Holistic Treatments for Abnormal Periods in Bristol, VA
If the pain, anxiety, and unpredictability of your monthly cycle is affecting your health and quality of life, you may have a hormone imbalance – an over or underproduction of thyroid, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, or other crucial hormones. You may also be experiencing side effects of birth control pills or other pharmaceuticals.
As clinical research reveals the effectiveness of holistic healing, more medical providers are expanding their practices beyond the surgical and pharmaceutical treatment options that simply shut down symptoms.
Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT), acupuncture, and botanical medicine target the dysfunctions and imbalances behind those symptoms. You can reduce or eliminate your abnormal periods holistically – without pharmaceutical of surgical intervention.
By choosing a holistic healing route, you’ll be getting effective treatment from practitioners who are prepared to understand and treat the whole you—not just your list of symptoms. To start feeling better now, reserve your appointment with our holistic healing specialists in Bristol today by calling us at (423) 301-6964 or contact Tri-Cities Functional Medicine online.
What are symptoms of abnormal periods?
Typically, losing more than about five tablespoons of blood is considered an abnormally heavy flow. If you use several tampons or pads per hour, if your period awakens you from sleep, or if you’re unable to perform your regular, daily activities, you likely have an abnormal period. On the other hand, having infrequent or absent periods is also a sign of abnormal menstruation.
Other symptoms can include:
- physical weakness
- cramping without bleeding
- shortness of breath
- mood changes
A period longer than 10 days (or even seven) is considered abnormal too. Contrary to myth, though, brown menstruation is normal.
There are many lifestyle factors that can negatively impact hormone levels, including poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, exposure to toxins, stress, smoking, and alcohol. These issues should be addressed first, as they may be causing your symptoms. Resolving them will also enhance the efficacy of any holistic cure.
What are the root causes behind symptoms?
While there are a number of causes for irregular periods, adrenal or thyroid gland dysfunction are most often the culprits.
Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your throat. This gland is vital for normal hormone production. It directly and indirectly interacts with a protein called globulin, a natural chemical that binds your sex hormones for normal function.
Hypothyroidism —a thyroid operating at below-normal function—can produce:
- abnormally heavy and frequent periods
- infrequent cycles (oligomenorrhea)
- absent cycles (amenorrhea)
If your thyroid is underactive, it may release too much prolactin, which interferes with the production of estrogen from the ovaries, causing infrequent or absent periods, as well as infertility, an abnormal milky discharge from the breasts (galactorrhea), and menopause symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It may also rob your ovaries of the cellular energy they need for ovulation.
What is considered underactive? A 2002 statement by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends that doctors diagnose an underactive thyroid when your TSH is only 3 mIU/L. And yet, many primary healthcare providers won’t diagnose underactive thyroid until that (TSH) level hits 4.5 or 5 milli-international units per liter (IU/L). In fact, studies have found that keeping thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels below 2.5 helps normalize periods and boost fertility.1
Hyperthyroidism means that your thyroid is overproducing, and can cause:
- an increase in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which can prevent ovulation
- absent or infrequent periods
- decreased fertility
Your adrenal glands are your main source of DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol – the “stress hormone” which helps your body respond to stress by regulating blood pressure, metabolism, and your immune system’s inflammatory response.
DHEA is also called the mother hormone because it serves as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, testosterone, and estrogen. It also helps to keep cortisol in balance.
After long-term stress and sleep deprivation, your body produces increasingly greater amounts of cortisol and less DHEA, disrupting your natural hormone balance. When your hormones are out of whack, you may experience adrenal fatigue, which includes exhaustion, moodiness, depression, weight gain, brain fog, and irregular periods.
Addressing menstrual dysfunctions with holistic medicine
As with any medical procedure, results of holistic treatments will vary from patient to patient depending on age, genetics, general health, condition severity, follow-up care, and environmental factors. The following treatments may present contraindications with one another, and/or with other medical conditions. Always consult your healthcare professional before deciding which treatment to try first.
Our hormones have a solid steroid base (cholesterol) with protruding “arm,” “leg,” and “tail” attachments which turn our hormones into specialized molecules, allowing them to plug into receptor molecules throughout our bodies. They have the power to turn on and off much of the cellular behavior that makes us tick.
Bioidentical means molecularly identical to your body’s natural hormones. Unlike synthetic hormones – synthesized from conjugated mare urine – bioidentical hormones are sourced from natural plants like yams, flax, and soybeans, which match human hormones molecule by molecule. They do not need anything from our body to function.
Why is this important? Molecules that match your body’s help alleviate risks and side effects of synthetic molecules, which can cause PMS, headaches, bloating, and even constriction of coronary arteries.
Bioidentical hormones are:
- customized to the unique needs of each woman
- tolerated better by many women
- delivered in lower doses, special combinations, and various forms
- prescribed by a healthcare provider and made by a compounding pharmacy
In most cases, natural hormone replacement therapy supplementation can restore adrenal gland function. Supplementing with low-dose, bioidentical progesterone—topical or oral micronized—can treat your chronic stress, and potentially restore your periods to normal.
If you are diagnosed with chronic adrenal insufficiency—meaning you have low cortisol levels throughout the day—you may be given hydrocortisone (bioidentical cortisol); it must be closely monitored though, as it may disrupt your normal cortisol production.
BHRT research reviews show that bioidentical estrogen and progesterone may carry fewer risks for cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and blood clots compared to the conventional versions of these hormones.2
However, just because an estrogen or testosterone is bioidentical does not make long-term use completely safe for all women. All estrogens that bind to our alpha estrogen and testosterone receptors can act as growth promoters in estrogen-sensitive breast and uterine tissue.
Long-term unmonitored use of any hormones may cause rare side effects like acne, gas and bloating, weight gain, fatigue, mood swings, increased facial hair, stroke, gallbladder or heart disease, blood clots, or cancer.
If your healthcare provider determines that you are a candidate, always use the lowest dose that produces results for the shortest length of time possible. That said, there are many women who have comfortably stayed on low doses of these hormones for a few years with great results.
How is BHRT delivered?
Once an imbalance has been detected, your provider must craft a custom balancing prescription which will be sent to a compounding pharmacy. Your custom dose of each hormone will be formulated into one of these prescribed forms:
- tablets and pills: must be absorbed by the stomach and pass through the liver; dosage can’t be as precisely optimized
- gel: absorbed through your skin; lowers risk of blood clots; requires progesterone as well to lower your cancer risk
- skin patches: combine estrogen and progesterone; prevent some pill side effects
- pellets: painlessly inserted just under your skin where they release hormones slowly over time; this “plug and play” option doesn’t require remembering to take your medication or applying patches
Your treatment can be cyclical or continuous. Cyclical BHRT can be used monthly or for a three-month span. In the monthly plan, you take estrogen every day, then progesterone alongside it for the last 14 days. In the three-month treatment, you take estrogen each day alongside progesterone for about 14 days every three months. For irregular periods, a 3-month treatment is typically recommended. It should stimulate your period once every three months and reduce your irregularity and symptoms.
Taking combined BHRT is most often recommended because taking estrogen by itself can increase your risk of getting endometrial (womb) cancer. However, if you’ve had a hysterectomy, you may be a candidate for estrogen-only BHRT.
BHRT treatment may not be safe for patients with the following conditions:
- blood clots
- history of stroke
- cancer, especially breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer
- gallbladder disease
- heart disease
Botanical medicine and supplements
Taking prescribed herbs in prescribed amounts is imperative. Taking too many, or overdosing can actually cause more damage. As with all medications, everybody tolerates and processes herbs differently. Harvesting, manufacturing, and packaging can also affect strength and purity. Herbs may present contraindications with one another, and/or with other medical conditions and/or medications. Always consult your healthcare professional before deciding which treatment to try first.
The first step toward a healthy menstrual cycle is a nutritious diet. Eating more fish oils and linolenic (vegetable) oil sources and fewer animal fats are essential. Fish oil contains large amounts of the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which have been shown to soothe anxiety and boost mood.
Since anemia can sometimes cause heavy periods, eating iron-rich foods like liver, kidneys, apricots, eggs raisins, beans, cooked spinach, and molasses can reduce or relieve your symptoms. Eating yogurt and citrus juices can also aid in your iron absorption.
Flaxseed may act like estrogen in your body to help regulate menstrual cycles. Regularly eating flaxseeds may help make ovulation more regular. A study published in 1993 in "The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism" found that women who regularly ate flaxseed powder ovulated during every menstrual cycle.3
Botanical medicine has been helping women regulate menstrual cycles for centuries. Some time-tested plants that may help rebalance your hormones include:
- legumes: alfalfa, hops, white clover, subterranean clover, red clover, and soybeans all contain great amounts phytoestrogens that bind to our estrogen receptors because they have a similar structure to our own estradiol
- ashwaganda: this adaptogen raises your DHEA levels and can be taken in tincture or capsule form; may lower blood sugar levels, decrease blood pressure, irritate stomach ulcers, or intensify autoimmune disease symptoms
- rhodiola: adaptogens that raise your DHEA levels and increases resistance to chemical, biological, and physical stressors; can be taken in tincture or capsule form; may cause insomnia, irritability, or chest pain; may increase blood pressure; may interact with anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications
- schisandra: this adaptogen raises your DHEA and helps conserve fluids like excessive vaginal discharge, diarrhea, and frequent urination; can be taken in tincture or capsule form; may aggravate acid reflux
- holy basil: this adaptogen raises your DHEA and drastically reduces menstrual cramps; can be taken in tincture or capsule form; may cause low blood sugar, promote bleeding, or decrease fertility
- ginseng: this adaptogen raises your DHEA and regulates sugar levels; can be taken in tincture or capsule form; may cause diarrhea, headache, rapid heartbeat, or blood pressure fluctuations
- vitamin C with bioflavonoids: vital for hormone production and immune system and adrenal health; found in citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rosehips, and most other fruits and vegetables; may cause skin redness or flushing, headache, nausea, or faintness if taken in high doses
- chasteberry: contains flavonoids that help balance prolactin, progesterone, and estrogen, stabilizing your HPO axis; may cause dizziness, acne, fatigue, headache, or stomach upset
- asafetida: encourages your body to produce more progesterone, evening your hormonal levels and inducing your period; may increase your risk of bleeding; may worsen symptoms of epilepsy or other nervous system disorders or irritate the GI tract
- agnus castus: triggers your pituitary gland to release hormones vital to ovarian function; usually taken in berry form, but may also be found in supplement form; may negatively affect dopamine levels
- blue cohosh: dilates blood vessels in your uterus while improving pelvic blood circulation, inducing menstruation; available in herb or supplement form; may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, chest pain, stomach cramps, or increase blood pressure
- unripe papaya & juice: up to 150 grams per day helps contract uterine muscle fibers juice – overconsumption may lower blood sugar or diminish thyroid function
- turmeric: helps regulate your hormones while providing antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties; can be taken with milk or honey; overuse may cause nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, or abnormal heart rhythm
- aloe: naturally regulates your hormones, but should not be taken during your period; must be taken in pure form and in prescribed amounts; long-term overuse may cause diarrhea, kidney problems, bloody urine, low potassium, weight loss, and abnormal heart rhythm; may irritate hemorrhoids and GI disorders like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or bowel obstruction
- ginger: can help regulate your hormones and reduce or eliminate irregular periods; typically eaten raw or in food; may cause heartburn, diarrhea, stomach discomfort, or heavier menstrual bleeding; may increase insulin levels and lower blood sugar
This ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment stimulates nerve and lymphatic vessel-rich points on your body called meridians to access your interstitium, a fluid-filled space between your skin and muscles. Like a river, the interstitium can flood your system with excessive hormones, enzymes, or toxins – which acupuncture needling can reverse or correct.4
Your meridians contain very low electrical resistance high concentrations of:
- lymph nodes
- nerve endings and bundles
- cells that affect immune function
Through them, it’s easier to stimulate the “biochemical messengers” that can activate the pituitary gland (which produces and releases your body’s hormones) to help correct imbalances and regulate your hormones.
Acupuncture helps regulate your periods by normalizing the feedback loop between your brain and ovaries, commonly called the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis. When your hormones are balanced, you ovulate regularly.
Acupuncture also improves blood flow to your ovaries and uterus. High levels of stress and aging can decrease the flow of nutrient-dense blood to your reproductive organs. Acupuncture calms the nervous system and causes the blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to your ovaries and uterus to maintain your endometrial lining at a suitable thickness to allow for normal, regulated periods.
As your HPO axis is normalized, your ovaries will better support the maturation of an egg. This promotes natural ovulation, and get your normal periods to return (unless you get pregnant).
Ear acupuncture was standardized in France in the 1950s. Stimulating acupuncture points on the external ear surface helps practitioners diagnose and treat health conditions in other areas of the body. How?
The ear embodies a microsystem of the body, similar to the brain map discovered by Canadian neuroscientist Wilder Penfield. He found that maps of the body exist on the surface (or sensory cortex) of the brain – and the same was found on the surface of the ear. Auricular therapy has been shown to treat a wide variety of hormonal and adrenal dysfunctions.
Do acupuncture needles hurt?
Acupuncture needles are filiform (not hollow like hypodermic needles), so they don’t cut your tissue – they gently part it. Patients often report feeling “pressure” or “a heavy sensation.” You might feel a brief aching or stinging sensation as the needles go in. If you feel any pain, tell your practitioner so he or she can manipulate the angle of the needle.
When your practitioner observes modern procedures and high hygiene standards, acupuncture is very safe. However, ensuring that your practitioner is skilled, licensed, and highly experienced goes a long way toward your treatment’s safety and effectiveness. Be sure your practitioner wears sterile surgical gloves and uses FDA-approved needles.
FDA-approved acupuncture needles meet these criteria:
- single use
- solid but flexible
- superfine (0.16-0.46 mm in diameter and 13-130 mm in length)
- constructed of surgical-grade stainless steel
The needle depth varies depending on the practitioner and the type of imbalance, but they’ll never be placed deep enough to puncture organs. The needles are left in place for 5 to 30 minutes before being removed.
Like all medical treatments, acupuncture presents some risks. It’s common to experience slight pain, aching, bleeding, bruising, or soreness at needle insertion points – which should disappear within 24 hours. If they don’t, call your medical provider for further instructions.
Serious side effects are very rare. However, if you experience any of these severe side effects, get emergency medical attention right away: severe pain or bleeding at or near the insertion points, headache, dizziness, fainting, shaking or trembling, heavy sweating, chills, nausea and vomiting, or heart palpitations.
Acupuncture may cause complications for patients with:
- fear or phobia of needles
- bleeding disorders like hemophilia
- taking blood-thinning drugs like warfarin
- immune system disorders
- skin disorders or infection at or near the needle placement sites
- allergies to metals like stainless steel
- valvular heart disease
- an active infection
If pregnant or nursing, ask your practitioner whether acupuncture is right for you.
Reserve your appointment now
Heavy or light periods, cramping, fatigue, and other complications are hard to deal with and can destroy your quality of life. Apart from being painful, these symptoms and your abnormal period may mean you have a more serious condition like a hormone imbalance or insufficient thyroid function.
Ignoring your symptoms won’t make them go away. If you’ve been having questions like, “Why is my period heavy,” a hormone specialist can help restore your menstrual rhythm and reduce or relieve your symptoms using hormone therapy, acupuncture, and botanic medicine. Book your appointment with our women’s health specialists in Bristol today by calling (423) 301-6964 or contact Tri-Cities Functional Medicine online.
1. Chen, Shi, et al. “Preconception TSH and Pregnancy Outcomes: a Population-Based Cohort Study in 184 611 Women.” Clinical Endocrinology, vol. 86, no. 6, 2017, pp. 816–824., doi:10.1111/cen.13329.
2. Moskowitz, D. “A Comprehensive Review of the Safety and Efficacy of Bioidentical Hormones for the Management of Menopause and Related Health Risks.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17217322.
3. Livdans-Forret, Anna B., et al. “Menorrhagia: A Synopsis of Management Focusing on Herbal and Nutritional Supplements, and Chiropractic.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, Canadian Chiropractic Association, Dec. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077876/.
4. Benias, Petros C., et al. “Structure and Distribution of an Unrecognized Interstitium in Human Tissues.” Scientific Reports, vol. 8, no. 1, 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-23062-6.
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