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Heavy menstrual bleeding

Take control of heavy menstrual bleeding

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There are many reasons why women experience heavier than normal menstrual bleeding, however functional menorrhagia (heavy periods) is the term given to women who suffer from heavy periods when all other conditions have been ruled out, Naturopath Jennifer McLennan explains.

The cause of functional menorrhagia is not entirely known, however it is thought to occur due to an excess of oestrogen and possibly a lack of progesterone. Oestrogen is released from the ovaries at the start of each menstrual period, whereas progesterone is released after ovulation, in the second phase of the menstrual cycle. Reasons oestrogen levels may be higher than normal may be due to:

  • Obesity. Higher than normal oestrogen levels occur because fatty tissue convert hormones such as androgens into oestrogen.
  • Lack of exercise. Exercise increases the amount of oestrogen that is cleared and excreted from the body. Women who exercise tend to have lighter periods.
  • High fat diets - these have been shown to increase an enzyme in the bowel which easily reabsorbs oestrogen into circulation, therefore preventing it from being eliminated from the body.

Inadequate progesterone may also contribute to heavy periods, as progesterone works on the uterine tissues to help prevent excess blood loss. Low progesterone levels usually occur due to a lack of ovulation.

Complementary therapies that may be useful in supporting functional menorrhagia include:

  • Omega 3’s - Increasing good fats in the form of omega 3’s and decreasing saturated fats may help to improve and control bleeding. Omega 3’s are needed for the body to produce anti-inflammatory cells, whereas saturated fats increase inflammation and therefore heavy bleeding. Omega 3 fats are found in nuts, seeds, fish and some green leafy vegetables.
  • Vitamin A may help women who are not getting adequate amounts from a dietary source.  Vitamin A is needed for normal oestrogen levels and for normal menstrual bleeding. Cod liver oil provides a natural source of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin K is needed for normal blood clotting, and therefore healthy menstrual bleeding. Dark green leafy vegetables provide good amounts of vitamin K. Healthy gut flora is also another important source of vitamin K production, so eat up your yoghurt and probiotic rich foods.
  • Phyto-oestrogens, which are naturally occurring plant constituents found in soy, other legumes and herbs can compete with oestrogen in the body for attachment onto oestrogen receptor sites. This is good news as it may lead to lighter periods.
  • Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that may help to improve heavy menstrual bleeding. Flavonoids are believed to strengthen capillaries and add tone, thereby reducing oestrogens affect on the body. Increase your citrus fruits and fruits and vegetable in general, or a supplement may also help.

Lifestyle tips include:

  • Reducing saturated fats will help with oestrogen clearance from the bowel and help maximise the benefits of good fat in the system.
  • Exercise is recommended for as it helps the body to eliminate oestrogen and helps to maintain a healthy weight range.

References available upon request