By Sabahat Rahman, Communications Editor
Why does period loss matter?
Losing your period may not seem like a huge deal. In fact, it may even feel like a relief from an uncomfortable experience! However, few young women realize the far-reaching consequences of losing a regular menstrual cycle. Period loss, or amenorrhea, has been linked to mood swings, depression, bone weakening and osteoporosis, hair loss, headaches, and excess facial hair. While that list seems extensive, it still does not address all of the issues amenorrhea may cause!
Period loss is typically caused by hormonal imbalances, particularly estrogen imbalance. According to Diana Taylor, an associate professor of nursing at UC San Francisco and a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, “There are estrogen receptors throughout the body. So the loss of estrogen...affects bones…[and] other physiological and psychological systems.”
Even many doctors and educated women fail to realize how catastrophic period loss is. When patients go to a doctor because they have amenorrhea, they are often prescribed birth control pills to mimic the effects of a normal menstrual cycle. These pills cannot offer the same benefits a normal period does and only temporarily solve the issue.
So if birth control pills don’t really help, am I doomed?
No, you are not! Some cases of amenorrhea are caused by dysfunctional sexual organs or certain disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In these cases, doctors can prescribe the appropriate treatment(s) you may need to restore a normal menstrual cycle.
But period loss can also be caused by some things that seem far less consequential: undereating, overexercising, sleep deprivation, and stress. While this may seem crazy, keep in mind that a normal menstrual cycle indicates that your body is able to be pregnant and support a baby in your womb. When you undereat, you are depriving your body of necessary foods and nutrients. As a result, your period stops because your body is telling you, “Hey! You cannot be pregnant at this weight!” Similarly, exercise, sleep deprivation, and mental/emotional stress produce pressures that cause your body to stop menstruating and warn, “You cannot support a baby in this stressed state!” Often, professional athletes suffer from amenorrhea for this very reason.
Okay, okay, I get it. My period’s important. Can I get it back?
Yes, you can definitely restore your menstrual cycle, but be warned: it often takes a lot of work. For instance, many young women suffering from eating disorders lose their period. In these cases, eating freely and satisfying cravings is essential for the body to heal and gain the weight it needs to support you. This process is often terrifying for people with eating disorders, or even people with disordered eating habits. Support from counselors or dieticians, as well as friends and family, is critical in healing and gaining back your period.
It’s also worth evaluating your lifestyle. How active are you in the day? Are you active because you enjoy it or because you feel the need to burn calories? Are you stressed in school or in life? Are you sleeping enough? These are the hard questions that need to be addressed when restoring your menstrual cycle.
Social media platforms often exacerbate toxic diet culture or societal body standards, which can make it hard for those trying to heal and get their periods back. Yet, there are plenty of people out there who also want to help you get your period! Elena Kunicki, a registered dietician nutritionist, is committed to helping girls restore their menstrual cycles without the birth control pill. Her instagram account (@weight.lifting.nutricionist) is a great place to find resources.
The verdict is…
Period loss matters! No matter how easy it may be to take birth control and “solve” the problem, it is guaranteed that working on restoring your cycle will have myriads of benefits. You’ll be healthier, stronger, and happier! All the best to those trying to get their period back, and never hesitate to reach out for help!