An unpredictable menstrual cycle is not only inconvenient but also reason for worry. Many things can cause abnormal menstrual bleeding, but taking vitamins to regulate a menstrual cycle is not one of them. However, being deficient in vitamin D could cause irregular menstruation.
Taking vitamins will not affect menstruation; however, a vitamin D deficiency may cause abnormal bleeding.
Causes of Irregular Menstrual Bleeding
Irregular menstrual bleeding is a broad term that encompasses any alteration in the normal menstrual cycle in relation to frequency, regularity, duration and volume of flow. According to a May 2019 article in StatPearls, one-third of women will have abnormal bleeding at some point in their lives, and it most commonly occurs during the onset of menstruation and in the period before menopause.
Normal cycles are typically 24 to 38 days, with bleeding lasting seven to nine days and blood loss equaling 5 to 80 milliliters. Anything outside of these parameters is considered abnormal. Some examples of menstrual problems women may experience include:
- Missed periods
- More frequent or less frequent periods
- Menstrual flow that is significantly heavier or lighter than normal
- Periods that are longer or shorter than normal
- Periods that are accompanied by pain, nausea, vomiting or cramping
- Bleeding or spotting between periods, during menopause or after intercourse
Lifestyle changes, including gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, dieting, exercise changes, travel, illness and stress.
Birth control pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin and prevent the ovaries from producing eggs. Starting or ending birth control may affect menstrual bleeding — in fact, periods may be abnormal for up to six months after stopping birth control. Taking birth control containing only progestin may also cause bleeding between periods.
Uterine polyps are small benign growths in the uterus lining, and uterine fibroids are tumors, also typically benign, that attach to the uterus wall. Both can cause pain and heavy menstrual bleeding.
Endometriosis occurs when the endometrial tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow outside the uterus. This can cause abnormal bleeding, cramps or pain before and during menstruation. It may also cause intercourse to be painful.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is a bacterial infection in the reproductive system that can cause irregular periods as well as unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge, pelvic and lower abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, causes the ovaries to produce large amounts of male hormones called androgens. Cysts may form in the ovaries, and the hormonal changes can keep eggs from maturing which may lead to inconsistent ovulation. Periods may be irregular or non-existent and usually occur alongside obesity, infertility, abnormal hair growth and acne.
Premature ovarian insufficiency occurs in women under 40 years of age who have abnormally functioning ovaries. Similar to menopause, menstruation ceases.
There are plenty of other causes of abnormal menstruation, including uterine or cervical cancer, other medical conditions, medications and pregnancy complications. However, vitamin use is not included in the list.
Vitamin D Deficiency and Irregularity
A small amount of research has shown that a deficiency of vitamin D may affect the ovulatory cycle. A study published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology in March 2015 involved 636 women enrolled in the Uterine Fibroid Study. Participants provided a blood sample and answered a phone survey about the frequency of their periods.
After controlling for variables, including age, race, smoking, body mass index (BMI), exercise and education, the researchers found that a decrease in vitamin D blood levels of 10 ng/mL was associated with cycle irregularity. Vitamin D status was not associated with length of cycles. The researchers concluded that vitamin D may be involved in regulating ovulatory function and that further investigation was warranted.
Low vitamin D levels are not uncommon in the United States, and as much as 42 percent of the population may have a deficiency, according to Stephanie Wheeler, director of wellness at Mercy Medical Center.
Premenopausal women may have even higher rates of deficiency. If you think you may have low blood levels of a particular nutrient, it's important to visit your doctor who can perform blood tests to confirm the deficiency. In that case, you may be advised to start taking a vitamin D supplement.
When to See a Doctor
It can be hard to judge whether what you are experiencing is normal, since every woman's period is different. Any time you miss your period for more than a week, it's a good idea to check in with your physician, especially if you are sexually active. Other signs that you may need medical attention include:
- Experiencing a very heavy flow that requires changing your pad or tampon every hour for several hours in a row
- Passing blood clots larger than a quarter
- Having constant pain in abdomen or lower back
- Feeling abnormally fatigued or short of breath
- Noticing extra hair on your face, chin, chest or abdomen
- Having unusual vaginal discharge
- Experiencing abnormal bleeding or spotting between periods
To determine the cause of your abnormal bleeding, your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your menstrual history and likely perform a physical exam including a pap test. Your doctor may also order additional blood tests, vaginal cultures, pelvic ultrasound or an endometrial biopsy.
Once the cause of your abnormal bleeding has been confirmed, your doctor can prescribe the appropriate treatment, According to Cleveland Clinic, this might include prescribing hormones such as estrogen and progestin that can help control a heavy flow.
Fibroids causing mild symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, and low-dose birth control can help with heavy flow. There are also surgical options to remove fibroids or reduce their size and symptoms. A hysterectomy in which the uterus is removed may be required in severe cases.
There is no cure for endometriosis, but over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce discomfort. Hormone treatment may also be used to prevent the overgrowth of uterine tissue and reduce blood loss. In severe cases, surgery to remove endometrial tissue or a hysterectomy may be required.
Reduce Risk of Irregular Bleeding
Menstruation isn't totally out of your control. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of abnormal bleeding. If you're taking vitamin supplements to fill in the gaps in a less-than-healthy diet, you're not doing yourself any favors. While supplements can help repair a deficiency, they can't take the place of a healthy diet containing a variety of nutritious foods.
Reduce or eliminate low-nutrient, unhealthy junk foods, fast foods, fried foods, sweets and sugary beverages, and increase your intake of fresh fruits and veggies, lean meat, fish and poultry, low-fat dairy, whole grains and nuts and seeds. This kind of diet will also help you manage your weight without drastic weight loss or gain that can affect regularity, and it will help improve any conditions that are causing your irregular bleeding.
- Get plenty of sleep
- Exercise regularly and moderately
- Practice relaxation and stress-reduction techniques
- Use birth control methods as directed by your doctor
Make sure to keep track of your cycle and any changes in your period, diet, stress levels, sleep, exercise and weight. This will come in handy for further follow-ups with your physician.
- StatPearls: "Abnormal Uterine Bleeding (Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Abnormal Menstruation (Periods)"
- Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: "Lower Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Is Associated With Irregular Menstrual Cycles in a Cross-Sectional Study"
- Mercy Medical Center: "42% Percent of Americans Are Vitamin D Deficient. Are You Among Them?"
- CDC: "Heavy Menstrual Bleeding"