Picture this: You’re sitting at your desk quietly working, when suddenly you feel the dreaded GUSH. You rush to the bathroom as quickly and discreetly as possible. By the time you get to the restroom, you have soaked through your panties. You’re bleeding so heavily that you can’t leave the bathroom. This is just the beginning of your period, and in the days ahead, you’ll soak through a slew of feminine products in no time and potentially ruin several pairs of pants in the process. If this sounds like you, come learn some natural solutions for heavy periods.
What is Normal?
If you’ve always had lengthy, heavy bleeding, you may not know what a normal period is even supposed to look like. A normal period occurs approximately every 28 days and lasts 3-7 days. Normal menstrual flow of blood is bright red without discoloration or clots.
The average flow rate is anywhere up to 80 mL over the duration of your period. (One soaked regular pad or tampon holds 5 mL, while a super tampon holds 10 mL. So a normal flow would mean 8-16 soaked tampons over the course of your period.) If you suffer from a heavy flow, I know you just rolled your eyes as you read that. And for those of you who, like me, do not use tampons, kudos to you. If you wear Thinx period undies, you should be able to get by with one pair a day during most of your period. You may need two pairs on the heaviest days, but if you need to change more often, you probably have an unusually heavy flow.
Causes of Heavy Menstrual Periods
Menorrhagia is the medical term for menstrual periods with abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding. The reasons behind abnormal periods vary from hormonal to emotional to energetic. Let’s have a look at some explanations and possible solutions.
The Allopathic Answer
Western practitioners’ first line of defense is typically medications that treat symptoms or help regulate the menstrual cycle. Often, underlying disorders go undiagnosed or under-treated. Many gynecologists even tell patients that their irregular periods, including extreme PMS and a heavy flow, are normal.
If you’ve visited your OBGYN about your heavy periods, chances are you’ve heard one or more of the following likely explanations.
- Hormone imbalance, specifically between estrogen and progesterone, can cause an excessive development of the endometrium, resulting in a heavy flow. A number of conditions can cause hormone imbalances, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), obesity, insulin resistance and thyroid problems.
- Uterine fibroids or polyps
- Uterine or cervical cancer
- Bleeding disorders
- Intrauterine devices (IUD) is a non-hormonal birth control device with a well-known side effect of menorrhagia.
- Medications such as anti-inflammatories, hormone replacement therapy, and anticoagulants, can contribute to heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding.
- Other medical conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, may be associated with menorrhagia.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine Answer
Ancient medicine practices use a more holistic approach. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-balance organ systems and remove blockages causing symptoms. These practices address deficiencies among the body’s delicate interrelationships to restore proper function. According to TCM, energy stagnation may be the root cause of menorrhagia.
- Blood stagnation: In Chinese medicine, Qi is the vital life force responsible for the flow of energy in our bodies. It is the source of all movement of the body: ascending, descending, entering and leaving. Stagnated blood causes a blockage of this flow. This results in cramping, blood clots, and irregular bleeding.
- An imbalance in the liver: The liver is responsible for the flow of blood throughout the body. Liver Qi moves blood and must be balanced for regular menstruation to occur. Clotting factors produced in the liver are critical for normal blood clotting, and a disturbance in them can result in heavy bleeding. Additionally, a liver issue can cause an accumulation of histamine in the body. This makes the womb more leaky, thereby increasing the flow of blood and fluid.
- Energetic imbalance: The ancient Chinese developed the Five Element Theory to understand the various energetic cycles and how we can apply it to achieve optimum health.
- The Wood element corresponds to the function of the liver and affects menstruation. An excess of the Wood element produces a heavy flow. Incidentally, this element is also responsible for many period complaints (moodiness, irritability, depression, anger, gas, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, cramps, breast tenderness).
- The Earth Element corresponds to the secretory stage of the cycle just before your period. A deficiency of this element can also cause heavy prolonged periods, as well as bloating, fatigue, and food cravings.
The Role of Stress
The HPA axis coordinates our body’s stress response. This involves a series of events that signal the adrenals to secrete hormones like epinephrine and cortisol in response to stressors. However, prolonged or chronic stress disrupts this pattern, resulting in adrenal hormone dysfunction.
Prolonged elevated cortisol levels brought on by stress suppress the secretion of several hormones that play a role in the menstrual cycle. Among these, GnRH, FSH and LH signal the ovaries to decrease their production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This can disrupt ovulation and the entire menstrual cycle. To learn more, come check out this post about Adrenal Overdrive.
Natural Solutions for Heavy Periods
Okay, so now that you have an idea of some of the likely causes of your heavy periods, it’s time to do something about it.
Let’s start with the most basic solution. Guys, stress not only affects your period, but also literally every body system. But telling you to simply stress less seems a bit unrealistic. Stress is a normal expected part of our lives. So instead of trying to avoid stress altogether, look at ways you can manage your stress and help your body cope. These methods can help change the physiological response to stress and limit its effects.
Let’s get one thing straight. Self care is not selfish. Taking time to decrease your stress symptoms is vital to your health and happiness. This makes you a better employee, parent, friend, spouse, and person in general. So here are some of my favorite ways to manage my stress load.
- Meditation: Deep physical, mental, and emotional relaxation produces a state of inner awareness and releases stress, muscle tension, and anxiety. In fact, studies show the regular practice of yoga nidra meditation effectively reduces both cognitive and physiological symptoms of anxiety. Learn more about Yoga nidra here.
- Yoga combines intentional movement, deep breathing, and mental imagery. Studies show that practicing yoga as little as once a week can significantly decrease stress and anxiety.
- Exercise: Other forms of exercise promote the release of endorphins and can help release stress.
- Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption can decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Vacate: Though it may seem like a luxury, a day off from work may be the medicine you need. Take time away from work (home and career) to simply enjoy friends, family and down time.
- Nutritional supplements: Many essential oils and nutritional supplements can relieve stress and help your body cope. Check out this post: Nutraceuticals for Stress and Anxiety.
Balance Your Energies
Not surprisingly, stress plays a major role in creating imbalances in our bodies energy. In fact, it is the number one contributor to an imbalance of the Wood element. The typical overly-connected, busy, scheduled lifestyle coupled with relationship and work stress can quickly throw us out of balance. The answer? Find ways to release that stress. (Are you getting the message here?)
In addition to reducing and managing stress, other strategies can help restore harmony to your energies.
- Spend time outdoors, particularly “earthing”, or walking barefooted outside
- Drink plenty of water
- Detoxify the body
- Get adequate sleep
- Limit the use of electronics as much as possible
- Breathe deeply
- Practice regular gratitude (Get a free Gratitude Journal here!)
- Anger is also a pretty big culprit when it comes to an imbalance of the Wood element. Practice the deliberate release of anger and extending forgiveness.
- Try acupuncture.
In addition to the habits listed above, certain dietary modifications can help heal stagnant Liver Qi. Changing your diet may be one of the simplest natural solutions for heavy periods.
Foods to Avoid
- Foods high in saturated fat
- Processed foods
- Excessive nuts/seeds
- Alcohol and other intoxicants
- Hot peppers
Foods to Enjoy
- Pungent foods, spices, and herbs, such as onions, turmeric, basil, fennel, black pepper, ginger, rosemary, mint, etc.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables; especially beets, strawberries, peaches, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
- Complex carbohydrates, like legumes and whole grains
- Warming sweeteners, such as honey, stevia, molasses, and rice syrup
- Bitter and sour foods, especially unrefined apple cider vinegar
- Detoxifying foods: mung beans, celery, kelp, lettuce, cucumber, etc.
For an extensive look at balancing the body’s energetic elements, check out Healing with Whole Foods.
Let it Flow
Did you know that using tampons can actually block the flow of your period and actually cause it to last longer? Free bleeding, or allowing your period blood to flow unrestricted, can reduce many discomforts. Women who free bleed claim their periods are markedly shorter and often lighter over time. They also report less period pain and cramping.
If the idea of free bleeding is new to you, I encourage you to give it a try during your next cycle. You’ll be surprised at how natural it feels. I was a skeptic at first, but I am totally in favor of free bleeding now. You can read about my first experience here.
Ready to give free bleeding a try as a means to shorter, less painful periods? Come try Thinx period underwear. They are totally comfortable and completely sanitary. (I promise!) With a multitude of styles and absorbencies, it’s easy to find the perfect fit for every person. Plus, you’ve got nothing to lose with Thinx’s 60-day money back guarantee. Snag your first pair with this $10 off coupon.