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A woman’s period (menstruation) is a natural part of her monthly cycle. The number of days spent menstruating can vary widely from person to person. Most people bleed for two to seven days. Premenstrual symptoms (PMS) typically start 5 to 11 days before your period begins.
Occasional fluctuations in symptoms, menstrual flow, and overall duration usually aren’t cause for concern. Diet, exercise, and stress can all affect the glands that regulate your body’s hormone balance, which in turn, affect your monthly periods.
Read on to find out how you can get a fluctuating period back on track with lifestyle changes, supplements, and other therapies.
Eating too little food or not getting the right mix of nutrients may stress your hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These glands regulate your body’s hormone balance, which can affect your periods. Keep reading to learn what to avoid and what to incorporate into your diet.
Skip the low-carb diet
Not getting enough carbs can lead to irregular or even missed cycles (amenorrhea). Low-carb diets may disrupt thyroid function and lower leptin levels in the body. Leptin is produced by fat cells and helps regulate reproductive hormones.
Experts recommend getting 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day if you’re consuming a 2,000-calorie diet. This means you should get about 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calorie intake from carbohydrates.
Say no to high-fiber diets
Fiber may lower the concentrations of:
Researchers suspect this is why women who eat a high-fiber diet have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.
These hormones also play important roles in the body’s reproductive process. As a result, eating too much fiber may affect ovulation, making periods late or causing you to skip them altogether.
But not all research supports this idea. Some studies have found no effect of fiber on ovulation and menstrual periods.
Experts recommend getting 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day.
Make sure you’re getting enough fats
Common sources include:
- vegetable oils
- flax seeds
The Cleveland Clinic recommends that 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories should be from fat. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of these calories should come specifically from PUFAs.
Make sure you’re getting enough folate
Enjoy pineapples and papayas
- Papaya contains carotene, a nutrient that supports estrogen levels. This tropical fruit may also help the uterus contract.
- Pineapples contain the enzyme bromelain, which may help with blood flow and generation of red and white blood cells.
Both are healthy whole foods that are worth including in your diet regardless of their effects.
Certain supplements may promote menstrual regularity by supporting your hormone levels or addressing nutritional deficiencies.
You should always talk to a healthcare provider before taking any supplement.
Although supplements are available over the counter without a prescription from your doctor, they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means they don’t have to be proven safe and effective before being sold in stores.
Some supplements can also interact with underlying health conditions, as well as over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. In addition, some supplements may not be safe to take if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
Inositol is a B vitamin-like substance that naturally occurs in your body. It’s also in a variety of foods, including meat, citrus fruits, and beans.
Inositol is involved in how your body uses the insulin hormone. It can also affect other hormones, including FSH, and is important for ovary function, so it may also improve irregular periods.
Taking inositol supplements can also improve ovulation and pregnancy rates in women receiving medical treatment for infertility.
Cinnamon supplements may also reduce pain in women who have painful menstrual periods.
When cinnamon is used as a supplement, doses of 500 milligrams (mg) taken three times daily are commonly used.
Turmeric root contains curcumin, which has been shown to have many beneficial health effects, including reducing inflammation and improving mood. Because of these effects, taking supplements containing curcumin can decrease symptoms of PMS.
Turmeric may also have effects similar to the estrogen hormone. This means that it might also help regulate your menstrual cycle.
Typical doses of curcumin are from 100 mg to 500 mg taken twice daily.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid that reduces inflammation.
Evening primrose oil is used for many women’s health concerns, including hot flashes, breast pain, and symptoms of PMS. Some older studies show that evening primrose oil can decrease PMS symptoms, but
Doses of 3 to 6 grams daily of evening primrose oil are typically used.
Castor oil is traditionally classified as an “emmenagogue,” which means that it’s thought to stimulate menstrual flow.
Research in animals shows that castor oil may affect the menstrual cycle. It may also reduce inflammation, which could improve menstrual pain and cramping.
To use castor oil, try preparing a castor oil pack:
- Soak a flannel cloth in castor oil, then squeeze off excess oil.
- Place the castor oil-soaked flannel cloth over your abdomen.
- Cover the flannel with plastic wrap.
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle over the plastic-covered flannel. Relax and leave in place for 45 to 60 minutes. Try this once daily for three days, or longer if needed.
Remember, supplements — whether dietary or herbal — aren’t regulated by the FDA. You should always talk to a healthcare provider before use.
Some supplements can interact with underlying health conditions, as well as OTC and prescription medications.
Black cohosh is a flowering plant native to North America.
It’s sometimes used to help ease menopause symptoms — such as hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness — and to regulate menstruation.
Doses of 20 to 40 mg daily are commonly used.
Chasteberry is one of the most commonly used herbs for women’s health, especially for reducing symptoms of PMS. You might also hear other names for this herb, such as Vitex agnus-castus and chaste tree.
Chasteberry may help lower prolactin and raise progesterone levels in the body. Cycles may be more regular when these two hormones are in balance. Studies also show that it reduces PMS symptoms, including depressed mood, breast pain, and fluid retention.
If you try chasteberry, be sure to read product labels closely and follow the product dosing recommendations. The best dose depends on how the product is prepared.
Mugwort was one of the first plants cultivated by humans. Ancient texts describe it as a menstrual tonic, claiming it stimulates periods that are either late or missed. Its use continues today.
If there’s a chance you may be pregnant, consult a doctor before use.
Mugwort is often consumed as a tea or in supplement capsules, but no research in people exists, and the ideal dose isn’t clear.
Your body weight may affect your menstrual cycle, but exactly how weight affects menstruation isn’t totally clear.
A 2017 study found that you may be more likely to have irregular periods and infertility if you’re overweight. Scientists believe that being overweight can affect the HPA axis, which regulates the body’s hormones.
Weight changes may also cause irregular menstruation. During weight loss or weight gain, you may be more likely to have menstrual changes.
The best bet to maintain regular periods is to aim for a steady, healthy weight.
To reduce symptoms, aim to get about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, such as walking, running, cycling, or swimming.
Keep in mind that
Menstrual problems, especially PMS, can lead to trouble sleeping for many women, which can further worsen symptoms.
You can help combat sleep problems by practicing good sleep habits. Take these steps to help improve sleep:
- Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day.
- Don’t take naps.
- Don’t read or watch TV in bed.
- Avoid consuming caffeine after noon.
- Exercise regularly, but try to do it before 2 p.m.
Scientists have discovered that the adrenal glands secrete both cortisol and progesterone in response to stress. While the release of progesterone may temporarily reduce tension or anxiety, it may also throw off your usual menstrual cycle.
Reducing chronic stress through meditation, deep breathing, and other methods may help you feel better and get your cycle back on track.
Acupuncture involves placing very thin needles at different energy points across the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture can balance the flow of energy in the body. This may help regulate periods and improve symptoms of PMS or painful menstruation.
Some research shows that acupuncture can decrease levels of FSH and restart menstruation in women who had stopped having periods. Some studies also show that acupuncture can decrease painful menstruation, but results have been mixed.
Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to help with irregular periods.
There are different types of products, but they all work to keep hormone levels more steady. They may also regulate cycles and provide relief from symptoms, like severe cramping or acne. Some products may eliminate your period altogether.
A doctor can help you to select a hormonal contraceptive that may work best for you. You may experience some side effects, including nausea, weight gain, or headaches.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you smoke. It may increase your risk of blood clots.
Although an occasional irregular period is common, a consistently irregular period may make it harder to get pregnant.
The key to getting pregnant is to have sex before and during ovulation, which is your most fertile window. An irregular monthly cycle makes it difficult to determine when you are, or will be, ovulating.
In some cases, an irregular period may be caused by another condition that affects fertility, such as PCOS or a loss of ovary function.
If your periods are irregular and you’re looking to conceive, consider setting up a preconception appointment with a doctor.
While occasional changes to your menstrual cycle may be due to stress or other lifestyle factors, consistent irregularity could be a sign of an underlying health condition. See a doctor or other healthcare provider if:
- you haven’t had a period for three months
- you have a period more than once every 21 days
- you have a period less than once every 35 days
- your periods last for more than a week at a time
- you soak through one or more menstrual products an hour
- you pass blood clots the size of or larger than a quarter
Your doctor will work with you to determine the underlying cause and develop a plan that suits your needs. This may take a bit of trial and error, so be open with your doctor and give it time.