You are healthy. You workout most days of the week. You eat your fruits and veggies. You drink plenty of water. You try to get enough sleep each night.
For the most part, you feel pretty darned good.
However…there is one thing seemingly missing: Your flow.
In other words: Menstrual abscene or irregularities.
Despite your healthy lifestyle, your period has been ‘off’ for quite some time—and you can’t really figure out the reason why.
One of the most common questions you get asked at any doctor’s appointment you go to is: “When was the first day of your last period?”
And…you can’t even remember!
While it’s kind of nice not having to ‘deal with’ the red tide every month…you wonder, in the back of your mind, am I really healthy? (given you are of ‘menstruating age).
And, if not, how can I get my period back?
Let’s dive in to this pretty meaty topic where we will discuss:
- How does your menstrual cycle work
- How do your hormones get irregular in the FIRST PLACE?!
- WHY is my period necessary anyways?
- Can you still be fertile without a period?
- And, are my hormones correctable?
This is a pretty meaty topic, so feel free to jump to the section that most appeals to you.
Question 1: First things first: How does your menstrual cycle work (rewind back to Puberty 101).
I’ll never forget receiving this book–The Care & Keeping of You–for Christmas from “Santa” at age 10 underneath the tree, along with a training bra and Venus razor.
What every 10-year-old wants, right?!
I was mortified when my dad asked me, home video camera in tow, to show the camera what Santa gave me.
Nevertheless, this book taught me the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of what to deal with whenever mother nature decided it was ‘time’ (17-years-old people!).
As my knowledge of hormones, and work with clients surrounding hormones, has developed over the years, I’ve learned hormones are more intricate than the play-by-play pics in this read.
Your female reproductive system runs off of a sensitive plethora of specific hormones.
When one (or several of them) is disrupted, many of the others struggle to do their jobs too.
Two hormones in particluar: FSH and LH are crucial to the menstrual process.
In essence, they tell the ovaries to “do their job.”
This job of your ovaries is to synthesis the follicles and the eggs (for reproduction and menstruation), while, concurrently, producing two other hormones: Estrogen and Progesterone (the major hormones that control your menstrual cycle).
It’s an intertwined process.
As Estrogen and Progesterone levels rise and fall throughout the month, they, in turn, signal the hypothalamus to release FSH and LH at different times, which then, keep the ovaries doing their ‘duty’ (reproduction and menstruation).
And the beat goes on.
Unfortunately, if your body is unable to release your FSH and LH hormones (due to poor Estrogen and Progesteron regulation and/or production), then your ovaries get super confused and out of whack…and ultimately can’t do their job (leading to lack of menstruation)—or, in other cases, they may try to do their job with poor carryover (leading to irregular cycles and hormone imbalances).
Medically speaking, when you ‘lose your period’, this is called: amenorrhea (lack of period).
Question 2: So how do your hormones get irregular in the FIRST PLACE?!
Estrogen and Progesterone are highly connected and influenced by your pituitary gland in the brain.
The pituitary is influeced by even higher brain centers, which are easily affected by outside forces and stressors, such as emotions, weather, stress, the seasons, circadian rhythm balance, and more.
In short: Your female hormone balance is very delicate and requires alot of support (nutrition and lifestyle) to remain balanced and happy.
Here are a few common ‘outside influencers’ and stressors that can throw your hormone production and regulation out of balance:
1. Inadequate energy/calorie intake. Hormones—and hormone regulation—are part of your metabolic processes. And, as we have discussed before, a revving metabolism needs energy via food. When we are underfed, or simply not getting enough balance in our diets, our hormones can’t function like they ought to. Note: This includes carbs ladies. Even if you eat a ‘real foods’ or ‘Paleo-based’ diet, you still need (and can eat) carbs. A highly restrictive and/or low/no carb approach does not support healthy endocrine function, affecting thyroid hormone conversion and your hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA or HTPA axis)—connected to your reproductive hormones.
2. No fat/Low-fat diets. How much fat do you consume in your diet? If you aren’t having a period, chances are often: NOT ENOUGH. Hormones are composed of fatty membranes and therefore thrive upon fats. Healthy fats=Happy hormones..
3. The wrong kind of fats. Conversely. Maybe you do eat fats—or you really don’t avoid them, but…you are eating the wrong kinds of fats. Too many polyunsaturated fats in your diet can lead to hormone problems as well. Oolyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and oxidize easily in the body—causing inflammation and mutation in cells. Avoid fats such as vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, margarine, shortening, or other chemically altered fats—often found in packaged, processed foods (breads, bars, cookies, chips, crackers, dressings, cereals, etc.), as well as many restaurants and fast-food cooking.
4. Low body weight and/or low body fat. Falling below 85-90% of ideal body weight (often a range people), no matter what body fat level, usually results in amenorrhea. We all have a ‘set point’ or range where our bodies were meant to thrive. When we fall outside of that, then our body goes into survival mode. In addition, without some body fat, a woman simply cannot menstruate (in other words: body fat is a good thing).Without these physical supports in place, the body signals to the hypothalmus that a woman is lacking energy stores and is essentially, starving. When the hypothalmus thinks you are starving, it puts a halt to normal reproductive function. Reproduction is a ‘luxury’—or secondary priority— for the body—not necessarily pertinent to your own survival. After all, if you don’t have enough energy for you alone, then your body is certainly going to protect you from having to supply energy to another (think, a baby, here). What is a healthy amount of fat for a woman? Every BODY is different…and ultimately, your body will ‘tell you’ when it starts mensruating if your body fat levels are able to support your periods.
5. Poor diet and/or overweight. For those who struggle to maintain a healthy weight, or eat a proper diet, leptin resistance—or irregularity— can occur. Leptin is the primary hormone in the body that controls hunger and feelings of satiety. Leptin is also a protein produced by fat cells that acts as a hormone on your reproductive ‘axis’. When leptin is low, this in turn makes other reproductive hormones low, and thus, poses a threat to ovulation and regular menstruation. Additionally, simply eating a poor diet (such as the polyunsaturated fats mentioned above; a lack of healthy fats and protein and veggies; inadequate water intake; excessive sugar consumption; packaged and processed foods on the regular—even ‘healthy’ bars and shakes, etc.) promotes stress to the body, and short-changes it the necessary nutrients needed for optimal metabolic function and hormone balance.
6. High dairy consumption. Dairy is full of hormones—especially conventional dairy (non organic and non-grass-fed). However, even pasture-raised dairy contains certain hormones that influence a woman’s reproductive system. The FDA is selective about telling the public what goes into their animals, and they claim that these hormone profiles are insignificant. Dairy contains a protein that inhibits normal inhibition of testosterone in an individual’s body, so when a person ingests dairy, their testosterone levels may rise (hints the acne many people experience when they eat dairy). When testosterone levels rise…this can impact your hormone balance—especially in women who already have hormonal imbalance and/or compromised reproductive function from various other things.
7. Poor digestion. Lately, I have been reading a book called “Healing with Whole Foods” and it discusses many ancient and age-old health practices, primarily stemming from Eastern medicine. Interestingly, in Eastern Medicine there is a focus on what are known as the 5 Elements: Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire. These five elements are used to explain how the body progresses from one state into another. The Earth element, or our digestive force, is the foundation of the Five Element system. Eastern practices explain it best: In order to have a healthy reproductive system and well-balanced hormones, it is essential to first take care of your digestive function. In other words, our bodies are interconnected, but if the ‘higher level’ or foundational systems are not functioning optimally, then the hormonal system is impacted down the line. Poor digestion impedes a host of metabolic processes, including the assimilation and use of many essential nutrients. In particular: Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, Vitamin D.
8. Too little sleep. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your hormones will not be balanced. Period. In short: Poor sleep/inadequate sleep spikes cortisol levels, cortisol spikes stress and wreaks havoc on your adrenals and other hormone balance. Your body, in turn, is just trying to ‘hang on.’
9. Overtraining. If we are pushing ourselves to the ‘max’: two-a-days every day, met-con, met-con, met-con, hot yoga, spin class and on and on…without really being on a mindful or well-thought out program (i.e. listening to our body and also giving it rest, or active recovery, more laid-back days), in addition to under-eating in our efforts to ‘lose body fat’, or simply because we are not hungry (higher cortisol levels from the stress of overtraining decrease our hunger cues)…then we run into problems. Similar to the points above, when your body goes into ‘warrior’ mode, or ‘survival mode’, it’s main focus is to keep your basic life processes going (think: heart beating, digestion, brain function, etc.)…leaving less room and ‘energy’ to devote to your hormones and reproductive organs. In addition, heightened cortisol decreases the release of a hormone called “gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH)” release from the hypothalamus, causing low levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and leutinizing hormone (LH), then resulting in low estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels; and…NO PERIOD.
10. Birth Control Pills. A topic of much debate. While the ‘pill’ is intended to help some regulate their cycle…its side effects can have some negative impacts on your hormones/hormonal balance, including: Weight gain; Decreased libido; Decreased vaginal lubrication; Acne; Depression; Psychological disturbances such as anxiety, insomnia, or rage. Worth it? If you don’t ‘have to take it’ (actual birth control)…chances are a re-evaluation of the above lifestyle factors can help make a tremendous difference in your menstruation and hormonal regulation. In addition, if you’ve been on the pill for quite some time and then go off of it, many times it’s hard to get back to a ‘normal’ menstrual cycle since your body has had a pseudo cycle, or no cycle, for a certain period of time.
11. Hypothalamic amenorrhea. Not having a period, but not ‘underweight’ or experiencing these other triggers? Hypothalmic amenorrhea condition in which menstruation stops for several months due to a problem involving the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus in the mothership of the brain controlling reproduction. It produces the hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH signals the production of other hormones needed for ovulation, such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and after ovulation, progesterone luteinizing hormone (LH)—which we learned then stimulate estrogen. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the hypothalamus stops producing GnRH, which in turn, will reduce the amount of other hormones produced (FSH, LH, and estrogen). Ovulation and menstruation stops.
Get it? Got it? Good?
That’s just to name a few of the reasons hormones can get out of balance…
(Phew! That’s quite the list!)
So what you really want to know:
WHY is my period necessary anyways?
And…if it is…Are my hormones correctable?
Question 3: Alright, is your period really necessary? Or, in other words: is it necessary to have a withdrawal bleed every month?
No, in fact, it is not. As you will find out below, you may still be fertile without necessarily needing tampons every month.
Is a regular period ideal though?
YES it is—for a number of reasons:
- -Increased fertility
- -Bone health
- -Hormone balance
Question 4: Can you still be fertile without a period?
Yes. But again, not ideal. For those wondering if lack of you period or irregular cycles can effect pregnancy…your body still may be ovulating. And if you are, pregnancy can only occur during ovulation. Ovulation typically happens about two weeks before menstruation in women with normal, regular menstrual cycles. During ovulation, your body releases a fertilized egg, which breaks down after 12 to 24 hours. The primary problem with having no menstrual cycle is that you really don’t know if your body is or is not ovulating. This means, there is a chance, you could be ovulating without having actual periods.
Stemming back to our reasons why your hormones can become imbalanced above, if any number of these factors or stressors are part of your life…your body’s concerns are directed from a regular flow each month to other ‘important’ duties (like adrenal support, energy or sustenance to survive, get through tough workouts, etc.).
In layman’s terms: Contrary to popular belief, if you are not having a regular cycle every month, it does not necessarily mean you are an infertile Myrtle.
Question 5: Ok..so I want to get my period back…are my hormones correctable?
Lifestyle and nutrition alone can make a HUGE impact on your body’s ability to regulate its cycle again.
Here are a few tangible starting points:
1. Eat Fat-Choose fats like coconut oil, real butter, olive oil (don’t heat!) and animal fats (tallow, lard) from healthy sources instead and eat lots of high Omega-3 fish. Aim for 1-2 healthy fat sources with every main meal. Between meals, for snacks, reach for the handful of raw nuts/seeds, some guacamole with veggie sticks, celery or apple with almond butter/sunflower seed butter, a spoonful of coconut butter, 1/2 avocado, bacon wrapped dates or bacon wrapped asparagues (seriously), and a hardboiled egg are just some ideas.
2. Mindful Movement-Kick the chronic cardio for now if you have hormone imbalance. Intense extended exercise can actually worsen the problem. During your ‘re-balancing phase’, try giving yourself 30 days to focus on relaxing exercises like walking or swimming and avoid the two-a-days, long-distance running, cardio craziness, and Insanity videos, for now….
3. Lift Heavyish Weights-While chronic cardio can be bad, short bursts of heavy lifting, (like squats, presses, deadlifts, cleans, and lunges), can do a body good because they trigger a plethora of positive hormone reactions. Aim for at least 2-3 days per week with barbells, dumbbells and/or kettlebells, using a weight that really challenges you. make sure to get help with form and training if you haven’t done these before as bad form can be harmful!
4. Avoid Packaged & Processed Foods. You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times. Sugar, refined carbohydrates and fake manufactured foods (with the names of ingredients you can’t pronounce; or a list as long as the length of your arm) are just not good for you—they inhibit good digestion and cause inflammation. Don’t believe me? Try going without them for just 1-month, 30 days…and see how you feel.
5. Conscience Supplementation-Supplements are a dime a dozen out there. There’s something for everything in a pill form so it seems. Here are a few however that can support a healthier reproductive system for the majority:
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil- Provides many necessary building blocks for hormone production such as fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, and K. It also is a great source of Omega-3s and beneficial fats.ec
- Vitamin D– Necessary for the absorbtion of your Omega-3’S, Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine’ vitamin, but can also be obtained in a supplement form. My favorite is this one by Pure Pharma.
- Magnesium- promotes the regulation hundreds of reactions in the body and often contributes to better sleep (which is great for hormones!). Some of my favorite forms include: Natural Calm—a powder you mix into water as a lemonade-like drink, a tablet form by Biotics Research Mg-Zyme, and a transdermal form by using Magnesium oil applied to skin.
- Probiotic. Your gut is the foundation of health. Get your gut flora aligned with some healthy bacteria through a quality probiotic and fermented foods in your diet.
6. Limit Caffiene. Before you grab your stones to throw my way, hear me out. Excessive caffeine raises your cortisol and slows down your thyroid function. If you are a ‘coffee, or caffiene-aholic’ (i.e. you need caffiene to ‘function’), chances are, your body is running off something other than natural energy or hormone balance. Time to re-calibrate the system. Try going for 3 days without caffiene, up your water, consider supplementing with the amino acids…then, when you are ‘ready’ to go back to a cup of Joe—limit it to one quality cup o’ coffee a day (Bulletproof coffee, or quality beans from a local coffee shop for instance—way better than ‘Folger’s in your cup). Also—a great substitute for that ‘coffee’ feel (without the stimulant craziness?)—Teecino Herbal ‘Coffee’ (tastes like coffee, but made with herbs). Available at Whole Foods and Amazon.
7. Re-set Your Circadian Rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s ‘inner clock’ that controls and coordinates the metabolic processes in your body at certain times throughout the day—hormones included. If these hormones aren’t being released at the appropriate times—due to an off-kilter circadian rhythm, then chances are that your reproductive system won’t receive the adequate signals needed to regulate the menstrual cycle. Circadian Rhythms can get out of balance for a number of reasons—including overexposure to artifical light/screens, poor sleep patterns, exercising way too early or later in the evening when your body is in unwind mode, shiftwork, chronic stress, and sporadic eating patterns. To begin to address your inner clock, make a concerted effort to not only change the off-kilter habit (such as waking up without an alarm on the weekends at least, or shutting off screens at least an hour before bed), but also consider investing in a light therapy lamp and wake alarm (seriously changed my life!) as a physical support. Proper light exposure is a huge factor in circadian rhythm and entails adequate daytime sunlight and appropriate elimination of bright light at night.
8. Connect. Sometimes, in our rat-race lifestyle pace we keep for ourselves, we simply fail to connect. Connect with ourselves, connect with others. We are more focused on the going and doing, and getting things done, that we miss out on meeting ourselves right where we are at: emotionally, spiritually, physically—and nourishing those parts of us. When we become disconnected from ourselves, all sorts of things go awry—particularly our hormones:
- We are stressed—but we don’t realize we are stressed; because, instead, we are just trying to fit more in or keep saying ‘yes’ to everything.
- We are lonely—but don’t fully realize we are lonely; because, instead, or pushing ourselves harder and harder in the gym, eating for comfort, or not eating for a sense of self-acceptance.
- We are bored with just living a ‘status’ quo life or working a mundane life; and try to fill that boredom with instant gratification—chocolate, busying our social schedules with no down time, 2-3 exercise classes a day, more to-dos that in turn lead to more stress. Etc. Etc.The simple answer?: Get quiet for some time…and connect…with yourself. When we find more peace with ourselves, it is then that self-care can truly unfold.
Overwhelmed? I hope not!
Knowledge is POWER!
How is your flow?
You were meant to thrive—period included.