8 Reasons Your Cycle Might Be Off & What To Do About It
8 Reasons Your Cycle Might Be Off & What To Do About It

8 Reasons Your Cycle Might Be Off & What To Do About It

Stress, diet and poor lifestyle habits can wreak havoc on your cycle. If your period is often late or follows an unpredictable pattern, here’s what the experts want you to know – and what you can do about it.
By Tor West

First, There’s No Such Thing As A Normal Cycle

Many believe a 28-day cycle is the norm, but studies show this is far from true. A recent study found only 13% of women have a regular 28-day cycle, and that cycles can vary from month to month. “It’s a total myth women have a 28-day cycle,” says Le’Nise Brothers, nutritional therapist and author of You Can Have a Better Period. “A healthy cycle can be anywhere between 21 to 35 days, and it’s also normal for it to vary by three to four days each cycle,” Le’Nise tells us. So, what’s not normal? “If you notice your cycle length significantly fluctuating each cycle – i.e. more than three or four days – this is a sign to dig deeper and understand what’s affecting it. Are you more stressed than you realise? Are you getting enough good quality sleep? Are you eating enough at each meal? Are you giving yourself the opportunity to rest? These all factor into the equation.”

The reasons your cycle might be off…

You're Stressed

Cortisol is our master stress hormone, which can have a cascading effect on all other hormones, says Richa Puri, nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner. “Stress can affect progesterone and thyroid health, both of which are vital for healthy periods,” she says. “Cortisol is produced for many reasons, including a lack of quality sleep, family stress, work stress, grief or illness,” Richa adds. Plus, our bodies are very stress sensitive, says Le’Nise. “There’s a communication pathway from our brains to our ovaries that tells our body that it’s safe enough to menstruate. If you’re stressed out, this can lead to missing periods, a heavier or lighter period, more period pain, and changes in menstrual length.”

What To Do: If you suspect stress is wreaking havoc with your cycle, you need to take self-care seriously, advises Le’Nise. “Often, we’re under much more stress than we realise. Take a step back and consider how often you take time out. Create moments throughout the day when you take a step back – this could be taking some deep breaths, stepping away from your computer or going for a short walk. Anything that forces you to shift your nervous system away from fight or flight to a calmer, more restful state helps lower cortisol.”

Women who SLEEP for LESS than six hours a night tend to SUFFER heavier and irregular periods.

You're Cutting Out Food Groups

Low-carb diets like the keto diet are popular, but Le’Nise says cutting out carbs can have a negative effect on menstrual health. “Carbohydrates are important for making energy, and removing them from the diet in the long term acts as a stressor on the body, increasing cortisol levels and leading the brain to believe it’s not safe enough to have a period.” A low-fat diet can be just as harmful, adds Richa. “Our bodies need fat to make hormones and support a healthy menstrual cycle. We also need fats to absorb certain vitamins – such as vitamins A, D, K and E, which are some of the key nutrients for hormonal health,” Richa continues.

What To Do: If your cycle is irregular, ensure you’re eating adequate amounts of protein, carbs and healthy fats at mealtimes. Richa recommends making breakfast a priority, ideally within half an hour of waking. “Aim for a fat and protein-rich breakfast,” she advises. “Throughout the rest of the day, be sure eat plenty of healthy fats – oily fish, nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocado, olives and extra virgin olive oil are great sources.”

You're Constipated

You may not have connected the dots between your bowel habits and your hormones but a daily bowel movement is an overlooked part of having a healthy period, says Le’Nise. “It all comes down to hormone balance,” she tells us. “When you’re constipated, you’re not getting rid of the hormones, including oestrogen, that your body has used. This increases an enzyme called beta glucuronidase, which can lead to this oestrogen recirculating back in the body, negatively affecting your oestrogen and progesterone balance, and increasing the risk of painful or heavy periods.”

What To Do: Eat your greens and up your fibre intake. “When it comes to fibre, many of us associate it with dry, bland foods, but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Le’Nise. “When we add in foods with soluble fibre – oats, apples and beans – and insoluble fibre, such as the skin of fruits and vegetables, flax and chia seeds and brown rice, we not only help ourselves have a healthy daily bowel movement (it should be smooth and long like a snake) but we also feed our gut bacteria. This is important because there’s a specific family of bacteria that support our liver in breaking down the oestrogens our body has used. Eating more cruciferous vegetables – which are in themselves rich in fibre – also help the body break down oestrogen in a healthy way.”

You're Overexercising

Excessive exercise mimics stress, says Dr Georgina Leslie, gynaecologist and medical advisor for Yoppie. “The body can’t differentiate between stress from an intense workout and stress from meeting deadlines at work. Therefore, if you’re already stressed at work and throw exercise into the mix, it could tip your cortisol levels over the edge. If you exercise intensely, the body believes it doesn’t have the energy and nutritional reserves to support a pregnancy, so you may skip a period.”

What To Do: Cutting out exercise entirely isn’t the solution – it’s about finding a balance, says Richa. “Movement is essential for delivering fresh blood and nutrients to endometrial area and allowing for the transport of hormones around the body. If you’re already stressed, scale things back and stick to walking and yoga rather than spinning or HIIT.”

You're Not Sleeping Well 

“Women who sleep for less than six hours a night tend to suffer heavier and irregular periods,” adds Georgina. “Some studies also suggest that disruption to the circadian rhythm – which can happen when we have a poor night’s sleep – can increase the risk of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Sleep is a crucial pillar of wellness for Richa, too: “Sleep is the ultimate hidden tool. Each day we can wake renewed. Sleep helps to reduce cortisol output and support blood sugar balance, therefore reducing inflammation.”

What To Do: “When we sleep, we restore,” says Richa. “To support optimal sleep quality, try to go to sleep at the same time every day – even on the weekend – and avoid screens, heavy meals and exercise just before bed. Sleep in a completely darkened room and ensure your environment and core body temperature aren’t too hot.”

If you exercise INTENSELY, the body believes it doesn’t have the ENERGY to support a pregnancy, so you may SKIP a period.

You're Drinking Too Much

“It’s hard not to sound like a killjoy, but the reality is alcohol has a very negative effect on our hormones and periods,” says Le’Nise. “Alcohol is toxic to the body, and the liver works hard to break it down and get rid of it as quickly as possible. But, while this is happening, it affects the other important jobs of the liver such as helping to balance oestrogen and progesterone.”

What To Do: If you suspect alcohol is taking its toll on your hormones, cut back. At the very least, avoid drinking on consecutive nights.

Give your cycle a helping hand with the right nutrients…

Vitamin K: “If you have a heavy period, foods with vitamin K are helpful to add into your meals. Vitamin K supports healthy blood clotting, which in the case of heavy menstrual bleeding, helps to slow your flow so the bleeding isn’t as heavy. Foods rich in vitamin K include dark, leafy greens, liver and natto, a Japanese fermented soybean dish.” – Le’Nise

Magnesium: “Nature’s calming mineral, magnesium can help manage stress levels and is a helpful pain reliever. Be sure to take the right form of magnesium – magnesium glycinate is great and can help reduce period pain. If you suffer with constipation, try magnesium citrate.” – Le’Nise

Vitamin E: “This vitamin can help increase and balance oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone, all of which are vital for a healthy menstrual cycle.” – Le’Nise

Vitamin D: “Optimal vitamin D is essential for period health. Vitamin D receptors are found throughout the body, and optimal levels are needed for ovulation (remember ovulation means a period). You can get vitamin D from the sun in the summer months, but it’s a little harder to get from food. Leave your mushrooms in the sun before cooking to increase levels of vitamin D, and eat more mackerel and egg yolks.” – Richa

For more information, visit Yoppie.com & EatLoveMove.com. For further advice on how to support hormone health and cycles, you can also download Richa’s e-book, Hormone Balancing Hacks, at TheFertilityPharmacist.co.uk

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