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Factors That Mess With Menstruation

min read

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Andrea Eisenberg, MD

While the odd bout of spotting, heaviness, and ill-timed periods are nothing to fret about, if your periods are constantly erratic or missed altogether, gynecologists at the NYU Langone Medical Center warn that your body is trying to tell you that something isn’t quite right. Causes can range from increased levels of stress to increased levels of exercise intensity.

Here are eight factors that may mess with your regular monthly cycle…

Stress

We blame stress for everything, but it turns out that periods of high stress can affect reproduction, including menstruation.  Research from the Ohio State University College of Medicine’s Reproductive Epidemiology department found that women under stress doubled their chances of infertility and irregular menstrual cycles.

Excess Body Weight

If you’re overweight or obese, your estrogen levels are likely higher than average.  Increased estrogen levels can cause the endometrial lining (lining of the uterus) to thicken while interrupting egg release via the ovaries, which is why overweight women tend to experience heavy, erratic, and lengthy periods. However, what you might not know is that excessive estrogen production over the long term can heighten your risk of endometrial cancer. Talk to your doctor.

Low Body Weight

The flip side of the coin is a reality for those with inadequate or low body weight—the body won’t produce enough estrogen to produce endometrial lining for menstruation.  Medical scientists at Virginia’s Sentara Leigh Hospital claim that women who shed a lot of weight can have light, erratic, or missed periods, and recommend giving your body a few months to regulate. If period issues persist, tell your doctor.

Pesticides

We’ve been warned about the dangers of pesticides in our meats, fruits, and vegetables for many reasons. A growing body of research from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) claims that pesticides can actually mimic hormones, competing and interfering with hormone production and wreaking havoc on the endocrine system in over 60-percent of women who lived on pesticide-using  farms or worked with pesticides.

Aging

Menopause might signal the end of your menstrual cycle, but what about that time in between? You better bet as your hormone production (i.e., estrogen) lessens, your cycle changes with it—causing more frequent or infrequent periods, spotting, mood swings, cravings, and heavier flow.

Strenuous Exercise

You’ve probably heard of prima ballerinas, professional figure skaters, or distance runners that don’t menstruate (a condition called amenorrhea that impacts bone density). However, intense athletics of any kind can disrupt fertility hormone production if their low body weight becomes low.

According to a Brazilian study, roughly half of exercising women experience subtle menstrual disturbances—while one third of exercising females have amenorrhea. Even if you put yourself through bouts of strenuous exercise, your period can become irregular. If you miss your period for a few months in a row, a doctor’s visit is wise.

Lack of Sleep

There’s  a good reason why women who work irregular hours or shift work suffer from lack of shut eye and irregular periods. In fact, sleep research from Louisiana’s Ochsner Clinic draws a direct correlation between your body’s sleep clock and your fertility hormones and melatonin levels, which both affect ovulation and menstruation.

Prescription Medications

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease (i.e., like lupus) or a thyroid condition, you may notice changes in your period due to prescribed medications. Drugs that effect your hormone levels (i.e., antipsychotics or steroids) can cause imbalanced hormones,  including reproductive hormones, throwing off your cycle and its regularity, according to a 2011 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Andrea Eisenberg, MD is a board certified OB/GYN in the Metro Detroit area. She has dedicated her life to caring for women through all stages of their lives -- from adolescence, to delivering babies, and later into menopause. Her special interests include minimally invasive surgeries, adolescence, family planning, infertility, and menopause. In her spare time she writes about the human side of medicine on her blog and has several essays published in a variety of journals. To decompress, she enjoys trail running and baking.

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