The menstrual cycle that normally happens every month is a series of monthly changes that occur in a woman’s body in preparation for the chance of pregnancy. Every month, women go through the process of ovulation, wherein one ovary releases an egg. When the egg is not fertilized, the uterine lining sheds through the vagina. This process is called as the menstrual period, which usually occurs every 28 days. The menstrual cycle is regulated by various hormones of a female’s body.
A female’s “period” normally begins around 11-12 years old. It usually lasts for 2-7 days until they stop menstruating at an average age of 51. This transition is called the menopause stage.
A female who menstruates normally experiences irregular periods from time to time. In most cases, having missed periods is not dangerous. However, it is still important to know what causes them. Below are 7 reasons why you may be experiencing irregular periods:
1. Increased Stress Levels
When a woman is dealing with a lot of stress for a longer period of time, her body starts to conserve energy by not going through the process of ovulation. Everyday stress as well as going through traumatic events in life can make the adrenals overwork, which can lead to impaired production of estrogen, thyroid, and other reproductive hormones in the body.
Stress can also contribute to hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is a condition that involves the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus is a gland that connects the nervous system to the endocrine system through the pituitary gland. It also regulates the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which signals other hormones to start the menstrual cycle. The other hormones involved are luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). When the hypothalamus does not produce GnRH, there will also be a reduction in the amount of estrogen, LH, and FSH produced, which can stop ovulation and menstruation. As a consequence, there will be an insufficient buildup of the uterine lining and women do not get their monthly period.
Why does it happen?
Stress involves the production of the hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. These two stress hormones help us survive from threats whether physical, immediate, or perceived ones. These hormones are necessary to help us exert energy during “fight or flight” responses.
The body prioritizes the production of stress hormones to help us overcome a crisis. As a result, sex hormones tend to take a backseat when the body senses difficult and stressful times. Moreover, when the body is under stress for a prolonged period, there would be insufficient raw materials such as neurotransmitters and amino acids that help produce stress hormones and sex hormones. In such cases, the body always chooses the production of more stress hormones than sex hormones.
Highly stressful situations such as intense and emotional events, strenuous exercises, and dieting can lead to amenorrhea regardless of body weight.
2. Lack of Proper Nutrition
Consuming a diet low in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotic foods, but high in stimulants can greatly affect the function of the adrenal and thyroid glands. The excessive intake of high sugar foods, artificial sweeteners or additives, hydrogenated fats, and foods with pesticides are often linked to thyroid gland issues and adrenal fatigue, which can lead to increased cortisol levels in the body.
Excess cortisol can hinder the proper functioning of various hormones in the body including sex hormones. When there is a high amount of cortisol in the body for a long period of time, it promotes the breakdown of bones, muscles, brain, and skin tissues. Excessive cortisol also leads to the breakdown of protein, which can cause muscle wasting and an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
Women experiencing irregular periods should eat nutrient-dense foods that are high in antioxidants and healthy fats. Include a good amount of proteins in the diet as well. High-calorie supplements can be taken by those who are underweight or have low body fat, but check with your doctor to make sure these are right for you.
3. Excessive Exercise
People should exercise according to their body's capacity while keeping in mind their medical condition or restrictions. Over-exercising is not beneficial for the body. However, moderate exercises have been linked with a healthy heart, proper sleep, mood regulation, and healthy body weight. Too much exercising can cause excessive pressure on the adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid glands. Women who tend to rapidly start carrying out high-intensity exercises such as participating in a marathon need high levels of physical exertion, which may abruptly stop ovulation.
Like any other stress hormones, cortisol is always released in response to any kind of real or perceived stress, which can also be in the physical form such as high-intensity physical workouts. Overworking and overtraining are considered as physical stressors aside from lack of proper sleep, tiredness, fatigue, emotional problems, fasting, and infection.
If this kind of physical exertion is regularly carried out, then it can lead to increased stress levels and deplete the body's energy, which is required for regulating sex hormones. It was reported that women who do ballet dancing and running are more prone to experiencing amenorrhea. Exercise-related amenorrhea is said to be an indicator of drained energy.
The health issues that usually come along with this condition include loss of bone density and eating disorders. For this reason, women's nutritional deficiencies, skeletal problems, and heart complications are a priority for healthcare practitioners.
4. Thyroid Disorders
The thyroid gland is one of the most important glands linked to a lot of functions in the body. Most people do not recognize thyroid issues when it comes to health problems. Very few people know that the thyroid gland can cause problems that are associated with hormonal imbalances in the body. According to some reports, thyroid gland disorders are one of the leading causes of missed periods. Approximately 15 percent of women with amenorrhea also have an impaired thyroid functioning. The thyroid gland is often regarded as the "master gland" because it plays a vital role when it comes to regulating the endocrine system.
It is the gland that usually controls metabolism and sex hormones. Thyroid gland disorders such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are said to cause symptoms such as changes in the levels of cortisol and estrogen in the body, which leads to irregular or missed periods.
Too much cortisol circulation in the body can cause an overall hormone resistance, which can also cause thyroid resistance. It would mean that the body becomes desensitized to any of these hormones and more hormones would be required to carry out the same activity.
5. Hormonal Imbalances
Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that negatively affects the process of ovulation. Women diagnosed with PCOS would start to experience altered levels of sex hormones, which include testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. Hormonal imbalances ultimately lead to an abnormal growth of hair, sudden changes in weight leading to weight gain, problems in blood sugar levels, irregular menstrual cycle, and acne.
Gynecologists can diagnose PCOS by carrying out certain tests that check hormone levels along with asking about a woman's medical history and symptoms. The doctor would also examine the ovaries for any cysts or growths.
6. Stopping Birth Control
There are some women who don't get their periods while they are on birth control pills. However, even if they already stopped taking the pills, they still do not get their periods. In such cases, doctors mostly suggest that a woman’s period can adjust back and normalize within a couple of months after stopping the pills, but there have been cases of women experiencing irregular or missed periods for as long as a year.
Women's natural menstrual cycle involves the rising and falling the hormones estrogen and progesterone. However, when women take birth control pills, estrogen is kept at high levels fooling the body that it is pregnant. Such hormonal imbalance results in missed or irregular menstrual cycles, and it may take months to years before the body achieves homeostasis.
7. Weight Issues
When the body mass index (BMI) falls below 18 or 19, then there are chances that women will start skipping their periods because their bodies do not have enough body fat. Body fat is quite important for the production of estrogen. Thin women or those suffering from serious eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia often experience irregular periods.