Earlier this month I posted all about my personal experience going off the Pill and received an outpouring of messages and personal stories from women around the world. I have to say: THANK YOU! It means so much that you would share your experiences with me, and it also helps me to create content to give you as much information as I can regarding some of the issues you have been experiencing.
My belief is that we are not as informed as we could be about this very sensitive topic, and my mission is to give you as many answers as I can so that you can make the best decision for your personal health and lifestyle.
The first reaction most people have have had when I’ve mentioned my experience with amenorrhea is, “and this is a problem because…?”
I get it. We ladies often lament our periods. We refer to it as “the curse” and a whole range of other derogatory terms. We dread it every month, it gets in our way, gives us terrible PMS (not normal, by the way), and we might even hide behind it to use it as an excuse when we snap at a loved one or feel bloated and uncomfortable in our own skin.
But, I can tell you: life (at my age) without a menstrual cycle just feels wrong.
I felt as though my body was…broken. I felt alone. Isolated. No one I knew, to my knowledge, had ever experienced the same issue and I didn’t know who to talk to about it.
With my training as an R.H.N., amenorrhea had been mentioned briefly in class and in my textbooks. I dove into doing my own research to start making changes, but became frustrated as time went on.
Finally, 11 months after going off of oral contraceptives, I got a menstrual cycle, followed by a second one a couple months later. It’s a good start, but I still have lots of work to do to get my hormones into balance and work with my body rather than against it to heal.
The female reproductive system is incredibly complex, much more so than males, and practitioners often are not able to pinpoint one specific issue that can be causing a problem such as amenorrhea or a number of other women’s reproductive health issues.
This means it is even more important to educate yourself.
My experience with post-Pill amenorrhea has forced me to slow down, rest more, and change my diet. It’s a continuously evolving practice and it has taught me to pay even closer attention to my body than ever before. I’ve become much more sensitive to small changes in my body and how I feel throughout my cycle.
There are a number of the ways I have been dealing with it in an effort to regain regular, healthy menstrual cycles. One of biggest factors holding your body back from having healthy periods?
Here’s the thing: stress can take many different forms in the body. Some of these include:
- Lack of, or poor quality sleep
- Poor digestion
- Consuming foods one is sensitive to
- Under-eating (or over-eating, but I find under-eating is even more common for many women)
- Being under-weight (the definition of under-weight can vary depending on the individual, but sub-20% body fat can cause hormonal difficulties in some)
Everyday stress is not going to magically disappear, and let’s be realistic about this: there will always be stress.
That said, what we can do is work towards reducing stress that we put upon ourselves (including managing perfectionist attitudes, my biggest personal struggle), and to shift our lifestyle and what we put into our bodies slightly in the interest of our health.
The thought of being less strict with our diets in terms of adding in more food that *might* have us gain a little weight can be a pretty scary prospect. Many of us have spent years perfecting ways to keep the weight off, but that may not make our hormones the happiest, depending on how we go about that. Eating healthy fats are very important to balancing our sex hormones and can be even more important to regaining your cycle or increasing fertility.
Keep in mind that even if you are not trying to get pregnant, a healthy cycle is a sign of overall health, vitality and well-being in a female (unless nearing or post-menopause). If your menstrual cycle is a bit off off or you experience major PMS, your body is trying to tell you something.
Some of the ways I have been dealing with my hormonal imbalances and amenorrhea:
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese-medicine procedure that stimulates specific points throughout the body using tiny needles. It can be used to help manage a number of conditions and can be very effective with fertility issues and difficulties experienced with the menstrual cycle, including balancing hormones and easing stress.
Personally, I have found acupuncture to be incredibly helpful, if for no other reason than the calming effect it has on me. Be sure to look for a fertility-specific acupuncturist or clinic that specializes in women’s health issues. If you’re in the Hamilton, Ontario area I recommend this clinic, I’ve had an excellent experience with them.
2) Exercise Less
Hear me out on this one. Trust me, I was not at all comfortable with this side of things, and even though I knew it to be helpful, I resisted this. A LOT. There were many tears shed over the thought of cutting my weight-training workouts, and given that exercise is one of my major sources of stress relief along with genuine enjoyment, this was the area I truly struggled to implement.
The body recognizes exercise as stress. This is a good thing because it’s how we build muscle, and exercise is a crucial part of our overall health and vitality. That said, our hormones are very sensitive to stress, and the body can’t differentiate good stress from bad stress.
If the body is struggling in regards to menstrual cycles, it’s a sign of deeper issues happening within the body. From a fertility standpoint, exercise is usually great, but for some women, this may mean limited exercise to no more than 30 minutes (which is a smarter way to exercise for most anyway), or trying new types of exercise that can be easier on the body and reduce the stress and strain it can bring with it. Trying to conceive or working to repair hormonal issues and regain regular periods can mean trimming back some exercise but movement is always important no matter what.
Movement is simply the act of moving your body, and walking is one of the absolute best ways of doing this. My suggestion is to grab a friend, some tunes, or simply your walking shoes to get outside and get moving. Walking in nature in particular eases stress and anxiety, which is very helpful too.
Yoga reduces stress, which can boost fertility. Don’t have time for a full yoga class? Check the web for tons of free yoga videos of all different lengths and preferences to best suit your individual needs. I’ve made an effort to try to fit in yoga at least once per week, more when I can manage. It’s calming, centring and has many benefits beyond the hormonal.
Starting a business has been an adjustment. For a while there, very late nights and extremely little sleep were the norm, despite knowing better. I’m still far from perfect on this, but I have made an effort to be much stricter about bedtime, developing a bedtime routine and winding down for the night at an earlier hour.
Quality sleep is so important to our hormonal health, especially as the liver does its’ best work to naturally detoxify your body while you’re sleeping. Skimp on sleep and we’re not giving the liver a chance to make us our healthiest self.
5) Boost Progesterone
Often women who have taken oral contraceptives have higher than usual estrogen levels. This impacts progesterone, the hormone that naturally opposes estrogen and very important to ovulation and fertility. However, there are a huge number of environmental factors that are contributing to higher than normal levels of estrogen for many of us.
Some helpful supplements to bring hormones back into balance include Vitex (or chaste tree berry) and maca root.
Vitamin B6, also significantly deleted by the Pill, is very important as well, as it helps to support the liver which breaks down excess estrogen.
6) Change Your Diet
If you currently restrict your diet from any macronutrients, your body may need a shift in a different direction. This means playing with the ratios of macronutrients that you currently consume to see what is going to work best for you. Many women with fertility issues will do well to increase healthy fats to support hormones, especially female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Others may need to up the carbohydrates. I like carb sources like sweet potatoes or yams, squashes, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, beans and lentils in particular.
Making sure that you are getting adequate protein is also very important, particularly if participating in regular exercise. Protein is also an important factor in supporting the thyroid, strongly related to women’s reproductive and general health. Try well-sourced, grass-fed meats, beans and lentils, plant-based protein powders and even collagen powder.
If you struggle with constipation or diarrhea, it is one of many signs that there are issues happening in the gut. Other signs can be bloating, acid reflux, getting sick regularly, and some of the nutrient deficiencies that are so common, especially for women who have taken oral contraceptives.
Consider changing your diet, eliminate refined or processed foods, adding in whole foods including fresh fruits and veggies, high quality meats, healthy fats and complex carbs. See more of the ways to improve digestion here.
Oral contraceptives can create nutritional depletions. Often the body will require some extra help to bring these key nutrients back to healthy levels. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that these depletions are of “high clinical relevance” and can include folic acid, B vitamins (particular B2, B6 and B12), vitamins C and E, along with magnesium and selenium.
Zinc can also be depleted, as the Pill can increase copper levels throughout the body and therefore decrease the levels of zinc, which naturally oppose copper.
Additionally, as the Pill strips away much of the good bacteria in the gut, it’s important to supplement with a high quality probiotic. Look for one containing as many different strains of healthy bacteria as possible.
For more specific info work 1:1 with me to find what would best suit your body and lifestyle.
More to Come
The month of hormonal health continues! I’m on this journey to improved hormone health and balance right alongside you, and it takes time and patience, along with an attitude open to flexibility when the body needs it.