How can I shorten my period naturally?
June 11, 2008 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to shorten my period that does NOT involve birth control? I have a period that lasts seven to nine days, seven if I'm lucky. At least three to four of those days are quite heavy. It's a huge pain, for reasons detailed under the cut. Would weight loss work? Diet? Increased exercise? Ancient herbal secrets? Is there anything, anything at all? Has anything caused a permanent shortening of your cycle?

The heavy seven-to-nine day period has been the norm since I hit puberty, minus the time I was on birth control. Three to four of that is extremely, change-a-heavy-flow-tampon-every-hour-or-two heavy. Another three to four is moderate flow. I get one or two light days on a good month. It is a pain--it's expensive as I go through pads and tampons like mad. The heaviness is a deterrent to my sex life, since neither of us are keen on doing it under an endometrial waterfall. It provides a week of constant worrying about leakage. And due to the length combined with the need for the pad-tampon duo, I don't get as aired out as I should and develop a monthly yeast infection at least halfway through.

My total cycle length is anywhere from 30-32 days. While on birth control, it shortened to 28 days, with a four-day period of light to moderate flow. I was very pleased, just not with all of the negative effects of it. I have tried multiple forms of hormonal birth control and all have caused problems, so I'm not looking for that answer right now.

I would like any suggestions, even wacky ones, of ways to shorten my cycle naturally. Weight loss, diet, herbal remedies, whatever. Please, I'm desperate!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Many women have reported shortened and/or lighter periods after switching to reusable menstrual products (like Divacup, Keeper, or fabric pads).

If nothing else, you'll save a fortune.
posted by padraigin at 3:16 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

No suggestions for the shortening of the period, but have you heard/tried the old trick to take an aleve starting a day starting a few days before you're due to start? my doc recommended this to me for cramps but it seems to help with lightening my flow a bit, too. Also seconding the divacup as a cheaper alternative to all those pads and tampons.
posted by alpha_betty at 3:24 PM on June 11, 2008

The lightening of the flow is, as far as I know, only possible using some sort of pharmaceutical - whether the Aleve (which definitely does work) or the Pill or some other similar method.

The Diva cup is magical. It takes a bit to get used to but once you've got the hang of it you'll never go near another tampon again.

I've gone from "change the heavy-flow tampon every three hours" to "change the Diva cup twice a day" which is a HUGE deal - not to mention the rest of the bits like cost-savings, less irritation (no strings) and since getting myself used to the cup, I've never needed to buy pads because there are no leaks.

Like a lot of other people, I've had greatly lessened cramping and pain, too.
posted by VioletU at 3:37 PM on June 11, 2008

You mention that you're not interested in hormonal birth control, so I apologize if this is something you've already considered, but have you looked into Mirena? It's the hormonal IUD, but works differently than most hormonal methods, and uses such a tiny dose of hormones that it rarely causes side effects. And in many women, it stops menstruation entirely.
posted by dizziest at 3:39 PM on June 11, 2008

Losing some body fat would help is probably not a good way to go unless you really do have some excess to lose.
posted by Airhen at 3:47 PM on June 11, 2008

I'm seconding both the DivaCup and Mirena suggestions. I'm a complete devotee of the former (you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands) and haven't done the latter, though I'm very tempted, but I've heard very good things about Mirena. I was skeptical about it because BCPs messed with my moods near the end of when I was taking them, but my practitioner said that she used it herself, and not only did it lighten her periods to almost nothing, it completely took away the uterine polyps she had. So after specifically asking about the possibility of the hormones messing with my head, and/or having it be contraindicated for women with mood disorders, she said there shouldn't be any problem.

Whether or not you have a mood disorder, it sounds like that might be an option for you.
posted by Madamina at 3:47 PM on June 11, 2008

This is based on anything but my own experience, but I take an aspirin the first two days of my period, it seems to make those days a little heavier but shortens it by a day or so. Also, if I have sex 2-3 days before my period, it's always heavier.
posted by pokeedog at 3:50 PM on June 11, 2008

Mooncup = stupid name + £20 total spent on sanitary products in the last 14 months + mildly icky at times + significantly less icky than scrubbing blood out of the inseam of your jeans, off your sheets, etc. And my periods do seem to have got a bit shorter, but that could be unrelated. Because the cup's smooth silicone it may be less likely to cause yeast problems than fuzzy tampons or dry-dry-dry towels, I don't know about that.

I've also heard of a brand of disposable cups called Insteads, I think maybe they're only available in the USA? You can apparently have sex while using them; you certainly wouldn't want to while using a Mooncup or Divacup.
posted by Lebannen at 3:50 PM on June 11, 2008

I use the Mooncup, which I guess is the UK equivalent of the DivaCup, and it's as great as everyone else has said above.

I'm not sure if this will help with flow, but cutting out caffeine for a week before you're due reduces PMT, bloating and cramps and helps regulate your cycle. Caffeine really messes with your hormones, so it may affect your flow - could be worth a try.

Good luck!
posted by Happycat79 at 3:54 PM on June 11, 2008

I only used this for its (purported) beneficial effects on the uterus in late pregnancy and during/after childbirth*, but red raspberry leaf tea is supposed to lessen overly-long menstrual bleeding by "toning" the uterus. It's been used medicinally for hundreds of years with no ill effects noted, so I guess it couldn't hurt you to try it. I drank two cups a day; it didn't taste bad.

* And it seemed to work, too: I had very little lochia and my uterus had totally shrunk back into shape by the time of my first doctor's visit. Can't officially say if the tea did it or not, of course, but again, it didn't seem to hurt. A number of moms on a message board I read who drank the stuff throughout their second and later pregnancies did report extremely fast labor times, though -- which I guess could be either good or bad depending on how close you live to a hospital!
posted by Asparagirl at 4:00 PM on June 11, 2008

My period basically vanished - and so did the periods of the women I was with - when we were biking 60-80 miles per day. But we were in high school, and it was summer, and we had no other responsibilities, so I can't really recommend it as an ideal way to cut things short in that department.
posted by rtha at 4:06 PM on June 11, 2008

I started using the DivaCup about 6 months ago, and while I'm not sure that it has shortened my period or lightened my flow, it certainly makes the whole ordeal far less annoying, so it feels shorter.

You may want to take a look a the book Prescription for Natural Healing. It has all sorts of recommendations for herbs & nutrients that (allegedly) help with this kind of thing. I don't have the book on hand right now, but I've found it to be useful (I have PCOS, and some of my symptoms overlap with the hellish period that you're describing.)
posted by arianell at 4:07 PM on June 11, 2008

Hypothyroidism can cause heavy menstrual bleeding. If you have other symtoms, like fatigue, cold hands & feet, weight gain, etc, you might want to have a doctor check it out.
posted by stavrogin at 4:08 PM on June 11, 2008

FYI, the IUD (Mirena or Paragard) can actually make your periods longer/heavier, due to the copper and/or plastic causing irritation or allergic reaction to the tissue lining.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:15 PM on June 11, 2008

I also have the insanely heavy* days, but fortunately only a couple before the 4-5 slow steady ones. I tried the DivaCup, and it. just. did. not. work. with very heavy flow. It somehow seemed to make it worse. However, I noticed that the subsequent light days were lighter than usual, and that period was shorter by a maybe a day.

*Thanks to DivaCup, I now know that my heaviest flow can approach or equal an ounce in 2 hours.
posted by dilettante at 4:21 PM on June 11, 2008

Well, I'll come here and also spout the wonders of the Mirena. After having it put in, I didn't have a period for 8 glorious, glorious months. (I've since been on a low carb/sugar diet that coincided with my period coming back... not as happy about that.) Hence, it's not a sure thing, that's for sure. However, my gyno did tell me that a good chunk of the women she puts it in for were not getting it for birth control purposes, but to decrease the heaviness of their flow. (Personally, i can't comment on that aspect, b/c i went straight from the pill to the mirena, and it's been so long since i've had a "normal" period I don't remember what it was like.)
posted by cgg at 4:24 PM on June 11, 2008

I can't use the Diva cup on the bad days. I, too, can overfloweth the cup in a couple of hours, and I generally work onsite with customers, so bathroom quality varies and it's just not worth it. It does seem to trim about a day off the whole thing, but at the cost of some really bad minutes in my day.

Getting bloodwork done to check for thyroid or other endocrinological imbalances is never a bad idea.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:32 PM on June 11, 2008

Have you tried acupuncture? It might help. It could take several visits, but it's worth a shot. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) might have some herbal solutions, and many acupuncturists can either help with those or direct you to someone who could.
posted by min at 4:39 PM on June 11, 2008

Although I haven't had to deal with heavy periods, I have used the Keeper for about 3 years and adore it (the Diva Cup looks basically the same). It definitely holds more than a tampon, so you shouldn't have to empty it as frequently as you'd change a tampon, and it might be less likely to irritate you. There are two sizes, for before and after childbirth, and I don't know if they have different capacities, but maybe something to look into.

Possible complications: You can use a pad for backup, but not a tampon. It's easier to change in a bathroom where you are locked in with the toilet and sink behind one door, rather than the multiple-stall, communal-sink layout. Not impossible with the latter, but you'd probably want to practice at home a few times to avoid getting blood on your clothes and keep some wet wipes or antibacterial gel in your purse to clean your hands.

If you do try hormonal birth control again and haven't looked into it, maybe consider Nuvaring? I haven't had any side effects in 5 years, and I was having some issues with pills before that. The dosage is lower, and it's possible (off-label) to delay an inconvenient period by a week simply by leaving it in. (Of course you'd want to make sure this doesn't result in spotting for you, and perhaps not the best idea when it's the primary form of contraception.)
posted by ecsh at 4:43 PM on June 11, 2008

You said even wacky answers were acceptable, so here goes. I have heavy periods and major cramping. So, for 3 months I kept a food diary of what I ate in the weeks preceding my period. I noticed that eating chocolate (usually in brownie or cookie form) and other fatty foods increased the volume of my period and the pain. Also, exercise helped reduce the pain (but not usually the volume/time duration). So I started eating a little bit lighter in the week before I expect my period. It does help a little bit. I used to have my period for 6-7 days. Now it's usually 5-6 days.

Also, some seeds like sesame are said to "create heat" in your body and can make your period come earlier and heavier. I find this to be true (as well as with some legumes like peanuts and favas). So I avoid eating too much of them (I used to eat 2 sesame candies a day -- it was bad). I know this is not scientifically substantiated, but maybe if you kept a similar diary you could figure out how your diet affects your period.

I don't use those cups that people are mentioning, but my friend uses the Keeper, and she says it has cut down on her period-related infections (yeast and bacterial vaginosis).
posted by bluefly at 4:48 PM on June 11, 2008

Do you eat a lot of meat and or dairy?

I have been a vegetarian for most of the past twelve years. Previous to becoming one, I had seven to eight day periods, with heavy bleeding for four to five days. My periods shortened to five days, with only two days of heavy bleeding after six months of not eating meat.

I did "relapse" and eat meat for about a year, and I definitely noticed an increase in the length and heaviness of flow. I also experienced more cramping and PMS symptoms - especially mood swings and tenderness. After going back vegetarian my periods shortened again, down to four days. I have tried to be a more careful consumer of dairy - most of the dairy I eat is organic.

I'm no drum-beating PETA member, but I truly think that the hormones in meat and the excess protein in my diet directly contributed to longer more painful periods. If you do decide to try going veg, though, don't just cut out the meat and dairy - look at replacement foods like soy, nuts and legumes and do some research. Good luck.
posted by meringue at 4:53 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

IANAD, but I just finished my ob/gyn rotation in med school. I saw a lot of women going on Mirena for heavy periods. I realize you said you didn't want hormonal birth control, but this is a bit different. Mirena releases a progestin locally that mainly acts on the endometrial lining, with little hormone circulating systemically. Also, it contains no estrogen. Progesterone will initially increase the thickness of the endometrial lining, then it will thin it.

Whenever people were started on Mirena, they would always be advised that they may have heavier or irregular bleeding for a few months, which would later decrease. A lot of info is given out when people are started on this (or any medication, procedure, etc.), and it seemed to me that many women missed this fact and just heard "lighter periods". But IIRC, about 50% of women will actually stop having periods, althought this can take a few months to happen.
posted by flying kumquat at 4:56 PM on June 11, 2008

did you have yourself tested for uterine fibroids? the heavy periods could be indicative of this.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:01 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I recently lost some weight and my periods got noticeably shorter, like 5 days instead of 8. I didn't lose a lot of weight, I'm pretty slim (and I work out so I didn't actually lose any weihgt overall, just turned fat into muscle). Probably 5lbs to 10lbs?
posted by fshgrl at 5:35 PM on June 11, 2008

Agreed with seawallrunner... when I was younger I had fibroids like the devil. When I got on a stronger hormonal birth control, the crippling cramps, heavy flow and nausea/back pain all went away and my fibroids basically vanished. Whenever I've tried to get off the pill, I go back to extreme breast pain, cramping, irregular and heavy periods, plus some mental insanity not conducive to any relationship with the human race.

I'm on Yasmin now and I barely have a period. As in, as long as I go to the toilet every 4 hours or so, I'm fine. I haven't used a tampon in probably two years unless I was on a long flight, traveling in the car for long periods of time or doing a 3 or 4 hour hike in a nature preserve. No cramps to speak of and I can avoid eating the entire house.

I know you're saying you don't want hormonal birth control, but it made the difference for me between my period being hell to having it become a barely-noticeable afterthought.

Other changes since I was young include daily exercise (at least 1 hour per day) and a serious decline in consuming meat products, which I did for health reasons, but I've noticed that my periods are definitely lighter when I increase my cardio activity and avoid meat/dairy products.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:36 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't believe no one has mentioned evening primrose oil. I've been taking it for about six months. In my experience, it's picky; you can't miss a pill the entire month or its effects will be *significantly* lessened, but if you're regular with it, I've found it decreases my cramps to almost nothing and also shortens my period by about a day.

It's been a miracle worker for me.
posted by twiki at 6:12 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Quitting sugar and eating low-carb helps my periods a lot. I'm not sure if it reduced the duration per se, but otherwise it had almost as much of an effect as BC pills. I'm also not sure whether it's just the sugar or the whole low carb thing, but something is working. Couldn't hurt to try getting off the white stuff.
posted by bink at 7:40 PM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Get pregnant LOL. If that doesn't shorten your time, I don't know what will. And it's all natural...

iamkimian, I have an IUD (5-year plastic Mirena), and my periods have been practically non-existent after the fifth or sixth month. Slight spotting here and there, but there's nothing better than no period.
posted by mynameismandab at 7:50 PM on June 11, 2008

Ibuprofen! Taking a few pills a day starting at the first sign of your period (which for me is instant deluge) works very well at lessening my menstrual output/duration. A doctor suggested it when the copper IUD was making my periods heavier. I don't have the IUD anymore (yay tubal!) but my periods have always been similar to yours in duration and ibuprofen helps quite a bit.
posted by hyperfascinated at 10:02 PM on June 11, 2008

What, no menstrual extraction? I'm a boy, and even I know about it.

No hormones, no pills, just ... slurp.
posted by adipocere at 10:34 PM on June 11, 2008

posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:01 AM on June 12, 2008

DIY menstrual extraction isn't particularly safe or natural, and it's not permanent.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:43 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

mynameismandab: "Get pregnant LOL. If that doesn't shorten your time, I don't know what will. And it's all natural..."

Yeah, but lochia is payback with interest.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:55 AM on June 12, 2008

mynameismandab: "28Get pregnant LOL. If that doesn't shorten your time, I don't know what will. And it's all natural...

iamkimian, I have an IUD (5-year plastic Mirena), and my periods have been practically non-existent after the fifth or sixth month. Slight spotting here and there, but there's nothing better than no period.

Aw shucks, I have an IUD too and I'm certainly not getting that effect!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:19 AM on June 12, 2008

Menstrual extraction seems to be a relic of '70s separatist movements and I wish it'd make a comeback. You may be able to find a midwife who's sympathetic and will perform extractions for you. I remember googling menstrual extraction a few months ago and being able to find very little current, non-theoretical information.

Are you anemic? Anemia + menstruation is a vicious cycle: the more you bleed, the more you lose iron, which (for some reason) causes you to bleed even more heavily the next month.

I'll second acupuncture as having lessened my period--temporarily, however. While I was seeing an acupuncturist for four months, my period shortened to two very light days, then one moderately heavy day, then two days of spotting. This month (right now!), it may be back to its old habits of two heavy days, then a moderate day, then three light days..
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:44 PM on June 12, 2008

+1 for acupuncture. When I was seeing an acupuncturist regularly (for another condition, but she ended up addressing a lot of issues), my periods were 1-2 days shorter and I had less cramping. This effect wore off when I stopped visiting her, however. YMMV.
posted by Mender at 11:27 PM on June 12, 2008

2nd Asparagirl's recommendation for raspberry leaf tea. I like the flavor but many don't; for something a bit tastier, Yogi Tea makes a 'Mother-to-Be' formula. Mine has never been heavy but dragged too long, especially when I was on Yaz. I definitely notice a difference when I drink raspberry leaf tea a week before and during my period. I'd say it's down to 3-4 days max. It helps with cramps too.

A traditional Chinese remedy I have heard about is ginger root tea with brown sugar. It tastes good too!

Dong Quai is a great all-around women's herb; it's supposed to regulate uterine health, but don't take during your period as it can make your flow heavier. The recommendation I heard was to take it a week after your period up until ovulation. (After that you can switch to the Raspberry Leaf!)

Do you bruise easily? A quick Google turned up several articles linking menorrhagia to a Vitamin K deficiency. has a few more ideas; a good multi-vitamin can't hurt.

Also, not sure it shortens my period but I gotta add my love for the DivaCup.
posted by for_serious at 10:01 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking for computer/productivity tips for users -...   |   Help me build a fence. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.