Normal menstrual cycles range from every 21 to 35 days, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and most women's periods last four to seven days. Unusually short, lengthy, light, heavy, frequent, infrequent or painful periods can derive from stress, dieting, birth control pills and medical conditions, such as fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis and, less frequently, cancer. Overexercise and low body weight can cause your cycle to stop altogether. In addition to seeking any necessary medical treatment, emphasize certain foods within a healthy diet to help regulate your cycle.
Whole grains provide valuable amounts of fiber, protein and B vitamins -- nutrients that improve hormonal balance and reduce symptoms of heavy menstruation, according to Dr. Christiane Northrup, a physician and women's health expert. High-glycemic carbohydrate sources, such as white bread and sweets, on the other hand, can worsen your symptoms. They can also impede blood sugar control, interfering with positive energy levels and moods. Limit these foods and emphasize hearty whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, brown rice, oats and popcorn, instead.
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout and herring, provide rich amounts of protein and healthy fats, which are also important for hormonal balance and normalized menstruation, says Northrup. As top sources of omega-3 fats, oily fish reduce inflammation, which plays a role in pain and bloating, and may help minimize menstrual cramps. For best results, replace protein sources rich in saturated fat, such as red meat, dark-meat poultry and cheeses, with baked, grilled or steamed fish. Saturated fats increase inflammation.
Flaxseeds for Fiber
Flaxseeds are top plant sources of omega-3 fats and valuable sources of fiber. They also contain lignans -- natural compounds that can help balance hormones, including estrogen, according to a "Nutrition & Food Sciences" report published in 2012. Add ground flaxseed to other healthy foods, such as smoothies or whole-grain muffins, or have flaxseed flakes for a breakfast rich in omega-3s, fiber and protein. Fortified cereals also supply iron, which is important to replenish if you've experienced heavy menstrual bleeding. Your body loses iron through blood, which can lead to anemia.
Fruits and Vegetables
Getting plenty of the antioxidants, vitamin C and beta-carotene is also important for improved hormonal balance and menstrual health, says Northrup. Fruits and vegetables provide significant amounts of both nutrients, along with fiber. Avoid fruit juices and fruits with added sweeteners, which have a high glycemic index. Instead, opt for fresh or frozen, unsweetened fruits and vegetables. For beta-carotene, eat sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, mango and sweet peppers. Top vitamin C sources include red bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries and brussels sprouts.
- Cleveland Clinic: Abnormal Menstruation
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Amenorrhea
- Dr. Christiane Northrup: Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
- Linus Pauling Institute: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Nutrition & Food Sciences: Flax Seed: A Potential Medicinal Food
- USDA Standard Nutrient Database: Cereals, Ready-to-Eat, Flax-PLUS Flakes
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Health Professionals