It’s been a while since I talked about my favourite topic.. the menstrual cycle. Specifically why having regular menstrual cycles is important for your overall health and the problems associated with not having a regular period. Any guys out there, maybe this isn’t the article for you. Feel free to read on though and you might learn something to help the ladies in your life!
Stress and the menstrual cycle
We usually think of our menstrual cycle as two phases: bleeding and not bleeding. In reality it is a menstrual cycle with levels of several reproductive hormones shifting throughout the month. The amount of these hormones your body produces is sensitive to stress. This includes both physical stress from under-eating and over-exercising and mental and emotional stress.
Not having regular menstrual cycles can therefore be a sign your body is under too much stress. When you lose your period altogether because of a stressful lifestyle is it called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). Or you may experience delayed ovulation, anovulatory cycles or a short luteal phase. Either way there are several health problems that come with not having regular menstrual cycles.
Why a regular menstrual cycle is important
The most obvious reason to have regular menstrual cycles is of course your fertility. The whole point of your menstrual cycle is to enable you to get pregnant and have a baby. If you don’t have your period, it’s very unlikely you are going to be able to get pregnant. The main event of your menstrual cycle is ovulation. This is the release of a mature egg from one of your ovaries. If you aren’t ovulating, pregnancy is also impossible, even if you do have a period.
But what if you have decided you don’t want children or you’ve already had children? It’s still important for you to have regular menstrual cycles too! I spent many years believing it was “fine” that I didn’t have my period. It was actually pretty convenient to be honest. I didn’t have to buy tampons, worry about getting pregnant or have my period ruin my plans. But once I found out what it means to not have a period and how unhealthy it is for your body I was shocked. I wished I’d been told sooner the importance of regular menstrual cycles.
Bone health and osteoporosis
One of the key hormones that drives your menstrual cycle is estrogen. Apart from it’s role in your menstrual cycle, did you know that estrogen also helps to build your bones? When women enter the menopause and stop producing estrogen they start to lose bone mineral density. As a result, post-menopausal women are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones.
Not having regular menstrual cycles is a sign that your hormone balance is off and estrogen levels could be low. Girls who don’t have their period due to hypothalamic amenorrhea during their teenage years are at risk of developing early onset osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. This might not mean much when you are young. But trust me, you want to make sure you are building strong bones while you can!
Don’t forget that your if your bones are losing minerals then it’s highly likely that your teeth are suffering too. This puts you at increased risk of cavities and teeth sensitivity. Who thought that periods and teeth were related?! I experienced the worst dental health of my life after following a restricted diet for many years. Post-recovery my teeth have never been whiter and stronger.
Heart disease risk
Another surprising link is between the menstrual cycle and heart disease. Estrogen has an anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory effect in the body. It also acts as a vasodilator meaning it causes your blood vessels to expand. Low levels of estrogen have been linked with a build up of plaque in the arteries and an increased risk of developing heart disease. Most of the research is in post-menopausal women but there are also studies showing the same effect in younger women.
Yes this is even for those who exercise! You might think you are being super healthy and boosting your cardio-vascular system. However, if you are exercising excessively and experiencing hormonal imbalance then you are undoing all of that hard work. Another thing I wish I’d known about in my early twenties when I exercises like a fiend but didn’t have regular menstrual cycles..
Other problems with not having a regular menstrual cycle
Not having regular menstrual cycles puts you at risk for issues later in life. It can also cause problems in the here and now. Low estrogen can also be the explanation for fatigue, headaches, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Plus, not having regular menstrual cycles can be a sign that other things are off in your body. We often think of our body systems acting in isolation. In reality, all of these things are connected. If one falls down it can have a domino effect throughout your hormonal system.
An example of this is raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Often women without regular menstrual cycles have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore irregular or missing periods can be a sign from your body that your stress levels are high. Elevated cortisol is associated with bone loss as well as anxiety, insomnia and lower thyroid hormones. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, your metabolism is suppressed leading to symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as feeling cold all of the time, hair loss and low energy levels.
Many women who develop irregular or missing periods due to restricting their food intake also experience digestive problems. For example, bloating, stomach pain, constipation and food intolerances. If you don’t have regular menstrual cycles and you feel like you are constantly struggling with digestive issues, then maybe the two could be related.
In Ayurveda, this is described as having an imbalance in vata dosha. This means that the elements of air and ether have become excessive in the body leading to qualities of cold, dryness and lightness.
What should you do if you don’t have a regular menstrual cycle?
If this is you, don’t worry, now you know you can do something about it! The first thing to do is visit your GP for some tests to discover the reason for your irregular or missing periods. There are many reasons for irregular periods including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), medications including birth control and menopause. Your doctor can help you to rule out any underlying cause.
If there is no medical reason for your irregular or missing periods, it may be that excessive stress or lifestyle factors are at play. This is where supportive nutrition, fertility yoga and wellness coaching can help you to regain regular menstrual cycles. Learning to track your menstrual cycle and adjust your diet, movement and self-care practices to your natural flow can also help to heal menstrual irregularities as well as PMS and painful periods.
Over to you…
If you would like to work with me to balance your hormones and improve your health, contact me to set up a free 15 minute discovery call. I am a nutritionist, yoga teacher and women’s wellness coach. We work together using a combination of modalities to support your individual needs and help you to feel your best.
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Emma O’Donnell, Jack M. Goodman, Paula J. Harvey, Cardiovascular Consequences of Ovarian Disruption: A Focus on Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in Physically Active Women, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 12, 1 December 2011, Pages 3638–3648, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1223
Nicola Rinaldi. No Period Now What.
Other posts you might like
Shufelt, C. L., Torbati, T., & Dutra, E. (2017). Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the Long-Term Health Consequences. Seminars in reproductive medicine, 35(3), 256–262. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1603581