Having heavy periods is often something that many women end up feeling like they just must put up with, but it’s certainly not natural to experience bleeding so heavy that it interferes with daily life. However, some women don’t experience the full force of a heavy period until they hit the perimenopause. If your periods have started to become heavier then, read on…
How heavy is too heavy?
According to Bupa an incredible one third of all women in the UK report having heavy periods. The amount of blood lost during a menstrual period varies widely, but a normal flow is considered to be anything less than 80ml of blood, which is about five tablespoons.
It’s difficult to measure menstrual flow, heavy periods are considered a problem if they affect your quality of life. If you soak through more than one sanitary pad or tampon every hour for several consecutive hours, need to use double sanitary protection, or pass clots larger than a 10p piece, then these are all indicators that you are experiencing heavy flow. If heavy blood loss occurs for more than a few cycles then it’s best to consult your GP as there could be underlying reasons for the heavy periods that need to be ruled out such as fibroids or uterine polyps.
Adjusting to changes in periods
Unfortunately, heavy periods tend to affect some women as they enter the years leading up to the menopause which is now called the perimenopause. This is a time when the periods could still be regular, or you may start to experience subtle or more obvious changes in your cycle. During this time the hormones start to fluctuate, and progesterone levels tend to fall first. Without the balancing effect of progesterone, oestrogen continues to build up the uterine lining until it may become much thicker than before and this may result in a much heavier bleed than you are used to. Eventually, oestrogen levels also start to fall and the periods settle down and become lighter, less frequent and eventually stop altogether.
Risk of iron deficiency
Women affected by heavy periods often suffer from low iron status, because of the amount of blood lost. Low iron may lead to symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and pale skin. Iron is plentiful in red meat, organ meats such as liver, and egg yolk. Iron from animal sources is helped to be absorbed by vitamin C, so make sure you’re eating plenty of vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruit or green leafy vegetables. Good plant-based sources of iron include beans, lentils, tofu, dried apricots and green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach.
If a blood test shows you to be deficient in iron then you may benefit from a supplement. Some forms of iron such as ferrous sulphate frequently cause stomach upset and constipation. Instead choose an organic chelate form of iron as these tend to be gentler on the stomach.
Dietary tips for hormone health
Fabulous fibre – soluble fibre helps to support the friendly bacteria which reside in the digestive system. One of the roles of these bacteria is to clear unwanted hormones from the body. If they are out of balance, this may mean oestrogen levels increase instead of being excreted.
Keep hydrated – it’s important to take in enough fluid to stay hydrated during times of heavy bleeding. Coconut water is a great way of rehydrating as it contains similar electrolytes to those found in blood.
Manage stress – during times of prolonged stress the body may convert progesterone into stress hormones which may further contribute to oestrogen dominance. Find a way to help manage your stress, you could try yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises.
Herbal help – there are lots of herbal remedies and supplements to choose from but it’s worth seeking out Agnus Castus which may help support hormone balance. One study found that 46% of those participating experienced a reduction in the number of heavy bleed days while taking this herbal extract.
If heavy periods are affecting your life as you approach the menopause, the above suggestions may help support you through this transition as the body goes through the process of shutting down your reproductive cycle.