Unfortunately, the only factor most women know that causes menstrual irregularity is hormonal birth control pills. But other lesser-known factors influence your cycle. One of them is your dietary pattern. But how can changing your diet change your period? Join us as we decrypt the association between diet and sudden change in menstrual length.
Before we explain if and how diet affects your menstrual cycle, let us first understand what an irregular cycle is and its effects. On average, the length of the menstrual cycle for most women is twenty-eight days. However, this may vary among different women. Experts define a cycle irregular when it lasts for more than thirty days or if the duration varies (7). Irregular periods are also defined as oligomenorrhea (7).
Can Changing Your Diet Cause Your Period To Change?
The answer is yes. Usually, diet is a lesser culprit of an irregular cycle. Most people assume that it only affects period cramps, and in a good way. The assumption is based on the fact that there are foods that may help with period cramps, such as salmon, beef, tofu, beans, and lentils (6).
Some drinks help with period cramps, the number one on the list being water. Judging from this, you may assume that diet does not influence your cycle length. But it can.
Here are some ways in which changing your diet changes your period length:
Consuming A Low-Carb Diet
Some women are sensitive about what they eat during that time of the month and even after that. Some tend to willingly cut off or consume few carbohydrates to avoid any weight gain. As a result, they switch to a low-carb diet for some months. Unfortunately, most women do not realize that this may cause menstrual irregularity down the line.
According to experts, eating a low-carb diet leads to low energy intake. As we all know, carbohydrates provide fuel for your body. If not taken in plenty, you suffer from low energy levels. In addition, the low energy intake may cause menstrual irregularities due to hormonal imbalances (4).
Eating a high-calorie diet can result in weight gain. More so, changing your diet and eating foods high in sugar or trans fats can result in weight gain. Weight gain is one of the primary contributors to obesity. In addition, according to Medical News Today, obesity results in menstrual irregularity by affecting hormones and insulin levels that cause menstrual irregularities (1).
Again, if you change your diet and have rapid weight gain, you can also get an irregular cycle. However, Medical News Today does state that unintentional weight gain and an irregular cycle are common signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hypothyroidism (1).
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid glands are underactive and cannot produce enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs (5). Therefore, make sure you see your doctor immediately after you experience these two for further assessment.
Excessive Weight Loss
Changing your diet and eating an overly restrictive calorie diet results in weight loss. Bear in mind that the principle of weight loss is consuming fewer calories than your body is burning.
Not getting enough calories interferes with the production of the necessary hormones for ovulation (1). It leads to rapid or excessive weight loss that causes an irregular period or results in stopped periods (1).
In light of this, you should always get enough calories and maintain a healthy weight to avoid changing your menstrual cycle length. Keep your body mass index (BMI) above 18.5. Anything lower than this shows you are underweight and has higher chances of affecting the length of your flow (1).
Your period may also suddenly change if you exhibit disordered eating behaviors. The most common types of eating disorders include binge-eating, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa.
Binge-eating is an eating disorder where a person keeps eating even when they are full (2). It may result in weight gain, which, as we have discussed, can cause menstrual irregularities. Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, is when an individual has periods of binge-eating but soon after they purge, often by vomiting or the use of laxatives (2). This may lead to becoming underweight, again, leading to an irregular flow.
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder where an individual avoids food or eats tiny quantities of specific foods (2). It is a severe disorder that has a higher death rate than any mental disorder, and can lead to severe weight loss and menstrual irregularities (2).
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Other Causes Of Irregular Menstruation
A change in diet is one of the less obvious causes of an irregular menstrual cycle. Other factors that may lead to an irregular flow include:
Prolactin is the hormone behind breast milk production. It tends to suppress the reproductive hormones leading to light, irregular, or no periods when breastfeeding (1).
Presence Of Disease
An irregular cycle can be a result of an underlying health condition. The most common conditions that may affect a cycle include endometriosis and PCOS (3). Endometriosis affects one in ten women in their reproductive ages (1).
It refers to a condition where the tissue lining in your uterus grows outside, leading to debilitating period cramps (1). It is also associated with prolonged periods, irregular flows, heavy bleeding, and bleeding between periods (1).
Exercise undoubtedly has loads of benefits ranging from weight loss, improved overall health, and reduced risk of diseases. However, too much of it affects the hormones that deal with menstruation. As a result, you may experience an irregular cycle.
The most affected women by this factor are female athletes and those who undertake intensive training and physical exercises like ballet dancers. According to Medical News Today, they often report missed or stopped periods, which is referred to as amenorrhea (1). To avoid this, experts advise such women to increase their calorie count and reduce their training intensity. It will help in restoring their periods.
Increased Stress Levels
Indeed, we cannot escape stressors even if we tried to. However, what we can do is minimize our stress levels as it tampers with the menstrual cycle. Experts acknowledge that increased stress levels can temporarily interfere with the part of the brain responsible for producing hormones regulating your cycle (1).
You are supposed to look for and adopt effective techniques to help reduce your stress levels. Some of the most recommended techniques include yoga, mindful breathing, and meditation. When you reduce your stress levels, your period will return to normal.
Some medications may also tamper with your cycle and make it last longer than your usual length. Some of the medications known to interfere with menstrual cycles include (1):
- Blood thinners
- Epilepsy medications
- Thyroid drugs
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Ibuprofen and aspirin
- Chemotherapy drugs
Do not stop using medication to solve a menstrual irregularity problem without consulting your doctor. Instead, talk to your doctor and let them suggest the way forward.
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Although most women may not know it, smoking and drinking alcohol have been found to increase the prevalence of menstruation irregularities significantly (3). Therefore, you may want to consider avoiding smoking and alcohol if you want to tackle your menstrual cycle irregularity problem.
All these are other lesser-known factors that affect the length of your menstrual cycle. Make an appointment with your doctor if you think any of the listed factors are affecting your flow. Similarly, make sure you talk to your doctor if (1):
- Your cycle suddenly becomes irregular.
- Your flow lasts more than a week.
- Your periods stop for over three months, yet you are not pregnant.
- You need to use over one tampon or pad for an hour or two.
- You experience spotting between periods.
- In addition to an irregular flow, you report additional symptoms such as unusual discharge and fever.
- Your cycle is less than twenty-one days or more than thirty-five days apart.
The Bottom Line
Can changing your diet change your period length? The answer is yes. You can change your diet in several ways and affect your flow. These ways include switching to a low-carb diet, a high-calorie diet, and an overly calorie-restrictive diet.
You can avoid this by sticking to a healthy and balanced diet. However, note that other factors may cause an irregular flow. These include specific drugs, breastfeeding, increased stress levels, intense exercise, various diseases, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Talk to your doctor before taking any measures, such as changing your medication to get a regular flow.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 14 possible causes for irregular periods (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Eating Disorders (2021, medlineplus.gov)
- Factors associated with menstrual cycle irregularity and menopause (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Prevalence of irregular menstruation according to socioeconomic status: A population-based nationwide cross-sectional study (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What is hypothyroidism? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What should you eat on your period? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What you need to know about irregular periods (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)