Heavy periods can be very distressing, and from experience, a lot of women “put up with it” thinking that this is periods are. A heavy period (which is also referred to as menorrhagia) is defined as flow of more than 80ml of blood per period. This is equal to 16 soaked tampons or pads.
There are a number of different health conditions it can be associated with, so getting an accurate diagnosis is very important. Heavy bleeding can be linked with or caused by:
- Low thyroid function or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Bleeding disorders including von Willebrand Factor or haemophilia, low platelet count or low vitamin K
- Chronic iron deficiency (this is both a causative factor and an outcome of heavy bleeding)
- Insulin resistance
- Uterine polyps
- Uterine fibroids
- The copper IUD
The Root Causes for Many of the Above Can be a Combination of any of these factors:
- Stress – physical, mental or emotional
- Poor detoxification clearance
- Gut Imabalances
- Nutrient defienciencies
- Immune and inflammatory dysfunction
Working with a holistic practitioner, like a naturopath, herbalist or functional medicine doctor, will help you to establish these deeper root causes.
The More Common Conditions:
The most common biological process that causes heavy periods is oestrogen excess or progesterone deficiency. You can get your hormones tested, however, I find that heavy bleeding is such an accurate measure of unopposed oestrogen in the body that following the principles of whole foods for hormonal balance and specific herbs and nutrients is enough to make a significant difference. It is important however to rule in or out low thyroid function, endometriosis or adenomyosis – as this type of hormone imbalance is a hallmark trait of each if these conditions.
Speaking with your doctor…
If you haven’t yet discussed your heavy periods with your doctor, or if it’s been dismissed in the past, I highly encourage you to set up an appointment and ask these specific questions to get some clear answers. There’s a lot diet, lifestyle and herbs can do – however, if one of the following are at play, it will allow you to craft your self-care will far greater presicion:
Could my heavy periods be due to fibroids, polyps or endometriosis? Has this been considered? Have my iron levels and storage (ferritin) been checked? Have blood clotting disorders been ruled out as a potential cause? Have my thyroid levels been checked recently including thyroid antibodies? Could my heavy bleeding be due to perimenopause? Do I have insulin resistance? Have I been tested for fasting insulin or a glucose tolerance test with insulin?
Self-Care Checklist for Heavy Periods
Never underestimate the power of well-chosen self-care to help you manage your symptoms naturally, while you take the time to heal the deeper root causes, which is best undertaken under the care of a practitioner. This checklist gives you some solid foundations to work with:
☽ Avoid using tampons or menstrual cups – allow free flow. This will help ease pain.
☽ Reduce as much exposure to environmental chemicals as you can; switch all household cleaning products, cosmetics and body care products to natural ones. Chemical exposure places a burden on your liver. A burdened liver is unable to process estrogen properly, which leads to the very imbalance that causes heavy periods.
☽ Avoid all dairy and eliminate alcohol for a couple of cycles. If your thyroid is involved, removing gluten is extremely important too.
☽ If your iron is low (from a naturopathic perspective, this is a ferritin reading of <30μg/L) you may need to supplement for a while to bring your levels up. A solid iron repletion strategy is to take Iron bi-glycinate with vitamin C. If your ferritin in >30μg/L, calculate 1g of iron for every 1kg of body weight, every second day. Therefore, for a 65kg woman, she would take 65mg elemental iron on alternating days.
☽ Magnesium and B6 are valuable for both period pain and hormone balance for heavy bleeding. Take Magnesium as either a citrate or glycinate – 300mg twice a day. And B6 as Pyridoxal-5-phosphate – 20mg x3 a day.
☽ Herbal medicine can be incredibly useful for heavy bleeding. It’s best to have a herb you take throughout the month, and then a herb to take at your period.
Shepherd’s Purse by William Curtis
Daily throughout the month:
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) – as an infusion throughout the month. 1/4 of Lady’s mantle to 2 cups of boiled water. Drunk throughout the day.
To have 2 day before and during your period:
For Pitta constitutions: Fresh shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) extract – 1ml every 20 minutes until flow eases. And then 1ml every hour.
For Vata constitutions: Tienchi ginseng (Panax notoginseng) is another incredibly valuable herb for heavy menstrual bleeding. If the above is not making a significant difference, source a good quality Tienchi ginseng capsule and take 1.5g (1500mg) of the dried root twice a day throughout menstruation.
For Kapha constitutions: Cinnamon (as an alcoholic extract – ensure it is Cinnamomum zeylanicum) – 1ml every 20 minutes until flow eases. And then 1ml every hour.
☽ And last but certainly not least: rest deeply and completely surrender at menstruation.
Resources & Further Reading
For Healthcare Providers: Managing Menorrhagia Without Surgery. (2013, November 28). Retrieved February 13, 2019, from http://www.cemcor.ubc.ca/resources/healthcare-providers-managing-menorrhagia-without-surgery
Irvine, G. A., & Cameron, I. T. (1999). Medical management of dysfunctional uterine bleeding. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 13(2), 189–202. https://doi.org/10.1053/beog.1999.0017
Kalantaridou, S. N., Makrigiannakis, A., Zoumakis, E., & Chrousos, G. P. (2004). Stress and the female reproductive system. Journal of Reproductive Immunology, 62(1), 61–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jri.2003.09.004
Trickey, R. (2004). Women, Hormones & the Menstrual Cycle: Herbal & Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause (Fully revised and updated edition edition). St. Leonards, N.S.W.; London: Allen & Unwin.