What is Irregular Periods?
Your menstrual cycle occurs as the result of a complex hormonal interaction involving your brain, ovaries, and adrenal, pituitary and thyroid glands. If anything interferes with this delicate hormonal balance, you may experience irregular or absent periods. If you have irregular periods or your periods have stopped (amenorrhea), you should see your gynecologist or medical doctor for a more thorough investigation.
There are many possible causes of secondary amenorrhea and irregular periods, including:
- Stress. Mental stress can temporarily alter the functioning of your hypothalamus — an area of your brain that controls the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle. Ovulation and menstruation may stop or become irregular as a result. Regular menstrual periods usually resume after your stress decreases.
- Medication. Certain medications can cause menstrual periods to stop. For example, antidepressants, antipsychotics, some chemotherapy drugs, and oral corticosteroids can all cause amenorrhea.
- Illness. Chronic illness may postpone menstrual periods by delaying ovulation. Menstruation typically resumes once you recover.
- Hormonal imbalance. A common cause of amenorrhea or irregular periods is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition causes relatively high and sustained levels of estrogen and androgen, a male hormone, rather than the fluctuating levels seen in the normal menstrual cycle. This results in a decrease in the pituitary hormones that lead to ovulation and menstruation. PCOS is associated with obesity, amenorrhea or abnormal -- often heavy -- uterine bleeding, infertility, acne, and sometimes excess facial hair.
- Low body weight. Excessively low body weight interrupts many hormonal functions in your body, potentially halting ovulation. Women who have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, often stop having periods because of these abnormal hormonal changes.
- Excessive exercise. Women who participate in sports that require rigorous training, such as ballet, long-distance running, or gymnastics, may find their menstrual cycle interrupted. Several factors combine to contribute to this loss of periods in athletes, including low body fat, stress, and high energy expenditure.
- Thyroid malfunction. An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) commonly causes menstrual irregularities, including amenorrhea. Thyroid disorders can also cause an increase or decrease in the production of prolactin — a reproductive hormone generated by your pituitary gland. An altered prolactin level can affect your hypothalamus and disrupt your menstrual cycle.
- Pituitary tumor. A noncancerous (benign) tumor in your pituitary gland (adenoma or prolactinoma) can cause an overproduction of prolactin. Excess prolactin can interfere with the regulation of menstruation. This type of tumor is treatable with medication but it sometimes requires surgery.
- Uterine scarring. Asherman's syndrome, a condition in which scar tissue builds up in the lining of the uterus, can sometimes occur after uterine procedures, such as a dilation and curettage (D and C), Caesarean section, or treatment for uterine fibroids. Uterine scarring prevents the normal buildup and shedding of the uterine lining, which can result in very light menstrual bleeding or no periods at all.
- Premature menopause. Menopause usually occurs between ages 45 and 55. If you experience menopause before age 40, it's considered premature. The lack of ovarian function associated with menopause decreases the amount of circulating estrogen in your body, which in turn thins your uterine lining (endometrium) and brings an end to your menstrual periods. Premature menopause may result from genetic factors or autoimmune disease but often no cause can be found.
- Pregnancy. In women of reproductive age, pregnancy is the most common cause of amenorrhea.
- Contraceptives. Some women who take birth control pills may not have periods. When oral contraceptives are stopped, it may take 3-6 months to resume regular ovulation and menstruation. Contraceptives that are injected or implanted, such as Depo-Provera, also may cause amenorrhea as can progesterone-containing intrauterine devices such as Mirena.
- Breast-feeding. Mothers who breast-feed often experience amenorrhea. Although ovulation may occur, menstruation may not. Pregnancy can result despite the lack of menstruation.
How Chinese Medicine can Help
Chinese medicine is extremely effective at treating the underlying conditions that disrupt the menstrual cycle.
According to Chinese medicine, a “healthy” menstrual cycle:
- Is about 29 days (we follow the moon)
- Is regular (+/- one or two day every month)
- Flows 3-7 day
- Has a fresh red blood color (not purple, black, or too pale pink)
- Is of average consistency (not watery or thick like molasses)
- Is of average flow (not overly light or very heavy)
- Has no clots
After your Acubalance practitioner has made a thorough evaluation of your condition, he or she will create an individualized treatment program based on your Chinese medicine pattern diagnosis.
Acupuncture is the traditional Chinese method of placing extra-thin needles at strategic energy points on your body to improve functioning and promote natural healing. Acupuncture is frequently used to help regulate menstrual cycles, reduce stress, and improve blood flow to the pelvic area and uterine lining.
Herbal therapy is an essential treatment modality for gynecological conditions (including infertility) in Chinese medicine, and provides an important compliment to acupuncture. While acupuncture stimulates the flow of Qi and blood, herbal formulas are designed to nourish and replenish deficiencies in the metabolic, endocrine, and immune systems.
Studies have shown that herbal formulas may
- Regulate menstrual cycles
- Alleviate endometriosis pain
- Thicken an unresponsive endometrium
- Restore normal menstruation in patients with amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea
Chinese herbal formulas are safe and effective when prescribed by your Chinese medicine practitioner.
Our Acubalance Diet incorporates 2,000 years of Chinese medicine food therapy as well as current nutritional research, Both current research and ancient practice show that healthy eating for hormonal balance is based on a natural, whole foods, plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet that keeps insulin at a steady level
Whole foods are foods that are in the state that Mother Nature made them (the apple versus apple juice), minimally processed, and refined as little as possible before being eaten. Whole foods provide maximum nutrients, fiber enzymes, antioxidants, and taste without added artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, sweeteners or trans fats.
Slow carbohydrates are beneficial carbohydrates that are slowly digested, causing a slower and lower rise in blood sugar after being eaten. They include beans, peas, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, and most fruits. Eating slow carbs helps to minimize insulin resistance, regulate blood sugar, balance fertility hormones, and prevent gestational diabetes.
Plant-based foods include a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These foods are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients that counter inflammation (a common cause of accelerated aging) and nourish your reproductive system. A plant-based diet means that most (but not necessarily all) of your diet is based on plant foods. As long as you are eating 6-9 servings of vegetables a day, we can recommend animal protein such as deep water fish like salmon, grass-fed free range beef or bison, and free-range poultry and eggs. Depending on your Chinese pattern diagnosis, you may also enjoy small servings of organic whole-fat dairy—including yoghurt or your favorite cheese.
Healthy fats and oils are those that are pressed naturally from whole-plant foods (coconuts, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives) and short-lived, deep sea fish like salmon, herring and mackerel. Healthy fats combat cellular inflammation and improve hormonal sensitivity.
Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to balance your hormones and alleviate premenstrual symptoms.
Exercise burns calories and helps regulate your insulin levels, reversing some of the metabolic imbalances that contribute to weight gain and menstrual problems.
During the second half of your menstrual cycle (luteal phase), your endorphin levels drop Regular exercise boosts your body’s production of endorphins and dopamine and inhibits the release of GABA.
You can get the positive effects of exercise by just walking for 30 minutes every day. You can also amplify the effect of your workout by incorporating more activity into your daily routine: try parking your car a few blocks from work or your destination and take stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible. You can also hike, bike, swim, or join a dance class. There are so many ways to get moving!
Note that excessive exercise may interfere with your hormonal balance and cause your menstrual cycle to become irregular or stop altogether. It is about balance and moderation. "Too little is too little and too much is too much"
Stress Reduction—Deep Relaxation
Chronic stress can have a powerful effect on your body as whole and your hormones in particular. Stress is when you perceive a threat (this can be a negative thought as much as an external danger), and your body releases a cascade of stress hormones, including cortisol and noradrenaline, to put you in a flight-or-fight response. Stress shuts down all non-essential systems and directly affects the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovary Axis (HPO) that regulates hormones. As well, stress diverts the blood supply away from the ovaries and interferes with your body’s ability to respond to hormones. To make matters worse, high levels of estrogen amplify the effects of stress hormones like cortisol creating a negative feedback loop that ramps up your stress level.
How to manage stress
Along with exercise, self-care, meditating, and mind-body programs can help reduce distress and promote deep relaxation. Take time each day to nurture yourself: read an inspiring book, have a massage, go to the spa, keep a gratitude journal, garden, pamper yourself with a bubble bath with candles and music, or have a walk in nature
How Insulin Affects Hormones
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the change of sugar, starches, and other food into energy that your body burns-up or stores as fat. Excess insulin causes a rise in male hormones that can lead to acne, excessive hair growth, weight gain, and ovulation problems. As well, insulin blocks the liver from producing sex hormone binding globulin --a hormone that restricts which cells are affected by testosterone. So high insulin levels increase the amount of male hormones circulating in the blood and also amplify the effects on these hormones on all the cells. In turn, high levels of insulin stimulate the ovaries to overproduce androgens. Excess androgens cause the follicles to develop too quickly and then to shut down prematurely before they produce an egg.
To make matters worse, insulin insensitivity contributes to weight gain, especially in the belly area and insulin insensitivity makes it harder to lose the weight. These sets up a negative feedback system as belly fat excretes hormones that make you feel hungry—causing you to eat more and send insulin levels even higher.
Promising studies have shown that a specific acupuncture protocol (which we use at Acubalance) can be effective in both reducing insulin levels and helping you lose weight. Combining this acupuncture protocol 2-4 times per week with diet and lifestyle changes is a very effective way to reach and maintain a healthy weight and get your hormones back in balance.