What’s Causing My Irregular Periods?
Abnormal menstrual cycles are a difficult issue to pinpoint as hormones are a tricky subject and can impact a number of different factors and bodily systems. In order to understand how you can regulate menstruation and balance hormones naturally, it’s important to know the potential causes and lifestyle habits that can negatively affect your hormonal levels.
Having a regular, moderately pain-free period each month is a good indication that your hormones are in balance and the reproductive system is working properly. But the opposite is also true: irregular and missed periods, or very painful, intense PMS symptoms could be a sign that your hormone levels are out of whack — either lacking or too high.
Besides being pregnant and going through menopause, which both naturally stop a woman from getting her period, here are the other major causes of missed or irregular periods:
Cause #1: High Stress Levels
When you’re under a lot of stress for an extended period of time, your body makes an effort to conserve energy as a sort of fight or flight response. As a result, it will prevent ovulation because this is a process that your body sees as secondary when compared to survival. Several factors could contribute to this — experiencing a traumatic event, restricting your eating, and exercising an excessive amount could cause irregularity (repeated fight or flight). The body gives priority to producing stress hormones that will help you survive in a crisis, so sex hormone production takes a backseat.
When estrogen level falls below normal, you aren’t able to build up the uterine lining (that you are shedding during your period) so as a result, you don’t get your period.
Cause #2: A Poor Diet
A diet that’s low in nutrients, antioxidants, and probiotic foods yet high in stimulants takes a toll on the adrenal glands and thyroid. For example, eating a diet that’s high in sugar, hydrogenated fats, and artificial additives is linked with thyroid issues and adrenal fatigue that can raise cortisol. Excess cortisol hinders the function of many other essential hormones, including sex hormones. It also can lead to the breakdown of bones, skin, muscles, and brain tissue if you continue to maintain high levels over a long period of time. If you’re not experiencing regular menstruation, make sure you’re eating enough food and that’s the right kind: foods that are high in antioxidants, nutrient-dense, and with plenty of protein.
Cause #3: Extreme Weight Loss and Low BMI
When your body mass index (BMI) falls below 18 or 19, you may miss your period because of the lack of body fat, which is essential in the creation of estrogen. A diet that’s low in calories and fat can result in nutritional deficiencies that contribute to irregular periods and bone loss. This is not to say that every woman that experiences missed or irregular periods will be underweight or nutritionally deficient. Many are at a normal weight and some are even what is considered “overweight” on the BMI scale. (this might not need to be stated since the article is all about varied reasons periods are irregular)
Cause #4: Over-Exercising
Moderate exercise is essential to heart health, mood regulation, a good sleep schedule, and maintaining a healthy body weight, however, too much exercise can put excess pressure on your adrenal, thyroid, and pituitary glands. Women who start vigorously exercising (for example, you’ve started training for a marathon) can stop getting their period suddenly. The stress hormone, cortisol, will be released in response to a real or perceived stress, physical (like exercise) or emotional. With the societal pressures today for women to stay thin and in shape, some will feel they need to exercise more than a healthy amount. This kind of exertion can increase stress and deplete the body of energy that it needs to regulate and release sex hormones.
Cause #5: Thyroid Disorders
Although this may be an indiscernible problem, your thyroid can cause many issues related to hormonal imbalances. Studies have shown that thyroid disorders may actually be one of the leading causes of missed periods, affecting nearly 15% of amenorrhea patients. The thyroid gland largely controls your metabolism and impacts many sex hormones, therefore, thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can cause widespread symptoms like changes in estrogen and therefore missed periods. (shorten sentence, repetitive)
Cause #6: Change in Birth Control Methods
Some women will stop getting their period, somewhat intentionally, while on birth control and will notice that even when they stop the pill, their period doesn’t return. While we advise that a woman’s period should adjust within a few months of stopping the pill, many women will experience missed or irregular periods for years afterward.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is composed of rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, but when taking birth control pills, estrogen levels are sufficiently high to fool the body into thinking it’s pregnant, resulting in irregular periods. When you switch from one birth control method to another or quit birth control altogether, it can take the body many months or even years to return to homeostasis.
Cause #7: Ongoing Hormonal Imbalances and Disorders
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance in women that negatively impacts ovulation. A woman with PCOS experiences altered levels of sex hormones that can result in abnormal bodily functions including blood sugar problems, abnormal facial body hair growth, weight gain, acne, and irregular menstrual cycles. It can also lead to premature menopause, occurring prior to the age of 40, which can cause missed periods, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
Cause #8: Food Allergies and Sensitivities
An undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or celiac disease – meaning you are not taking medication or monitoring it – can both impact your hormone levels. These conditions can result in nutrient deficiencies, negatively affect gut health, and add chronic stress to your adrenal glands, which have the ability to affect sex hormone production.
While some of these causes are relatively unavoidable, it’s crucial that you are paying honest attention to how each element of your lifestyle affects your health; that way you can make choices to eliminate or tweak aspects that may be causing irregular periods. If you’ve been dealing with missed periods for a while, speak to your doctor about running some important tests that can find hormone imbalances and other issues. Many experts will recommend a three-tier treatment strategy that looks something like this: 1) Make appropriate diet, lifestyle, and stress-reduction changes; 2) Use natural remedies when you need extra support; and 3) Only if you find that those aren’t working, discuss hormonal pills or procedures with your healthcare provider.
For more information or to setup an appointment in the Hampton Roads area, contact us today.