Go with the flow – A guide to heavy periods
Go with the flow – A guide to heavy
Menstrual flow varies from person to person. While some individuals have relatively easy periods, others may experience heavy bleeding and discomfort right from the start. It's also important to note that period flow can change at different ages and stages of life. Let's explore the factors that contribute to changes in flow and understand what might be happening when heavy periods become a constant occurrence.
Period flow – age and stage
Period flow can be influenced by age and different stages of life. During periods of hormonal change, such as when teenagers first start menstruating, their flow may vary from month to month. This is because the brain is establishing communication with the ovaries to release hormones, and it can take time for these communication pathways and hormone levels to reach a balanced state.
After pregnancy, it is not uncommon for periods to be initially heavier but then gradually normalize over time. Some women who previously experienced heavy periods may actually notice a decrease in flow after childbirth.
Another stage of life where heavy periods can occur is during perimenopause, which is the transitional phase leading up to menopause. Hormone levels start to change again during this time as the ovaries begin to reduce hormone production. It is common for women to experience heavier periods before entering menopause.
Overall, the flow of periods can be influenced by various factors at different stages of life, and it is important to understand these changes and seek appropriate medical advice if necessary.
Always had heavy periods?
Experiencing heavy periods from the beginning of menstruation is a reality for some individuals. For them, heavy menstrual flow becomes the norm, and this can be influenced by genetic factors. Certain genetic predispositions may make someone more prone to having heavier menstrual cycles. However, it's important to note that there are steps that can be taken to manage this.
Diet and lifestyle choices can play a significant role in how our genes express themselves. Making positive changes in these areas can have an impact on menstrual flow. Additionally, there are specific medical conditions that can contribute to heavy periods, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If you suspect you may have one of these conditions, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and appropriate management options.
Onset of heavier bleeding
Heavier menstrual bleeding can occur due to hormonal changes or without any apparent reason. One common cause is related to changes in the uterus, such as the presence of fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths that can lead to heavy bleeding. Additionally, polyps, which are small growths, can also cause continuous heavy bleeding.
Thyroid function can also play a role in menstrual flow. Low thyroid function can contribute to heavy menstrual cycles, and it is estimated that 5% of women in New Zealand may be affected by thyroid issues.
If you notice a significant change in your menstrual flow, particularly if it becomes heavier than your normal pattern, it is advisable to consult with your healthcare practitioner. They can help determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate guidance and treatment options.
How can I determine if my menstrual flow is heavy?
If you are uncertain about the heaviness of your flow or if you experience frequent bleeding, the following guidelines can help you assess it:
- Exceeding 80ml of blood loss during your period.
- Needing to change your tampon or pad every less than 2 hours, or passing large clots.
- Requiring double sanitary protection (using both tampons and pads) to manage your period flow.
- Experiencing bleeding more frequently than every 21 days or having a period that lasts longer than 7 days.
In addition to traditional menstrual products, such as tampons and pads, you can consider using period underwear as your primary protection or as a backup option, especially if you have a heavy flow. AWWA offers a helpful online tool that assists you in selecting the right product for your flow and provides an indication of the heaviness of your cycle.
What can be done to address heavy periods?
The regularity and flow of our menstrual cycle are influenced by two key hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen dominates the first half of our cycle, while progesterone takes over in the second half. One of the primary functions of progesterone is to maintain the uterine lining in case of pregnancy. However, problems can arise if progesterone levels drop, leading to mid-cycle spotting and shorter cycles (around 21 days). This is a common occurrence during perimenopause when hormone levels are in flux.
For optimal menstrual health, progesterone should be balanced with estrogen. If progesterone is low, estrogen can become relatively high, resulting in heavier periods and other symptoms like mood swings, fluid retention, and breast tenderness.
Additionally, some individuals may naturally have higher estrogen levels due to their genetic makeup and the way their liver processes hormones. This is why supporting liver health is crucial when aiming to regulate periods effectively.
Lifestyle adjustments for a smoother menstrual flow
Moderation is key when it comes to certain aspects of our lifestyle that can affect our menstrual cycles. Here are some areas to consider:
- Caffeine: Most people are aware that excessive caffeine consumption can have stimulating effects. However, caffeine is processed in the liver through the same pathway as our hormones. Consuming too much caffeine can leave less time for the liver to process hormones, potentially leading to hormonal imbalances. Keep your caffeine intake in check by limiting coffee, tea, and energy drink consumption to one or two cups per day.
- Toxins:Any time the liver is occupied with processing toxins, it has less time to dedicate to hormone regulation. Toxins include alcohol, household or garden sprays, smoking or vaping, and recreational or pharmaceutical drugs. Minimizing exposure to these toxins can support a healthier hormonal balance.
- Xenoestrogens:These are environmental chemicals that mimic our natural estrogen and can contribute to the same issues caused by excess estrogen. Xenoestrogens are often found in plastics, cleaning products, nail polish, and sprays, among other things. To reduce exposure to these chemicals, avoid heating plastics (such as microwaving food in plastic containers), opt for reusable glass or stainless steel water bottles, choose natural cleaning products, and select beauty products that are free from harmful chemicals.
By making these lifestyle adjustments, you can help create a more favorable environment for hormonal balance and potentially improve the ease of your menstrual flow.
Things to include more in your diet:
- Phytoestrogens:These plant-based compounds have a structure similar to our own estrogen and can aid in detoxifying excess estrogen in the body. Enjoying foods rich in phytoestrogens can support hormonal balance. Incorporate soy, tempeh, legumes (such as edamame, peas, and beans like black beans and kidney beans), and seeds into your diet.
- Brassicas: These vegetables belong to the cabbage family and offer numerous benefits. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, radishes, kale, and bok choy are not only packed with essential vitamins and minerals but also aid the liver in detoxifying the body, promoting healthy estrogen balance.
- Iron-rich foods: Heavy menstrual flow can sometimes lead to low iron levels. Signs of low iron include persistent fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, brittle nails, feeling cold, and pale appearance. If you experience these symptoms, consider getting your iron levels tested. Increase your intake of iron-rich foods such as dried fruit, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, red meat, and eggs. If necessary, an iron supplement like Clinicians Iron Boost can provide an extra boost while being gentle on digestion and suitable for vegans.
In general, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is beneficial for liver health. Minimize processed and packaged foods as much as possible to support overall well-being.
Natural remedies for improved menstrual health:
- Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus): This herb is highly regarded for its ability to support the balance of estrogen and progesterone, making it beneficial for those with heavy or irregular periods. It is particularly useful during perimenopause, as it helps with the natural hormonal changes occurring during this phase. Chaste tree is available in products like Clinicians PMT Cycle Balance, which also includes vitamins, minerals, and milk thistle to support period comfort, regularity, mood, and fluid retention.
- DIM (Diindolylmethane) or sulforaphane:These compounds are found in the brassica family of vegetables, as mentioned earlier. They contribute to maintaining healthy estrogen levels, which can have an impact on menstrual flow. Clinicians Women's Hormone Support contains concentrated levels of DIM to provide extra support for individuals dealing with heavy periods.
It's essential to seek guidance from a healthcare practitioner if you experience heavy or irregular menstrual cycles as they can significantly affect your quality of life. Consider consulting with a health practitioner to explore natural health options for support. Clinicians offers a 15-minute chat with their naturopaths free of charge, providing an opportunity to discuss natural health solutions. You can find more information about this service on their website.