Whether you call it your period, chum, girl flu, or a visit from your Aunt Flo—and those are some of the less descriptively disturbing nicknames (here are some others)—menstrual cycles are serious business for girls and women. Defined as blood and tissue shedding from the uterine lining and discharged through the vagina, menstruation is a part of life for most females with female reproductive organs. A complicated part of life.
First off, there’s your first time. Most girls start to menstruate soon after the age of 12; however, your first period can happen much earlier, or even a few years later. The first time can be a bit scary—when will I get my period, will I get my period (some don’t), what will it feel like, and how bad will those cramps hurt? But perhaps even scarier is the Carrie (no, not this Carrie!) scenario, not the scene at the prom, but the scene where you realize that no one’s prepared her for the facts of menstruation.
Here are some of the facts.
There are four phases to the menstrual cycle, with a cycle lasting on average around 28 days; however, for some, periods come more often, with cycles lasting around 21 days, while for others, up to a 35-day cycle is considered normal. It’s important to keep track of your cycle and any accompanying symptoms, so you learn what your version of normal is. Tracking your cycle will allow you to better prepare for potential mood swings, headaches, and menstrual cramps as well as make it easier to identify if there is some change in your menstrual cycle which might require a doctor visit to determine if there’s a problem.
Missed periods, irregular periods, and heavy periods are doctor-worthy situations—but not necessarily doctor-worry conditions. These circumstances, as well as a pregnancy or a suspected pregnancy, are all related to your menstrual cycle.
By tracking your menstrual cycle, whether it’s through an app or putting pen to calendar, you’ll likely notice a pattern of how long you go between your periods and when your period-related symptoms start and stop and when they’re more severe. Your period—when the actual bleeding takes place—generally lasts from three to seven days, depending on the individual. Your blood flow may also be subject to patterns. For example, some women have heavier flows in the beginning of their period, while for others the bleeding is extensive throughout. For still others, there’s a steady, more moderate flow, one where you’re not really worried about wearing white pants.
Everyone is different and while you can compare notes with your gal pals, knowing your individual menstrual cycle norms can facilitate important conversations with your doctor. And together, the two of you can look for ways, appropriate to your situation, to better regulate your period and potentially reduce problematic period-related symptoms.
Do Vitamins Impact Your Menstrual Cycle?
For some reason, a lot of people are searching the internet for questions about the effects of taking vitamins on the menstrual cycle. Here are some of the things you want to know: what vitamin slows your period; what vitamins mess with your period; and how can I delay my period for vacation over the counter?
As for that last question, we have one of our own: what’s a vacation over the counter? Just kidding. We know what you mean. Google-shortcuts make search terms quite curious sometimes. But we get it: you don’t want to go on your beach vacation only to end up in your own personal “shark week.”
Here’s a question for you: wouldn’t it just be simpler to plan your vacation around your menstrual cycle, rather than trying to disrupt or delay your period?
We’ve done our googling too, and we’re just not finding scientific research that answers your google questions in a way that allows you to take a simple vitamin C, as an example, to regulate your period. This piece quotes one doctor advising that supplements can change your cycles, but the writer explains that scenario usually relates to the misuse of supplements, meaning taking an inappropriate (e.g., high dose) amount.
This blog is a little blunter about the topic. You can read it for yourself, but we’ve pulled out two pieces for you. With regard to whether vitamin C will help irregular periods, the author emphatically states this: “there’s no evidence to suggest that taking vitamin C during your period can help you regulate an irregular cycle.” And then there’s this question: does vitamin C stop or delay your period? Not according to the same blog which advises that there’s no scientific evidence to back up these claims, “so taking vitamin C to stop your period won’t be effective, no matter how much you take.”
The Role of Vitamin D in Your Menstrual Cycle
However, there is one vitamin that may likely have specific benefits when it comes to your menstrual cycle. Vitamin D appears to have a unique role here. Multiple studies have emerged over the last decade demonstrating a relationship between vitamin D status and menstrual disorders, particularly menstrual cycle frequency and pain.
For example, the role of vitamin D deficiencies in dysmenorrhea (a term for menstrual cycle pain, such as cramps) was highlighted in a 2021 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial in a population of over 100 females with primary dysmenorrhea and vitamin D deficiency (<30 ng/mL).
The study found that participants who were vitamin D deficient and received vitamin D in a weekly dose of 50,000 IU for 8 weeks, experienced significant reductions in pain intensity, number of days with pain, number of consumed pain-relief medications and systemic symptom severity compared to baseline and the placebo group.
According to the evidence available, vitamin D supplementation in those who are deficient can reduce the severity of primary dysmenorrhea symptoms. However, these high doses should be taken only under the supervision of a doctor who can determine and prescribe high dosing if warranted.
Vitamin D has also been found to play a significant role in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is often characterized by irregular periods and infertility. Correcting low vitamin D levels in PCOS patients can improve metabolic and menstrual cycle changes and follicle maturation.
Other studies have explored—and found an association—between serum vitamin D levels and menstrual cycle irregularities. One, in particular, found that women with regular cycles had significantly higher vitamin D levels, and those with lower vitamin D levels were associated with higher odds (by 13 times) of having an irregular cycle. And several other studies came to similar conclusions. Read more about these studies from one of our previous blogs.
Fortunately, there is a relatively simple way to find out if your serum vitamin D levels are low. And that’s through testing. Your doctor can order a blood test; or you can also take a convenient at-home test (no prescription needed) and share the results with your doctor. If your test results show you are insufficient or deficient, most people can increase those levels by adding vitamin D supplements.
Do Vitamins Help Your Menstrual Cycle at All?
The quick answer is yes, and here’s why.
In general, we know that proper nutrition, which includes obtaining sufficient (or optimal) levels of vitamins from food (and supplements as needed) are just one core component of good health. It makes sense that smart lifestyle choices, including healthy diet, regular exercise, stress reduction and a proper sleep regimen go a long way toward helping you balance your hormones, prevent chronic disease and promote good health—all of which should serve as a baseline toward a regular menstrual cycle.
And although we told you earlier that you shouldn’t count on a simple vitamin C supplement to regulate your menstrual cycle, vitamin C is one of those essential vitamins that your body needs. In combination with other healthy habits, vitamins may contribute to a healthy cycle.
There are some vitamins and minerals that have been linked to fewer problems with your period and less severe premenstrual (PMS) symptoms. For example, these include magnesium, zinc, B complex vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
And don’t forget iron. If you have heavy periods (aka menorrhagia), you may lose more blood during that timeframe than your body can replace on its own. You may need to consider taking an iron supplement. Ask your doctor.
Other Supplements May Reduce Period-Related Symptoms
Some people swear that herbal supplements or teas provide relief from PMS symptoms, including menstrual cramps. This may be based on a long history of use in traditional medicine practices dating back centuries, anecdotal use in current day and some scientific studies, although the research may be inconsistent.
If you’re herbal-curious, it may be worth trying some of these products to see if they work for you. We recommend you purchase from reputable brands or trusted retailers and don’t take more than the label or your healthcare practitioner recommends. Be sure to check with a pharmacist or doctor for interactions with drugs, other supplements or foods.
If you have a healthcare professional who is knowledgeable in herbal remedies (not all are), they may be able to guide you. You might also want to see a naturopathic doctor (ND), but be aware that your insurance may not cover those visits. Regardless of who you see, make sure your doctors are aware of what supplements and medications you’re taking and at what dose.
Here are some suggestions about which herbals may help relieve symptoms associated with your menstrual cycle.
For example, this blog suggests five herbs (among other suggestions including vitamins, omega-3s, drug therapies and lifestyle changes) to consider for PMS symptom relief. Chaste tree standardized extract, black cohosh and St. John’s wort are on the list, which also includes helpful information such as dose or serving size and who might be contraindicated for these particular herbs.
This blog suggests that black cohosh is effective for menstrual pain.
Ashwagandha may help reduce period symptoms like menstrual cramps and fatigue and may also enhance sleep quality. In addition, ashwagandha may help decrease cortisol levels, which are notorious for increasing stress levels. Lower cortisol levels may reduce PMS symptoms caused by stress, according to this article.
Ginger is a popular herbal and some science shows it can help ease menstrual cramps by reducing inflammation and the production of pain-causing prostaglandins.
Chamomile, another herb with anti-inflammatory properties, may also be effective for menstrual cramps.
Peppermint is another herbal that relaxes muscles, and its active component, menthol, may work as an analgesic with fewer side effects.
Pycnogenol is a branded ingredient from a company that extracts maritime pine bark from trees specifically found in the southwest of France and supplies the ingredient for use in dietary supplements. Some research has demonstrated this ingredient can reduce pain from menstrual cramps. Read more in this article.
As we said earlier in this blog, menstruation can be complicated. From irregular periods to late periods, to reasons to try to control the timing and flow and symptoms of your menstrual cycle, there are other options that you should discuss with your doctor, usually your gynecologist/OBGYN.
While vitamins and other supplements can play a small, but important role, your doctor may also suggest options like birth control and prescription medications that may regulate your hormones, potentially lessen problematic periods or put them on pause—all depending on your individual situation. If you suffer from problematic menstrual cycles, know you’re not alone. Don’t suffer in silence. Find a doctor who can help.