From one woman to another, I am the first to admit that having your period is not necessarily my idea of a “good time.” No period, no problem, right? Actually, there is a problem, and it’s known as amenorrhea. I’ve talked openly about my history with this issue and it has propelled me to write a book about it, “The Better Period Food Solution.”
Women may experience an irregular period or a missed period once in a while. We typically chalk it up to stress, schedule change or some other reason and move on with our lives. However, it’s important to know when these irregularities could mean something more.
What is Amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea, in its purest definition, is the absence of a woman’s menstrual cycle. There are two types of amenorrhea—primary and secondary. Primary occurs when a teenage girl has reached or surpassed the age of 16 without getting her first period. Secondary occurs when a woman stops menstruating for at least three consecutive months.
Our bodies are programmed to prioritize the most important bodily functions, thus sending a majority of energy to areas that need it the most. Unfortunately, some functions are sacrificed if there is not enough energy to go around. So, when women are not eating enough calories to balance their daily energy output, are over stressed, overexercising, or are experiencing extreme weight loss, the body shuts down all non-essential bodily functions, which unfortunately includes the reproductive system.
How Common Is It In Women?
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, amenorrhea occurs in a small percentage (less than 5%) of women in their lifetime. Yet, it is estimated that about 45% of female athletes, more specifically sports in which low body weight or low body mass index is considered an advantage, experience amenorrhea. It is more common for women that are athletes or have disordered eating to have irregular menstrual cycles than the average woman.
Some women are more susceptible to this medical condition than others. Amenorrhea could result from pregnancy, breastfeeding, weight fluctuations, low bmi, birth control pills, IUDs or the use of certain medications. Lifestyle factors are a very common cause, altering the functioning of the hypothalamus and causing menstruation to stop, also known as hypothalamic amenorrhea. Excessive exercise, eating disorders and stress could cause hypothalamic amenorrhea. Female athletes are prone to developing secondary and the female athlete triad, which is a disorder that women develop from three related conditions: eating disorders, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). It’s believed that the three conditions of the female athlete triad contribute to the development of each other. Other causes of amenorrhea include hormonal imbalances like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and thyroid dysfunction.
Menstruating and getting a period is an essential part of a woman’s physiology, and therefore, sustained missed periods may have significant health consequences. While it’s well understood that a missed period can be linked to infertility, pcos, having trouble ovulating or difficulty getting pregnant, research is currently being done to understand the other effects missed periods may have on a woman’s body, including increased chance for developing osteoporosis and even cardiovascular disease.
The quicker the problem is addressed, the quicker it can be solved!
How to Treat Amenorrhea
Treating amenorrhea requires “looking under the hood of the car” by working with a professional who can get to the root of the cause. With proper treatment and help, a woman’s normal menstrual cycle can return. In my book, “The Better Period Food Solution” I go through the nutritional science and give my tips on how to treat amenorrhea, such as increasing healthy fat intake, reducing a high fiber diet and cutting back from the gym. Eating food to reduce stress hormone levels may help such as omega 3- fatty acids, vitamin C, complex carbohydrates and magnesium. Talking to a therapist or deep breathing exercises can also reduce your stress levels.
As always, treatment varies and ultimately depends on the underlying cause.
Women who have already begun menstruating should seek help if they have missed three consecutive menstrual periods. While it’s common to miss a few menstrual cycles immediately after you stop taking the birth control pill or when you get your IUD taken out, those with regular menstrual periods should experience a normal cycle within a few months. If you’re menstrual cycle doesn’t become normal within a few months, consult your healthcare professional or obgyn.
Regardless, this is not something to be taken lightly. The quicker your possible medical condition is addressed, the quicker it can be solved! If you suspect you may have irregular periods and cannot manage it on your own, it’s important to seek appropriate help.
For more information on how to treat irregular menstrual periods, check out my book, “The Better Period Food Solution,” available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more.