Even though menstruation is one of the most natural functions of our body, there is a lot of misconception about it. What makes a regular flow? How much should you bleed? How do you know if you are bleeding too heavily? Are there foods that cause heavy periods? These remain some of the most commonly asked questions for a vast majority of menstruators. Preventing access to scientifically sound information also perpetuates many myths, resulting in menstruators relying on remedies that may cause more harm than good.
This guide debunks the role diet plays in regulating the flow during periods and focuses on identifying if there are indeed any foods that cause heavy periods.
Understanding Heavy Menstrual Periods
Even though no two menstruators have identical menstrual cycles, a flow that lasts anywhere between two to seven days is considered typical.
Heavy periods, also known as menorrhagia, refer to menstrual bleeding that is abnormally heavy or continues for a prolonged period. Clinically, an OB/GYN would diagnose you as someone experiencing heavy menstrual periods if you experience one or more of the following symptoms.
Signs that you are losing too much blood during the period are:
- You soak through your tampon or sanitary pad every couple of hours.
- Your bleeding continues for more than seven days.
- You experience dizziness, fatigue or shortness of breath during your periods which are hallmark symptoms of anemia.
- You have to frequently wake up at night to change your sanitary napkin or tampon.
It is difficult to cull out a solitary cause of heavy periods. Research shows that some of the potential causes of a heavier-than-usual menstrual flow include (1):
- Uterine fibroids or polyps that result in abnormal or improper growth of cells in your uterus
- Hormonal imbalances
- Thyroid disorders
- No ovulation
- Adhesions in the uterus
- Adenomyosis where the uterine lining grows into the uterine wall, increasing the size of your uterus
- Cancerous growth in the uterus or the cervix
- Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea
- History of ectopic pregnancies
Can Stress Cause Heavy Periods?
Yes — abnormally high-stress levels can also result in heavy menstrual bleeding (2). Uncontrolled stress results in inflammation in the body, which may disrupt hormone levels, resulting in heavier than usual flow during periods.
Scientists also believe that for some menstruators, heavy periods can be hereditary. For example, bleeding disorders tend to run in the family, making blood clotting difficult. Anyone with bleeding disorders in their family is at a higher risk of experiencing heavy periods.
Are there foods that cause heavy periods? The answer is not black and white. Since diet plays an important role in maintaining overall health, including reproductive health, certain food items may interfere with the severity of the flow. That said, there can be other underlying conditions causing a heavier flow and food items may only aggravate the existing issue.
Importance of Medical Advice
As is the case with any disorder, it is extremely critical to seek proper medical advice to determine the exact cause of heavy blood flow. Typically, you can expect your OB/GYN to take a detailed medical history to understand:
- how often do you experience heavy periods,
- are there any other medical conditions or co-morbidities that may be causing heavy blood flow,
- if your mother or siblings also experience heavy bleeding, and
- if you are currently on any birth control.
You can also expect your doctor to undertake a detailed examination of your vagina, cervix and uterus to check whether there are any abnormal growths. This can be performed through a hysteroscopy or a transvaginal ultrasound. In some cases, your OB/GYN may also recommend a pap smear test or MRI.
If you are experiencing light flow and are wondering how to make your period flow heavier naturally, don’t opt for consuming food items that are associated with a heavier flow. Instead, speak to a qualified medical professional to determine the exact cause for your concern.
The Role Of Diet In Menstrual Health
When it comes to reproductive health and the menstrual cycle, the role of diet cannot be underestimated. After all, food is fuel for your cells and controls every single aspect of how your body functions.
There is enough research to show that diet directly impacts hormones that play a central role in regulating menstrual cycle. Consuming a healthy diet can improve hormone production and circulation. In fact, common menstrual problems such as cramps, extremely heavy or light flow, bloating, constipation, etc., often happen due to hormonal imbalances. So any changes in your diet can impact the frequency of your cycles and blood flow.
A healthy diet also ensures that your body isn’t deficient in key nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that aid hormone production. For example, estrogen and progesterone, are the two hormones that play a critical role during your menstrual cycles. You can obtain those through a variety of dietary sources.
A balanced diet is also critical for maintaining good physical and emotional well-being. Any changes in either physical or mental well-being can be a source of stress. Uncontrolled stress levels can adversely impact your menstrual health and even worsen your symptoms during cycles.
Underlying Medical Conditions
But here’s what’s important to remember. If you are someone who experiences heavier bleeding than usual, your dietary choices alone cannot reduce the flow. Similarly, if you are suddenly experiencing heavy periods, don’t label your dietary choices as the villain.
Put differently, if you solely focus on identifying foods that cause heavy periods, you may miss out on other underlying conditions that may be causing heavy flow.
Rather, look at it holistically. Any food you consume impacts your reproductive system, and some food items may increase the severity of your flow.
It is best not to indulge in a wild goose chase of what food items make your period lighter to bring heavy flow under control. It is extremely important to find out the underlying cause of your heavy periods and identify the food items that may be worsening the condition.
Foods That May Aggravate Heavy Menstrual Periods
Does beetroot cause heavy periods? Will eating too much papaya before your cycle cause heavy bleeding? What food items should you avoid during menstruation to prevent excessive flow?
These are some of the questions that worry every menstruator. Since drawing up a list of foods that cause heavy periods with accuracy is still not possible, it may be extremely confusing to figure out what to eat and what to avoid.
Here is a list of certain items that are known to aggravate blood flow and cause discomfort. However, given that every menstruator experiences their cycle differently, not all items featured in this list may impact you. What’s more important is to be aware of the potential impact of the food items and make a careful decision about your dietary preferences, especially during periods:
1. Saturated fats and ultra-processed food
It is not surprising such items feature right on top of the list of foods that cause heavy periods.
They are known to increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can impact the hormonal balance, affecting the menstrual cycle. Studies also show that high-fat diets can increase estrogen levels which may, in turn, result in heavier-than-usual bleeding during periods.
Foods that Cause Heavy Periods #1. Caffeine
Excess consumption of coffee, tea, or other caffeinated drinks increases caffeine levels in your bloodstream. Caffeine is known to constrict blood vessels which can result in lesser blood flow to your pelvic region. Over time, this may cause heavier than usual flow.
#2. Dairy Products
Consuming excess dairy products may adversely impact menstrual symptoms and cause discomfort. Research shows that dairy can potentially increase inflammation in the body which can disrupt hormonal balance and result in heavy periods.
Foods that Cause Heavy Periods #3. Excess sugar
Sugary food is one of the most popular cravings for menstruators across ages during PMS.
However, sugar-laden items are one of the regarded foods that cause heavy periods, thanks to all the inflammation they create. If left unchecked, inflammation can contract muscle and increase the blood flow to the uterus, resulting in heavy periods.
Consumption of extremely sugary foods can also disrupt blood sugar levels and hormone production, both of which can cause heavy periods.
#4. Red Meat
Red meat is a rich source of arachidonic acid. It also contains a significant amount of prostaglandins and iron. Prostaglandins are a chemical compound produced naturally by the body to allow the uterus to shed its lining and facilitate blood flow.
Red meat can be considered as part of foods that cause heavy periods as it contains higher levels of iron and prostaglandins.
Foods that Cause Heavy Periods #5. Foods that are extremely spicy
Even though there is no scientific evidence that directly links spicy food with increased blood flow during periods, such food items are known to increase inflammation in the body.
Consuming excess amounts of spicy food can also cause gastrointestinal discomfort over a period of time and lead to heavier periods.
Apart from impacting your liver, alcohol is also one of the foods that cause heavy periods.
Since it is a blood thinner, it can enhance the estrogen levels in the body. Higher than usual levels of estrogen can accelerate the growth of endometrial tissue and uterine lining and result in heavier periods.
Additionally, alcohol can also be extremely dehydrating, worsening existing symptoms and creating additional discomfort during the menstrual cycle.
The list of food items above is merely indicative and not exhaustive. A lot about reproductive health remains to be researched, and the connection between specific food items and blood flow is yet to be scientifically established.
If some of these items feature in your daily diet, try to regulate the portion and speak to an OB/GYN or nutritionist for advice.
Individual Sensitivities and Varied Experiences
Each menstrual cycle is as unique as the fingerprint of the menstruator.
Research shows a combination of environmental, hormonal, and genetic factors determine how the menstrual cycle works. Given the distinct nature, what dietary choices trigger a heavy flow varies between menstruators. This makes it incredibly challenging to create a laundry list of foods that cause heavy periods.
For instance, while some may experience a heavier flow after consuming spicy food, others may not notice any changes in their menstrual flow regardless of how much spicy food they consume.
Recognizing the uniqueness of menstrual cycles and reproductive health plays a vital role in understanding how dietary choices can impact the severity of flow. One of the best ways to identify your triggers and eliminate foods that cause heavy periods is by maintaining a period or menstrual diary.
A detailed record of what food items increase the severity of blood flow can help you recognize patterns and also identify the triggers. For example, you may notice that your blood flow is extremely heavy when you consume a lot of dairy-based products right before you get your period.
Keeping a record of potential triggers can also help your clinician diagnose the actual cause of heavy periods. The record can also help them understand whether your food preferences have a role in determining the severity of your flow and make it easier to come up with a detailed treatment plan tailored to your needs.
What’s also important to remember is it can take several cycles to notice which items specifically increase your flow. So, the more time you invest in recording your dietary choices during your periods, the easier it will be to notice the triggers and eliminate them from your diet to control the heavy flow.
FAQ on Foods that Cause Heavy Periods
Current scientific research doesn’t point to a single food item that can cause heavy periods.
There is anecdotal evidence that excess consumption of beetroot, caffeine, honey, chocolate, papaya, and food containing high levels of saturated fats may contribute to heavier periods than usual.
Everybody is different — what is good to avoid for one person may be exactly the food the body needs for another person. That said, doctors recommend avoiding excess consumption of deep-fried items, alcohol, processed food, extremely sugary or salty food items and dairy.
No food item has been scientifically proven to make periods lighter. After all, no two bodies are the same, and everyone experiences periods differently. That said, you can consider including the following items to reduce heavy period flow:
Magnesium-rich foods include pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, legumes, and leafy greens.
Rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as nuts, seeds, and seafood
Iron-rich food items such as spinach, kale, lentils, legumes, and lean meats
Doctors do not recommend any drink in particular to minimize heavy blood flow. However, popular home remedies include consuming herbal tea, ginger water, green tea and other warm beverages.
The key is to stay hydrated. Even if you don’t have access to these, drinking plain water can help. It is best to avoid carbonated drinks or cola as they contain excess sugar.
Fruits with high water content, such as watermelon, can help you stay hydrated. You can also add berries, a rich source of antioxidants, and papaya, containing an enzyme called papain that regulates menstrual flow.
While it is important to understand how food and heavy periods are intricately linked, there is no easy way to pick out foods that cause heavy periods.
If you are worried about how to stop heavy periods, reach out to a qualified doctor for a proper diagnosis and identify the root cause. Don’t wait until it is too late. Seek help as soon as you notice signs that you are losing too much blood during periods.
Make sure to share your dietary choices. Especially what you eat during the time leading up to your periods, to help the medical professional assess your condition. Your doctor may also refer you to a nutritionist or dietician to draw up a personalized food plan for regulating your menstrual cycles. Access to necessary information can help you make an informed decision about your dietary choices.
Every woman’s body experiences menstruation differently. Instead of relying on how to stop heavy bleeding during periods using home remedies, take a professional’s advice to prevent causing any irreversible damage to your overall health.
Don’t suffer in silence — speak to an OB/GYN right away about how to stop heavy periods.