Irregular periods, medically termed oligomenorrhea, can be a common concern among women of all ages and can be attributed to a variety of factors. Most commonly, young females experience irregular periods secondary to a change in or discontinuation of oral contraceptives.
However, irregular periods may also be caused by excessive stress and/or exercise, sudden weight changes, thyroid dysfunction, fibroids, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels disrupt the normal rhythm of your period or sometimes stop it all together. But outside of the menopause, prolonged irregularity is not normal, and may highlight that there’s something going on under the hood of your hormone system.
Why Are Your Periods Irregular
The first step is to identify the cause to your irregular periods. An ultrasound of the ovaries will help identify the presence of cysts, which may be a result of elevated androgens and irregular ovulatory patterns, leading to irregular periods.
Lab work is important to identify thyroid dysfunction and hormone excesses or deficiencies. Hormones are best sampled on day 3 of your cycle, and via the saliva. If you’ve recently stopped or changed birth control pills, give yourself 3 months to allow hormones to regulate naturally before trying to treat the irregularity.
A height and weight assessment will help determine if your body fat is too low, leading to an inability to produce female hormones & proper ovulation.
Similarly, excess weight creates a state of estrogen dominance leading to menstrual problems. If stress is high, your cortisol production may create a relative deficiency of progesterone, resulting in lighter or absent periods together. And of course, always ensure you’re not pregnant.
Conventional solutions most commonly turn to the birth control, which gives you an exogenous (or artificial) dose of hormones every month, in order for your endometrium to shed accordingly. However, this solves nothing, and really just covers up the evidence that something may be out of balance.
5 Ways to Regulate your Periods Naturally
1. Support the Liver
Your liver is the organ responsible for making hormones inactive and water-soluble to be excreted via your urine and stools. If the two phases of liver detoxification are overburdened, hormone elimination may be slowed and periods may become delayed or irregular as a result of excess hormones.
Tips: Ensure lots of (clear) fluids, avoid alcohol whenever possible, steer clear of preservatives, and increase your intake of brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, etc) vegetables, as they contain powerful nutrients that support proper liver function and hormone elimination.
2. Regular Bowel Movements
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Any unhealthy gut fueled by sugars, refined carbs, and processed foods can lead to an upregulation of b-glucuronidase, an enzyme that unconjugates excreted estrogens and allows them to be reabsorbed through the gut walls.
Furthermore, sugars can lead to dysbiosis, which means an overgrowth of the “bad” bacteria vs the “good”, promoting the uncoupling of the hormones wastes in further increasing their chances of reabsorption.
Tip: Aim for 30 g+ of dietary fiber daily from sources like hemp, chia, and ground flax. Not only does fiber encourage healthy bowel movements, but it binds the cholesterol-based hormones in the gut and carries them out with your stools.
Take a good quality probiotic to repopulate beneficial gut flora, particularly high in Lactobacillus Acidophilus.
Not only are b-vitamins great for your energy & metabolism, but they support methylation, which is the process by which small molecules, called methyl groups, are passed from one molecule to another.
Once hormones are methylated, they can be pass through the gut walls to be excreted. An adequate intake of B6, B12 & folic acid is a particularly important for this process.
Tip: Take a high quality activated B-Complex high in the above-mentioned B’s or find B6 in whole grains and legumes, and B12 in most animal products. Folic comes from green leafy veg, and if supplementing, always ensure it’s the form of 5-MTHF, as many people can’t activate folic acid into folate.
4. Chaste Tree
The herb Chaste Tree, also known as Vitex, promotes the body’s endogenous, or natural, production of progesterone, which is the hormone produced after ovulation and largely responsible for on set of menstrual flow. It does so by regulating pituitary gland hormones to promote rhythmic cycles and is also commonly used for PMS symptoms and breast tenderness.
Tip: Use a high-quality brand when choosing herbs, and speak to a professional for appropriate dosing
In eastern medicine, an irregular period can be signs of a yin deficiency, blood deficiency, or stagnation through the organ systems.
Acupuncture helps build deficiencies and move stagnation through manipulation of meridians all over the body and is one therapy I have consistent success with. Bonus, it often doesn’t require daily supplementation and can be a great stress relief as well.
Tip: Find a practitioner that practices traditional acupuncture, such as a TCM practitioner, registered acupuncturist, or a Naturopath.
An extra piece of advice… MODERATE exercise ONLY!
Like we’ve always been told, it’s all about balance.
Too much AND too little exercise can attribute to irregular patterns in your monthly flow. If exercise is excessive and body fat becomes too low, caloric balance cannot be sustained, and cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike. This throws a wrench in the metabolic pathways, inducing what is known as hypothalamic amenorrhea. It’s recommended to maintain body fat above 10% for a regular period cycle.
Furthermore, studies show more than 20% of women with abdominal obesity will experience menstrual irregularities, and excessive abdominal fat has also been associated with insulin resistance, which plays an important role in polycystic ovarian disease.
Tips: Fluctuate the intensities of your workouts, break a sweat for 45 mins to 1 hour, but don’t over exert yourself. Keep body fat above 10%.
- SALIVA VS. SERUM TESTING FOR HORMONE TESTING AND PROGESTERONE CREAM by John R. Lee, M.D. http://www.virginiahopkinstestkits.com/salivavsblood.html
- Detoxify Excess Estrogens Naturally by David Jockers. http://primaldocs.com/members-blog/detoxify-excess-estrogen-naturally/
- Adlercreutz H, Pulkkinen MO, Hämäläinen EK, Korpela JT. Studies on the role of intestinal bacteria in metabolism of synthetic and natural steroid hormones. J Steroid Biochem.1984 Jan;20(1):217-29.
- Reduce Estrogen Dominance with Probiotics. Dr David Williams. Last Reviewed 04/30/2014. http://www.drdavidwilliams.com/reduce-estrogen-dominance-with-probiotics/
- De Pergola , M. Tartagni, F. d’Angelo, C. Centoducati, P. Guida, R. Giorgio Abdominal fat accumulation, and not insulin resistance, is associated to oligomenorrhea in non-hyperandrogenic overweight/obese women. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation. February 2009, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 98-101.
- Alternative Medicine Review Volume 14, Number 1 2009. Vitex agnus-castus Monograph
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