3 herbs for heavy periods

How the herbs Yarrow, Cinnamon, and Agnus castus can help ease heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)

Naturopath, Herbalist and Yoga teacher (BA, Dip Nat, Dip Herb)
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12 September 2023

Herbs like Yarrow, Cinnamon and Agnus castus can all help ease heavy periods. Yarrow and Cinnamon contain astringent and anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce heavy flows and ease the associated discomfort. Agnus castus, known as "the women's herb," acts more slowly but profoundly at the hormonal level, addressing root imbalances underlying heavy periods.

Menorrhagia is the medical term used to describe a condition characterised by abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding, often leading to prolonged periods and a higher volume of blood loss than what is considered normal. While the definition of ‘normal’ menstrual flow can vary among individuals, menorrhagia is typically diagnosed when a woman experiences bleeding that lasts for more than seven days, or when the loss of blood is severe enough to interfere with her daily life. That being said, even periods that last less than 7 days can be considered too heavy,so let’s have a look at some ways you can determine what sort of flow you have.

How heavy is too heavy?

The average blood loss per period is 2-3 tbsp (35-40ml). 6 tbsp (80ml) or more is considered heavy. To help decide if periods are heavy, ask these questions:  

  • Do you have to wear tampons and towels together?
  • Do you have to change protection more than once every 2 hours?
  • Does blood ever soak through your clothes?
  • Do you have to stay off work or cancel social engagements? 

Please note: It is important to see your doctor if you are bleeding excessively. Excessive blood loss is never okay! It can lead to anaemia and is definitely worth getting checked out. If we were bleeding that much from any other part of the body, it would be a cause for concern. 

There are several factors that can contribute to heavy periods, including hormonal imbalances such as oestrogen dominance or excess, progesterone deficiency, uterine abnormalities like fibroids or polyps, blood clotting disorders, certain medications, pelvic inflammatory disease, and, in some cases, underlying health conditions like thyroid dysfunction. It is also a common symptom in perimenopause and is often referred to colloquially as ‘flooding.’ Lifestyle factors such as excessive stress, obesity, and extreme weight loss can also influence the severity of menorrhagia. Understanding the multifaceted nature of this condition is crucial for effective diagnosis and management, as the causes can vary widely among individuals and, unfortunately, it is not well diagnosed or treated by western or pharmaceutical medicine.

Typically, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are prescribed by doctors, and hormonal therapies, such as birth control pills or intrauterine devices (IUDs) containing hormones, may also be prescribed. And while these can reduce heavy bleeding in some cases, they do also come with side effects, and it is worth remembering that these are birth control medications, rather than heavy period medications. Any use of hormonal contraceptives in treating period problems is technically an off-label use of the medications, as it is not what the medications or devices were designed to do. In cases where medication is not effective or when there are structural issues like fibroids or polyps, surgical procedures like dilation and curettage (D&C), endometrial ablation, or myomectomy (removal of fibroids) may be recommended. In severe cases, a hysterectomy, which involves the removal of the uterus, may be considered as a last resort.

But the good news is that there are some gentle, yet powerful, herbal remedies that are easily accessible and can help ease heavy periods, without the side effects of hormonal medications or invasive surgeries. I would suggest trying these herbs for a few months, as well as dietary and lifestyle changes, before going down the medical route for heavy periods. Unless you are bleeding so excessively, or with large clots, that you need to change a pad every hour or two, or regularly bleeding through to your clothes, then it is worth visiting A&E. If you need more help with natural remedies, you can also seek the support of a naturopath or herbalist for a more personalised herbal prescription and holistic protocol. If you want to learn more about simple diet and lifestyle changes you can easily employ yourself that can help heavy periods, then check out my blog: “What can help heavy periods?” 

Herbal Remedies for Menorrhagia

1. Yarrow

Yarrow is a brilliant herb for heavy periods. It is a rather versatile herb, with feathery leaves and delicate white or pink flowers, and is used as a digestive herb, as a remedy for colds and fevers, and for period pain, amongst many other uses. Named after Achilles, this herb has been renowned since Ancient Greece as a remedy to stop bleeding. The fresh leaf can be chewed up and made into a poultice and placed directly on a wound to stop bleeding; handy one to have in your garden for grazed knees or the odd stab from a rose’s thorn!

It is said that Achilles used this herb to heal his warriors’ wounds, staunching their bleeding enough to send them back to battle! This so-called styptic quality, the haemostatic ability to reduce bleeding, extends to menstruation as well. It will help to reduce a heavy flow, but won’t stop the period all together. It has a more balancing effect. In fact, it also has an emmenagogue action, meaning it can help to bring on a delayed period too, depending on what your body needs!

Yarrow's astringent properties make it particularly effective in reducing heavy menstrual bleeding, so it can be very helpful in perimenopause as well, when the excessive bleeding, or flooding, can be debilitating. Again, if the bleeding is so heavy, that it makes daily life difficult it is worth talking to your doctor or even going to A&E if need be! It contains compounds that help constrict blood vessels, promoting clotting and reducing excessive bleeding. By tightening the blood vessels in the pelvic region, Yarrow helps regulate blood flow, alleviating both the discomfort and the inconvenience caused by heavy periods.

Additionally, Yarrow's anti-inflammatory properties can help alleviate the pain and discomfort often associated with heavy periods. It can be drunk as a tea, although it is fairly bitter so you may prefer to take this one as a tincture or in tablet form. As a tea, I would suggest mixing it with some more pleasant-tasting herbs. It is traditionally paired with mint and elderflower for its fever-reducing effect for this reason. It is often mixed with raspberry leaf for period pain and can be mixed with cinnamon for heavy periods.

2. Cinnamon

Cinnamon, with its familiar, warm, aromatic flavour, is not just a popular kitchen spice; it is also used extensively in herbal medicine. Like Yarrow, it is also great for digestion and for easing colds and fevers; but cinnamon is also becoming more widely acknowledged for its ability to balance blood sugars. One of its lesser-known herbal uses is for heavy periods, where this versatile spice is thought to help in several ways.

First, cinnamon has natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe the uterine muscles, potentially reducing the intensity and duration of menstrual bleeding. This anti-inflammatory effect can provide comfort to those experiencing the discomfort often associated with heavy periods.

Like Yarrow, Cinnamon is very astringent and helps to curb heavy bleeding due to this drying and tonifying action. It is also rich in magnesium, which is so important for our periods too! You can learn more about how magnesium helps with hormone imbalance in this Q & A: Does Magnesium help with hormone imbalance

Cinnamon may also help regulate our menstrual cycle by balancing hormones. It seems to impact insulin sensitivity, which can, in turn, affect hormone levels. Hormonal imbalances can contribute to heavy periods, and by helping to stabilise these fluctuations, cinnamon may aid in managing menorrhagia.

All in all, it is a rather delicious solution to heavy periods. Just please be aware that cinnamon needs to be taken in higher doses than the pinch you might be used to putting on your porridge! You can take a teaspoon of cinnamon mixed in some water or dairy-free milk, 3 times a day while you are bleeding heavily. You can also make medicinal cinnamon tea by boiling 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks in 1 pint of water for 15 minutes (with the lid on to keep the healing phytochemicals in place).

3. Agnus castus

Agnus castus is a herb I talk about a lot when it comes to periods. It is often referred to as ‘the women’s herb’ and is used to treat PMS and period pain. It can help to balance high oestrogen levels, which are associated with many of the symptoms of PMS, as well as period pain and heavy periods. Agnus castus can be taken alongside Yarrow and/or Cinnamon, as it is so good at getting to the root cause of heavy periods. It doesn’t have the same astringent properties as the other herbs we’ve discussed; instead, it works more slowly at the hormonal level to rebalance the underlying imbalances.

Given that it is slow-acting, this is a remedy that needs to be taken every day for 1 – 3 cycles to notice the difference; while Yarrow and Cinnamon can just be taken before and during your period, and can have quick and noticeable effects.

Agnus castus, also known as Vitex or Chasteberry, primarily works by influencing the pituitary gland, which plays a pivotal role in regulating the body's hormone production. Agnus castus contains compounds that can help modulate the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), both of which are crucial for proper hormonal balance. By doing so, Agnus castus can indirectly promote a healthier ratio of oestrogen to progesterone, which is often skewed in cases of heavy menstrual bleeding.

One of the key benefits of Agnus castus lies in its potential to restore a balanced menstrual cycle. In instances where hormonal fluctuations or deficiencies are contributing to menorrhagia, Agnus castus can help establish regularity. This includes not only reducing the volume of menstrual flow but also alleviating other associated symptoms such as mood swings and breast tenderness. By regulating the menstrual cycle and addressing hormonal imbalances, Agnus castus offers a holistic approach to managing heavy periods, with its impact extending beyond just symptom relief to the overall hormonal health of the individual, which can also be very helpful in the long run, in leading to a more harmonious perimenopause and menopause.

Please note that any hormonal medications, including hormonal contraceptives like the pill, injection, implant and Mirena coil, are all contraindicated with Agnus castus. This herb causes hormonal shifts, even if you are taking synthetic hormones. So, it could cause your medication to be ineffective. Therefore, it is not recommended for those taking hormonal medications.

Heavy periods – a sign of underlying imbalance

Finally, it is important to remember that heavy menstrual bleeding isn't just an inconvenience; it's often a sign of underlying imbalances. And herbal medicine is great at addressing both symptoms and the underlying issues. Yarrow, with its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, can help reduce heavy flows and ease the associated discomfort. Cinnamon, with its natural anti-inflammatory effects and hormonal balancing abilities, offers another layer of support for those dealing with menorrhagia. And last but not least, Agnus castus, known as ‘the women's herb,’ acts more slowly but profoundly at the hormonal level, addressing root imbalances and promoting menstrual regularity. It's essential to remember that herbal remedies can have varying effects on each person, and if these home remedies are not helping to ease your heavy bleeding, then it is important to see your doctor and potentially work with a medical herbalist as well to receive more personalised support. As I said earlier, if you were bleeding this much from any other area of your body it would be cause for concern. I hope these herbs help you in your journey to rebalancing your hormones and reducing that heavy bleeding to make your monthly flow more manageable going forward.

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Here's what I recommend

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Did you know?

Did you know the average age of starting your periods has changed? A 100 years ago, 16 was the average age for a girl to get her first period in the UK but now this has dropped to just 12! Incredible!

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