Menstruation and diet

Every woman has a different reaction to her menstrual cycle. For some, menstruation comes and goes like clockwork; for others there is a monthly adjustment to hormonal swings. For those with very heavy periods, menstruation is a nightmare of logistics and planning.

Your diet can play a large part in how your body handles this physical and often emotional event.

"If you have not been eating well, maybe lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, not exercising, stressed, too much to do each day and generally feeling 'run down' it is very possible that your body's ability to produce the right balance of hormones and to utilise those hormones properly each cycle is going to be compromised," says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist specialising in women's health, and author of a host of books on women's health, including OvercomingPMS The Natural Way.

Premenstrual syndrome

If you suffer from premenstrual syndrome you will be all too aware of the symptoms.

Make sure you are having enough of the following (but don't expect instant results – supplements can take up to three months to have an effect):

  • Multivitamin and Minerals should form the foundation of your supplementation, and ensure you get some of all those necessary nutrients.
  • Vitamin B6 is a "good mood" vitamin that plays an important part in synthesising certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). Take magnesium at the same time: it will convert the B6 into active form (pyridoxal-5-phosphate). Alternatively, take vit B6 in the form of pyridoxal-5-phosphate.
  • Vitamin E. New research shows that vitamin E could be most beneficial for symptoms of PMS.
  • Magnesiumis known as "nature's tranquilliser" it has been found to be useful in alleviating PMS symptoms, particularly if taken with Vitamin B6. Magnesium could also help prevent menstrual migraines.
  • GLA. Omega 6 essential fatty acids (linoleic acid) are converted to gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which is found in plants such as evening primrose, borage and starflower. This is particularly helpful for women with premenstrual breast tenderness.
  • Herbs can be extremely effective in treating PMS symptoms. However, their active elements can clash with those of other medications (the Pill, HRT or other hormonal medication) so always check with your doctor first. Agnus Castus is increasingly recognised as the herb for PMS as it helps balance the hormones. It is available at most health stores and pharmacies. Glenville uses an organic combination of herbs called Agnus Castus Plus which are available from


If you suffer from very heavy periods, focus on supplements that protect against certain mineral deficiencies, such as iron. Start with a multivitamin/mineral supplement. "You then add in slightly higher amounts of other nutrients which are known to be helpful for heavy periods," says Glenville.

  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant which helps protect your cells against damage and to reproduce normally. One study showed that 92% of women with a vitamin A deficiency found that their heavy bleeding was either cured or alleviated after taking supplemental vitamin A.
  • B vitamins help the liver convert excess oestrogen into less dangerous forms. Vitamin B6 aids with the production of prostaglandins which help reduce abnormal blood clotting.
  • Vitamin C and bioflavonoids help to strengthen capillaries which can reduce heavy bleeding. Taken as a supplement, vitamin C has also produced excellent results for many women with heavy periods. "One study showed that taking 200mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids, three times daily, reduced bleeding in 87% of the women tested," says Glenville.
  • Zinc is very helpful for the healthy functioning of the reproductive system and for hormone balance.
  • Iron. If you are bleeding very heavily, you may run the risk of becoming anaemic. Common symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, irritability and pallor. You should be tested for this condition: both your haemoglobin and ferritin levels should be checked. If you are iron-deficient, take an iron supplement. And, as Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron, make sure you take the two together (even a glass of orange juice will do).
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) such as evening primrose oil or starflower are an important means of controlling heavy bleeding during periods. EFAs are also found in nuts, seeds, linseed and flaxseed oils and oily fish like mackerel and salmon). 

- (Robyn von Geusau, Health24, February 2011)

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