We all know that getting your period each month is your body saying "I'm not pregnant!". But did you know it is giving you other insight into your health as well? Your period is like a monthly report card on your health status. When your period becomes irregular, it's your body telling you something is off.
Stress is the biggest culprit when it comes to factors that affect the regularity of your period. This can be emotional stress or physical stress. Emotional stress is what we most often think of when we hear the word stress.This could be from work, school, family matters, social drama, moving, busy schedules, mental health, or more. Physical stress is stress on the body, such as lack of sleep, over exercising, under eating, or being sick. In many cases, physical stress is a result of emotional stress.
Our bodies are very tightly regulated, in part by hormones. So when you experience chronic stress, whether physical or emotional, it altars your hormone levels. The primary hormone that responds to stress is cortisol. As cortisol increases, the body switches in to"fight or flight" mode. If this continues for an extended period of time, it can affect other hormonal pathways, such as that of the menstrual cycle.
In short, if you notice changes in your menstrual cycle, and are not pregnant, it's likely your body's response to a stressor in your life.
In the short term, this could simply be different PMS symptoms, shorter or longer duration of your period or a shorter or longer menstrual cycle. An example of when this may happen would be if you're experiencing stress from finals week, being sick, or have a tight deadline at work. If life goes back to normal after the event, your period should too.
However, when stress affects your period in the long term, it can start to cause health consequences. Completely losing your period for 3 or more months, also known as secondary amenorrhea, is a sign that your body is experiencing chronic stress. This is when it's time to take a look at your nutrition, exercise and any other long term stressors that may be present in your life.
Amenorrhea, if left untreated can have consequences in bone health, cardiovascular health and fertility. For this reason, if you think you may be experiencing amenorrhea, it's important to seek help from a medical professional. A primary care physician or gynecologist can complete blood work to see if there are any underlying conditions that require attention. Otherwise, a dietitian can help address nutrition and exercise needs.
The Bottom Line
Having a period gives you an extra look into your health each month. Short term changes in your menstrual period are often nothing to be concerned about. If you lose your period for 3+ months, or notice irregularities for an extended period of time, it is time to reach out to a professional.
Secondary amenorrhea is often related to an imbalance in energy. Addressing the balance of input (food) and output (exercise and activity) are a key aspect of period recovery. This is where a dietitian comes in to play! If you're interested in working with me, or even just learning more about how I can help before committing, book a discovery call to chat with me!