This is all too common and many women just accept it as normal, or don’t bother thinking twice about it. There is a lot of anatomy and physiology involved when we look at the reasons for missed or irregular periods. The hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal glands, thyroid and ovaries which all help to regulate the menstrual cycle and balance hormones are at work. I like to look at the overall picture by looking closely at symptoms and the body systems.
Let’s just go over a normal cycle. Once a month, (approximately every 25-30 days) an ovary is supposed to release an egg. This egg then travels towards the uterus and if fertilisation doesn’t take place the lining that has been built in the uterus is eventually shed. Having a regular, pain-free period indicates hormones are balanced and the reproductive system is working as it should. If a woman stops getting her period or has painful or intense PMS symptoms it is a very clear sign that something is not right. Either her hormones are too high, or imbalanced for some reason. There are a number of reasons to look at that influence hormonal balance from stress, (a huge one), a poor diet, over exercise, thyroid issues, inflammation or even having a very low body weight.
If an ovary fails to release an egg, (noticeable by irregular or absent periods) then that is an abnormal response and something needs to be done to prevent further health issues or infertility down the line. Sex hormones such as oestrogen are responsible for regulating a women’s cycle. There are actually three types: estradiol, estrone and estriol. The ovaries and adrenal glands, (known as your stress glands) produce estradiol which is considered the most powerful of the three estrogens and is related to the menstrual cycle more than estrone and estriol which are more related to conception.
Estrogen dominance is very prevalent today thanks to toxins, BPA plastics and poor diets, but so is oestrogen deficiency which can cause missed or irregular periods. Let’s talk the S-word – STRESS! I have found in my clinic that stress is everywhere and a huge reason why women may not be producing enough sex hormones. Stressors come in many forms and not just emotional. We need to consider physical (what we put in our mouths and do for work), chemical (what we put on our skin and use around the house) and environmental (what we’re exposed to around our house and work place). Back in the day we had short bursts of stress when we came across a wild animal, but today we are constantly exposed to stressors everyday throughout the day, many thanks to modern technology.
When you’re under a lot of stress for a long period of time, your adrenal glands, (stress glands) start to work in overtime, which can disrupt your thyroid, oestrogen production and other reproductive hormones. Over-exercising or not eating enough are other stressors which influence hormones like lutenizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which inhibits your body to properly build up the uterine lining to shed, therefore you don’t get a period. This all happens because your body is looking out for you – it wants to ensure that real emergencies get priority. If you’re stressed your body doesn’t feel that you have the energy to make a baby, so being fertile is not important when it comes to just everyday survival. The body will prioritise stress hormones that help you survive a crisis over sex hormones that get pushed to the side when your body thinks it’s under threat.
So, what about diet? A diet that is low in nutrients (foods from the soil that give the cells vitamins and minerals), antioxidants and probiotics put stress on the adrenal glands and thyroid. A high intake of sugar, refined carbs, hydrogenated fats and oils and additives and preservatives all raise the stress hormone cortisol as these foods create inflammation in the body. Excess cortisol hinders the proper function of sex hormones as already mentioned. So, when it comes to diet ensure you’re eating plenty of plant based foods, (organic where possible); healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut oil; colourful vegetables that are full of antioxidants and clean sources of protein without hormones and antibiotics. I also just want to mention undiagnosed food sensitivities. This can impact your hormone levels because it impacts gut health and adds stress to your adrenals, inhibiting your body from properly absorbing nutrients from your food, (I can test for food sensitivities).
I just want to touch on over exercise. We all know exercise is important for cardiovascular health, mood regulation, sleep and maintaining a healthy body weight, but too much exercise can put pressure on your adrenal glands. High intensity exercise that requires a high level of physical exertion, (such as training for a marathon) can stop periods. Cortisol responds to the perceived stress of overtraining. Don’t feel you have to sweat profusely to get a good workout. In fact, exercises like yoga and pilates are great to tone and strengthen the body without putting pressure on your nervous system. Too much energy going into physical exercise takes energy away from the bodies need to regulate sex hormones.
So, what can be done to help balance the hormones and support the body? Firstly, address the stressors in your life whether it be diet or over exercise. Seek out time for yourself to journal, meditate, pray or get a massage. What relaxes you most? I know for me, I love to journal and I’m always up for a good massage! I also really enjoy yoga and stretching as I find I’m most relaxed after a good class. If you’ve been exposed to stressors for some time that are out of your control, you may want to take some adaptogen herbs that target the adrenal glands offering support. I can give you a simple stress test to see if stress is impacting the body if you’re unsure. Look at what types of exercise you’re doing and whether youre pushing yourself too hard when it comes to work. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exposing yourself to toxins around the house? Are you consuming too many stimulants such as caffeine that stress your adrenal glands? By making some simple and practical changes you can begin to restore balance back to the body and therefore balance your hormones too. If you would like more advice or testing done to find out exactly what’s happening with your body, (as hormones can get tricky) then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!