Heavy menstrual bleeding, called menorrhagia, is so common that about a third of women seek treatment for it, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. While medications and surgical procedures may be necessary in some cases, you might want to start by altering your diet.
That means adding some foods and avoiding others, says Jayne Williams, a certified integrative health and nutrition expert.
Magnesium and Vitamin E
Among foods that may help reduce period bleeding are those rich in magnesium, Williams says. "More than not, women are deficient in this essential mineral," she says. Foods rich in magnesium include avocados, nuts, whole grains and seeds. And though it may sound too good to be true, dark chocolate is another. Just stick to one small square and look for dark chocolate that is at least 80 percent chocolate cocoa, Williams says.
Vitamin E also may reduce blood flow, according to the Royal Women's Hospital. You can take vitamin E supplements, but according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), good food sources of vitamin E include:
- Vegetable oils such as wheat germ, sunflower, corn and soybean.
- Nuts, including peanuts, hazelnuts — and especially almonds.
- Seeds, especially sunflower.
- Green vegetables, including spinach and broccoli.
Vitamin E is also added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarines and spreads. Check the labels to see which are good sources of vitamin E, the NIH says.
Foods Rich in Omega-3s
Omega-3s are needed to help your body process anti-inflammatory cells. When your cells are inflamed, your menstrual cycle can be much worse, Williams says.
Fatty fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which your body doesn't make on its own. "Wild salmon and halibut are two of my very favorite omega-3 fats and some of the lowest in mercury levels," Williams says. "They are also rich in iron, which you can lose during menstruation, and especially if you bleed heavily."
Fish oils also may help thin dark and thick period blood, according to Royal Women's Hospital.
There is a caution to be aware of: If you're on anti-coagulants, eating fish oil or taking supplements might do the opposite of what you want and increase your risk for bleeding, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Not a food but a dietary supplement, chasteberry may help some women with heavy periods, says Adeeti Gupta, MD, director of Walk IN GYN Care in New York City. Higher concentrations of chasteberry have progesterone-like action, which can reduce blood flow, she says.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says chasteberry, a plant native to the Mediterranean and Asia, is used as a supplement for some menstrual problems. You can find chasteberry as a liquid extract, capsule or tablet. However, NCCIH also points out that it might not be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women or for women with hormone-sensitive conditions, such as breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.
Chasteberry may also interact with some medications, so talk to your doctor before using these supplements.
Foods to Avoid
Avoid a heavy hand of turmeric and garlic, Dr. Gupta says. Both turmeric and garlic are blood thinners and can increase blood flow. However, she says, you would need to consume significant quantities to notice any difference in blood flow. A little of each should be OK.
Any type of processed food and sugar can cause an inflammatory response on a good day, never mind when you have your period, Williams says. "While your body is going through its monthly shedding, we need to provide 'extra' support in the way of whole foods," she says. "When we are adding manmade preservatives, chemicals and sugar, we end up creating more inflammation, which leads to even more discomfort."
Avoid foods such as red meats and dairy products, especially if they come from animals that have been fed hormones, Dr. Gupta says. The hormones in these foods can upset your estrogen/progesterone balance and cause period problems, she says.
Dr. Gupta says an overall healthy diet with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can help regulate your menstrual cycle. And, Williams adds, it's important to choose wisely and watch what you eat not just when you have your period, but throughout your cycle.
Read more: What Exercise is Good During Your Period?
Is This an Emergency?
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Heavy Menstrual Bleeding”
- Jayne Williams, CNC, certified nutrition consultant
- The Royal Women’s Hospital: “Exercise, Diet & Periods”
- National Institutes of Health: “Fact Sheet: Vitamin E”
- Mayo Clinic: “Fish Oil”
- Adeeti Gupta, MD, obstetrician/gynecologist, director, Walk IN GYN Care, New York, New York
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Chasteberry”