Heavy Bleeding on Your Period: Causes and How You Can Manage
Uwe Porters - Mid-wife / Pregnancy & Postpartum Expert
Dealing with heavy bleeding during your period can be a real challenge. The discomfort, the inconvenience, and the constant worry about leakage can be really tough to manage. But did you know that proper nutrition can play a significant role in managing heavy menstrual flow? In this article, we'll tell you all about the causes of heavy bleeding, and explore effective ways to manage it. We'll also highlight the importance of incorporating essential nutrients into your diet, specifically the role of multivitamins with iron, omega-3, and magnesium. A healthier, more comfortable period could be closer than you think! Let’s dive in…
What is Heavy Menstrual Bleeding?
First of all, let’s define what is considered to be heavy bleeding. Heavy bleeding during your period, medically known as menorrhagia, refers to excessive or prolonged menstrual flow that interferes with your daily life. If you’re unsure, here are a few markers of heavy menstrual bleeding:
- Bleeding for more than 7 days
- Changing menstrual products after less than two hours
- Needing to double up on menstrual products
- Heavy bleeding with clots larger than a coin
- Waking up at night to change menstrual products at night
Obviously, this can be pretty tough to manage but alongside heavy bleeding, many women also experience discomfort including cramps, fatigue and anxiety about potential leaks. Many women call in sick to work or cancel social activities as a result. But this doesn’t have to be something you just need to live with! There are ways to have a more comfortable period.
Causes of Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Heavy menstrual bleeding can be due to a variety of different factors. Understanding the cause is helpful when you’re looking for a solution. Here are a few of the most common reasons behind heavy menstrual bleeding:
1. Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones are the key in a healthy menstrual cycle. When there's an imbalance in these hormones, it can lead to heavy and irregular periods. Estrogen and progesterone, the two primary female hormones, need to be in harmony for a healthy menstrual cycle. An excess of estrogen or a deficiency in progesterone can disrupt this delicate balance, resulting in heavy bleeding.How can you address this? More on that in the next section!
2. Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths in the uterus that can vary in size and number. These benign tumors can cause heavy periods by distorting the uterine cavity or putting pressure on the uterine walls. The exact cause of fibroids remains uncertain, but genetics and hormonal factors are believed to play a role in their development.
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women mostly between the ages of 15 and 45, and it's a top cause of heavy menstrual bleeding. This number is probably an underestimation of reality so a lot of women still suffer in silence. Endometriosis is a painful condition where the tissue lining the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside the uterus. This displaced tissue can lead to heavy menstrual bleeding, along with severe cramps and pain. The exact cause of endometriosis is not fully understood, but it's thought to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by an overproduction of androgens (male hormones), which can disrupt the normal menstrual cycle. Irregular periods, heavy bleeding, and the formation of ovarian cysts are common symptoms of PCOS.
Learn more about Guud Woman founder, Morgane’s experience with PCOS here.
Adenomyosis is a condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus starts growing into the muscular walls of the uterus. This can cause the uterus to become enlarged and result in heavy, painful periods. The exact cause of adenomyosis is still under study, but it's often associated with prior uterine surgeries or inflammation.
Identifying the underlying cause of your heavy menstrual bleeding is the first step towards effective management. If you suspect you have any of these conditions, it's important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and tailored treatment options.
The Role of Iron in Your Diet
Heavy menstrual bleeding often goes hand in hand with a risk of developing anemia, a condition that means you have a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. When heavy periods lead to excessive blood loss, it can deplete your body's iron reserves, making you more susceptible to anemia.
To combat this, incorporating iron-rich foods into your diet is super important. Foods like lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, tofu, lentils, dark leafy greens and fortified cereals can help replenish the iron your body loses during heavy bleeding. A diet rich in iron supports your body's ability to produce new red blood cells, which helps restore your hemoglobin back up to a healthy level.
In addition to adding more iron-rich food to your diet, many women find that supplements with iron offer an easy way to boost their iron intake. Supplements with iron are a practical addition to your daily routine, ensuring you meet your iron requirements, particularly during your menstrual cycle when heavy bleeding puts an extra demand on your body's iron stores.
Enhancing Iron Absorption with Vitamin C
In the battle against heavy menstrual bleeding, optimizing iron intake is essential, especially for those following a plant-based diet. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that enhances the absorption of iron from plant-based sources, helping your body make the most of the iron-rich foods you consume. Incorporating vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli into your diet can boost your iron absorption which not only helps with your overall health, it can help you manage heavy periods more effectively, too!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Inflammation can make the discomfort of heavy periods even worse, leading to more severe cramps and major menstrual pain. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, as well as plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, can be your best friend when it comes to fighting inflammation and alleviating menstrual discomfort.
Omega-3s are renowned for their anti-inflammatory properties, making them particularly beneficial for those dealing with heavy menstrual bleeding. These essential fatty acids help to reduce the production of prostaglandins—hormone-like substances that trigger uterine contractions and inflammation during your period. By incorporating omega-3-rich foods into your diet, you can potentially ease the intensity of cramps and reduce the overall inflammation associated with heavy flow.
Food is a great way to introduce more omega-3s into your life but some women may find it more convenient to opt for omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil capsules. (Vegan? Look for sustainable omega-3 made from algae oil! Same great benefits without the fish!) Omega-3 supplements can provide a concentrated dose of these valuable fatty acids to ensure you receive the full range of their anti-inflammatory benefits.
Managing heavy menstrual bleeding isn't just about curbing blood flow; it's also reducing the pain and discomfort that often comes along for the ride. Magnesium, an important mineral, can be a big help in this regard.
Some of the top sources for magnesium include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens. Also, if you’re craving something sweet, reach for dark chocolate with at least 70%+ cocoa. (Though tasty, milk chocolate will not have any positive benefit!)
These foods can help reduce muscle tension and ease the constriction of blood vessels, potentially leading to less painful and more manageable periods.
You could also look for supplements with magnesium.
Balancing Hormones Through Diet
Making sure your hormonal health is balanced is key to maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle. As you might have already guessed, diet plays a key role in achieving this balance. Alongside the nutrients we already discussed, several other vital vitamins and minerals contribute to hormonal well-being.
Vitamin B12 is essential not only for maintaining hormonal balance but also for healthy red blood cell production. Animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are rich sources of Vitamin B12. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it's important to consider B12 supplements or fortified foods to ensure you meet your daily requirements.
Folate (Vitamin B9) is another critical nutrient, supporting blood cell formation. Leafy greens, legumes, and fortified grains are excellent sources of folate that can aid in maintaining your hormonal and overall health.
For more information about folate or folic acid (the synthetic form of folate), check out this blog post. It’s everything you need to know!
Zinc is indispensable for immune function, wound healing, and hormonal balance. Meats, dairy, nuts, and legumes are rich sources of zinc. Including these foods in your diet can help support a healthy immune system and help with hormonal health.
The most important thing to remember: a healthy diet is the key! We’re not saying you can’t ever indulge in a piece of cake or a glass of wine, but making sure that, overall, you are getting a diverse and balanced diet that incorporates a wide array of nutrients is critical for hormonal harmony, especially if you struggle with heavy menstrual bleeding.
For more on how you can eat according to your cycle, check out our blog post called Hack Your Cycle with Food.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Heavy Flow
Your lifestyle also plays a role in your menstrual cycle. Some small changes can also have a big impact too, especially if you struggle with heavy bleeding.
First, let’s talk about stress. High levels of stress can make any discomfort associated with your period even worse. Some stress is OK (like before a big presentation at work), but if you’re stressed every day, for long periods of time, it can take a toll on your menstrual health. Try to incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or gentle yoga into your routine to help bring some calm into your life.
Want to know more about stress and your cycle? Check out our blog post here.
Exercise is also a big one when it comes to your menstrual health. Physical activity is key to better blood circulation, and it releases endorphins, the happy hormones! Both of these things can help reduce pain and improve overall wellbeing. So, make sure you move! It doesn’t need to be a long run or crazy HIIT class either. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your menstrual cycle and manage heavy menstrual bleeding.
Want to know more? We’ve got an entire post on exercise and your cycle here.
And finally, water! Proper hydration is so underrated but it is critical during your period (and, everyday too!) Making sure you’re drinking enough water helps balance bodily fluids and can alleviate bloating and cramps. So grab yourself a water bottle, have a mug of herbal tea and sip throughout the day. We promise it will help you work toward a more comfortable and less disruptive period each month.
When to Seek Medical Advice
Managing heavy menstrual bleeding through diet and lifestyle changes is often effective, there are situations when you should consider seeking advice from a doctor.
Watch for warning signs and recognize when heavy bleeding becomes a cause for concern. If you experience severe pain, prolonged periods, or exceptionally heavy bleeding that interferes with your daily life, it's time to consult a healthcare professional.
A doctor can help you figure out if there are underlying conditions that may be contributing to your heavy periods, such as fibroids, endometriosis, or hormonal imbalances. Once the cause is identified, various treatment options can be explored.
Not sure if your bleeding is normal? Don't hesitate to reach out to us. We have experts who can help.