If you’re someone who gets a regular period (one that occurs every 24 to 38 days), you probably don’t welcome the cramping, bloating, fatigue, and mood changes that sometimes accompany menstruation. However, symptoms aside, you may have concerns if your period is unreliable. After all, it’s well established that a regular period indicates optimal health.
While it’s perfectly okay to veer outside of “normal” in many areas of life, your period is not one of them, notes Anna Bohnengel, M.S., R.D., L.D., a fertility nutritionist with Nourish Life Nutrition. “A cycle that varies from ‘normal’ can provide critical intel about what’s up down there, like if you’re ovulating and when, or if there’s a hormone imbalance at play,” she explains. “Tracking your cycle and understanding what’s healthy and normal for you can be a powerful tool for discovering if you’re suffering from medical irregularities.”
Between 14 and 25 percent of women experience irregular menstrual cycles, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development—and this irregularity can be caused by myriad factors. One of the most common is breastfeeding, as lactation causes an increase in the hormone prolactin, which prevents ovulation, according to Canada-based naturopathic doctor and certified doula Sarah Connors, N.D.
There are also several medical conditions that can lead to irregular periods, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid imbalances, and hypothalamic amenorrhea, explains Bohnengel. “The specific signs and symptoms for each of these conditions can differ from person to person, but a missing period is often a hallmark,” she says.
Lifestyle changes, including significant weight loss or gain, can also impact hormonal balance and disrupt the menstrual cycle. “Rapid weight loss can lead to amenorrhea (absence of periods), while obesity can cause hormonal imbalances, particularly excess estrogen,” says Bohnegel. “The same is true for psychological or emotional stress, which can disrupt the normal functioning of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which are responsible for regulating hormones.”
If your cycle is out-of-whack or completely MIA, your first move is to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to make sure there are no underlying health issues that need to be addressed. If everything checks out, you may be able to leverage some natural solutions to help get things back on track. Here are some of experts’ go-to supplements for supporting cycle regularity.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Anna Bohnengel, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a dietitian and fertility nutritionist with Nourish Life Nutrition. Sarah Connors, N.D., is a Canada-based naturopathic doctor and certified doula. Becca Romero, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., is a nutritionist who specializes in fertility. Rachel Corradetti-Sargeant, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor who focuses on fertility.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and is responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions throughout it, including hormone production and metabolism. Although magnesium is found in many foods, including leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans, Bohnengel still sees deficiencies in women quite frequently. “Magnesium helps regulate sex hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, for a smoother and more regular menstrual cycle, and is also known for its muscle-relaxing properties, so it could help alleviate cramps and other period-related symptoms, such as headaches and breast tenderness,” she says.
For best absorbability, she recommends taking the magnesium glycinate form, which combines magnesium with the amino acid glycine. This type may have a more calming effect on the nervous system and help stabilize mood and reduce premenstrual irritability, she explains. The recommended intake of magnesium for adult women who are not pregnant or lactating is 310 to 320 milligrams per day.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This particular type of fatty acids can come in handy for period help thanks to their role in hormonal balance and immune support, notes Bohnengel. Found largely in cold-water fish (like salmon, anchovies, and sardines) as well as in nuts and seeds (like walnuts and chia seeds), omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to myriad health benefits. Research suggests they help promote menstrual health, too!
When supplementing, a typical dosage is around 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA daily, taken with food, according to Bohnengel. She recommends looking for an omega-3 fatty acid supplement that’s third-party tested for heavy metals and other contaminants. Look out for The Vitamin Shoppe’s quality seal (which confirms a 320-step quality assurance process and third-party testing for ingredient purity and potency) on all of its own brand products.
3. Vitamin B6
Also known as pyridoxine, this water-soluble vitamin can be beneficial for regulating your cycle because it works to balance hormones and stabilize mood, notes Bohnengel. “Although vitamin B6 is found in many foods (chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken, potatoes, bananas, and nuts), supplementation can be useful for people with irregular periods or PMS,” says Bohnengel. She recommends taking five to 10 milligrams of the active form Pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) per day to replete depleted stores.
4. Chasteberry (Vitex)
This herbal supplement, which is derived from the fruit of the chaste tree, has been traditionally used to support hormonal balance and regulate menstrual cycles. “Chasteberry acts on the pituitary gland, promoting the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and inhibiting the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which helps to balance estrogen and progesterone levels,” explains Becca Romero, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., a nutritionist who specializes in fertility.
For optimal results, she recommends taking 400 to 500 milligrams of standardized chasteberry daily, preferably in the morning, as this is the time of day when your pituitary gland is most responsive.
5. Black cohosh
Black cohosh is a flowering plant grown in North America that’s been well-researched for supporting women in menopause. However, Dr. Connors notes that it’s also helpful for fertility and hormonal health. “Black cohosh may be effective because it functions as a phytoestrogen, a plant-based compound that mimics the action of the hormone estrogen,” she says. “The phytoestrogens and possibly other compounds in the plant, are thought to balance irregular cycles, especially in those experiencing fertility challenges.”
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According to Connors, the proper dose varies from person to person, so she recommends consulting with a healthcare provider if you’re interested in working with black cohosh.
6. N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC)
N-acetyl-l-cysteine is another supplement that can be helpful for improving cycle regularity. This antioxidant has been shown to improve egg quality, reduce androgens in women with excess, and more, notes fertility-focused naturopathic doctor Rachel Corradetti-Sargeant, N.D.
While there are no universal guidelines on supplementation, Corradetti-Sargeant recommends doses ranging anywhere from 1,200 to 1,800 milligrams per day based on individual needs. (The Vitamin Shoppe brand’s NAC contains 600 milligrams of n-acetyl-l-cysteine.) Consult with your primary care physician for an individualized recommendation. Also, note that despite its many benefits, NAC is not an ideal supplement for people with bleeding disorders or those on blood thinners, as it may slow blood clotting, she warns.
This supplement has gained popularity over the last few years, in part because of going viral on social media as a natural best friend for period health. But what is it? Myoinositol, the most bioavailable type of inositol (there are nine different types), is essentially vitamin-like sugar that’s found in certain foods, such as fruit, wheat bran, nuts, and navy beans, Corradetti-Sargeant explains. “It works by upregulating glucose intake by the cell via insulin signaling and also helps lower androgen levels,” she says. “It essentially works to allow an egg cell to mature properly so that it may be ovulated.”
Myoinositol supplements are available in both powder and capsule forms. While there are many different possible doses of inositol that can be used in different cases, Corradetti-Sargeant recommends 4,000 milligrams per day for promoting cycle regularity.