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Main article: Treatment of Irregular Periods
A menstrual cycle is defined as the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. This cycle is on average 28 days in length.
It is not uncommon for a woman’s period to vary by a few days each cycle. For this reason, a menstrual cycle length of 21 to 35 days is considered normal and regular.
Conversely, irregular periods is defined as having regular cycles less than every 21 days (polymenorrhea) and or more than every 35 days (oligomenorrhea).
A large variation in blood loss during menstruation, or duration of periods, is also considered irregular.
Overall, up to one-third of will women experience irregular periods during their reproductive years.
Nevertheless, there are a variety of reasons why women experience irregular periods. These causes are usually spontaneous and reversible or chronic and long-term (including age).
In most cases, spontaneous and reversible causes of irregular periods are treatable naturally.
How to Get Regular Periods Naturally
The following sections discuss natural evidence-based lifestyle changes that improves irregular periods in women with no known medical conditions.
1. Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Although stress affects every woman differently, stress is a major cause of fluctuating hormones and irregular periods. This includes things such as worrying about certain foods or exams, time zone shifts and night shift work.
In cases, where eliminating or reducing your exposure to the stress is not possible, studies show that practicing yoga, meditation, and cognitive behaviour therapy can significantly reduce the effect of stress, regulate hormones and restore regular periods.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Irregular periods is more prevalent in women outside the healthy weight range (i.e. BMI < 20 or > 30). Likewise, excess adiposity or too low body fat (<17%) will also cause irregular periods.
A 6-month lifestyle and diet modification program is reported to improve hormone levels (and restore ovulation) in obese women. In low BMI cases, increasing calorie intake and body fat to 22% causes a return of regular periods.
However, extreme weight loss or gain also causes irregular periods. Therefore, any lifestyle and diet modifications should be gradually introduced over several months.
3. Stay Physically Active
Staying physically active is a proven method to simultaneously reduce insulin levels and the effects of stress on your body. This can take many shapes or forms according to your individual needs. For reference, simply walking 10,000 steps a day and 30 minutes of exercise 2 to 3 times a week is recommended for those with sedentary lifestyles.
Keep in mind that an excessive amount of exercise (i.e. 3 hours or greater per week) is also known to cause irregular periods if energy intake is not increased. Although this threshold varies considerably according to the type of exercise.
4. Modify Diet
The food you eat everyday can significantly impact your hormones (and regular periods). According to the evidence so far, experts currently recommend eating a healthy balanced diet and avoiding unconventional diets (e.g. a high-fiber diet, low-fat diet, high-carb and low-carb diet).
In-depth studies also report that vegetable protein and healthy fats (specifically PUFA) are essential for normal hormone levels and regular periods.
As is having enough calories per day, especially during your luteal phase, which requires an extra 300 calories per day to support the effects of rising progesterone levels.
The timing of food intake may also help regulate your menstrual cycle. A previous study found that skipping breakfast was linked to irregular periods among young women. Follow up animal studies report that eating at the wrong time disrupts the circadian rhythm and reproductive functions of females (but not males).
Finally, women with elevated insulin levels and irregular periods should try to schedule breakfast, lunch and dinner within an 8-hour window (known as time-restricted fasting). Numerous studies show time-restricted fasting (without decreasing energy intake) moderates insulin levels which may lead to more regular periods depending on the severity.
5. Good Consistent Sleep
A lack of adequate sleep, poor sleep quality and changing sleep patterns (especially among shift workers) disrupts the circadian clock which alters hormone rhythms and levels. Studies show these changes are enough to cause irregular periods for some women. Surprisingly, mobile phone use prior to sleep is not linked to irregular periods.
Overall, experts recommend a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Sleep quality can also be self-evaluated at home using the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index and Insomnia Severity Index questionaries.
6. Reduce Smoking
Heavy smoking (i.e. 20 cigarettes or more per day) disrupts the female endocrine system which affects hormone levels and the menstrual cycle. As a result, several studies report heavy smoking is linked to irregular periods (especially shorter menstrual cycles).
In theory, regular periods should slowly return as you reduce smoking and the body excretes the toxins. However, this may not happen for all women, especially those who have been smoking one pack a day for ten or more years according to Windham et al.
Vitamin D and vitamin C are important for regular periods.
Vitamin D deficiency alters hormone levels and increases the likelihood of irregular periods. However insufficient sunlight and obesity are not the only possible causes of low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency can also be caused by a disturbed calcium balance. As a result, the doctor will usually test calcium levels and parathyroid hormones before recommending to increase vitamin D intake.
Vitamin C is an essential vitamin and potent antioxidant that specifically improves hormones associated with regular periods. Henmi et al. reported that daily vitamin C supplementation significantly improved progesterone levels after just 3 weeks for more than 50% of women diagnosed with irregular periods (specifically luteal phase defect).
When should I see a doctor?
It is recommended to see your Doctor about irregular periods if none of the above apply to you and:
- Your periods suddenly become irregular and are under 45.
- Your cycles are less than 22 days or more than 35 days.
- Your periods last longer than 7 days.
- The difference between your shortest and longest cycle is 20 days or greater.
- You have irregular periods and are struggling to get pregnant.
This does not necessarily mean something is wrong. However, it is strongly recommended to go for a check-up and make sure everything is normal.
A Tip from Fertility Science
Each woman responds differently to these causes of irregular periods. A single factor may not be enough to disrupt the menstrual cycle. Instead, a combination of these factors may be needed to cause irregular periods for some women as observed by Bae et al.
If your regular periods fail to return after a few months, please see a doctor. Even though irregular menstrual cycles are a natural bodily response to duress, it is also classified as a medical condition.
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