with Vitamin B12. Always ensure that you are taking a Vitamin B supplement to support your body, whenever you take any B vitamin.
There are some studies which indicate that some plant sources of Vitamin B12 are sufficient but they are yet to be proven scientifically.
Great sources of Vitamin B12 are found in fish, eggs and organ meats. Naturally eat more of these and look at sources which are easier to digest such as chicken or fish.
2. Consider your hormone imbalances
Hormone irregularities can be approached from two different angles. We can use supplements to aid the body with normal hormone production but we can also dig deeper by looking at our liver health.
Step 1: Begin with herbs to aid normal hormone balance
Take herbs which help regulate hormones such as Maca Root Powder and Vitex. Vitex encourages the body to produce more progesterone which would counter the effects of high estrogen. I generally only advise the use of Vitex for no longer than 6 months.
You can also take herbs to support heavy periods, such as Yarrow, Shepherd’s Purse and Witch Hazel. Read more about herbs to try.
Step 2: Look after your liver and provide herbs to aid in its ability to cleanse out the excess estrogen.
You can use Milk Thistle, Dandelion Root and other liver herbs to aid your liver health.
Step 3: Look at the big picture and truly provide support
There are foods which can aid in regulating your hormones and aid your liver health. When you avoid foods which inhibit hormone balance, then you are always going to be fighting with estrogen dominance and no amount of herbs are going to work.
We can use foods as a source of medicine to regulate hormones and help the liver to work better. This is working at the root cause of why you may have a heavy period, rather than dealing with the consequences of a heavy period.
Within my Endo Wellness Technique, I show you how to use food as a source of healing for the body.
In the meantime, you can try these foods:
- Eat plenty of cinnamon. Cinnamon has been shown to naturally stimulate progesterone in the body, which naturally opposes progesterone.
- Have a teaspoon of coconut oil before bed each night, a week before your period.
- Get adequate amounts of Vitamin C from your diet. The best sources are berries, guavas, parsley, red peppers and the Acerola. Acerola contains incredibly high amounts compared to other fruits and vegetables: 1300 miligrams per 100g! It is also called Bardados Cherry, West Indian Cherry and Cereza. You want to ensure that you get your produce as fresh as possible and with as little done to it as possible to preserve the Vitamin C. Vitamin C doesn’t like heat, cutting and light exposure, so get your fruit and vegetables as fresh as possible.
Replenish what may have been lost
Heavy periods will often cause anemia in women. This may explain why you feel tired and exhausted so often. The key is to replace any loss of iron. I am not a huge proposer of supplementation but if your levels are very low, it may be worth doing for a short repair time. If you do supplement with iron, ensure you are also taking a Vitamin C supplement to ensure adequate absorption.
I am glad that you have stumbled upon my site as you are clearly keen to do something to support your health and your body. The sooner you take action against having heavy periods, the better.
Please share your experiences and any thoughts you would like to add below.