Even if you're not getting your period every month, it can still be on your mind quite often. Your menstrual cycle isn't always an easy thing to understand, and if you're not getting your period each month consistently, it can make you feel confused or worried. Some women might prefer the peace of mind that comes with having a period and the sense of routine it can bring. Plus, you can keep better keep track of your period for family-planning purposes if you're looking to get pregnant. Since there are many factors that contribute to an irregular cycle, you might have to talk to your doctor about multiple options that might be right for you.
Genetics, weight, and your health status all play roles in your menstrual cycle, but there are lifestyle and diet changes you can consider making that can contribute to a regular cycle. Here are some things you might not know about your irregular cycle and how you can work toward a regular period.
First, What Is an Irregular Period?
"A normal period lasts three to seven days and comes at a steady frequency every 21-35 days," explains Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, author of Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. "An irregular period is anything not within those intervals. It can come less than every 21 days, more than every 35 days (a hallmark of polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS), and/or last for longer than seven days. It also can come at unpredictable intervals and last for varying lengths of time."
Implement a Low-Carb, High-Fiber Diet
"When a woman has a regular period, it means that her hormonal management system — called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal thyroid gonadal axis (HPATG) — is working properly," explains Dr. Gottfried. Take a look at your diet and consider adding in some new sources of fiber-rich foods if you aren't already. "Scientists agree that for women with irregular periods, a low-carb, high-fiber diet is best," says Dr. Gottfried. "That's because unless you have sufficient fiber to remove it, most testosterone (the most common androgen) is secreted into the bile and then reabsorbed in the gut and used again. Fiber increases excretion of testosterone in the stool." Foods that contain fiber include fresh fruits and vegetables, certain whole grains, and beans.
Amp Up Your Protein Intake
In addition to fiber, you should also focus on eating more lean protein in your meals. "Getting enough lean protein is necessary to lower androgens," says Dr. Gottfried. "Eat organic chicken and turkey, low-mercury ﬁsh, and grass-fed beef. I recommend eating 0.75 to 1 gram of lean protein per pound of lean body mass."
Live an Active and Healthy Lifestyle
Irregular periods are often associated with PCOS since they can be a very telling symptom. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, you can focus on implementing an overall healthy lifestyle to manage stress and your androgen levels. "When it comes to PCOS, high androgens are linked to insulin resistance, so some of the best strategies to regulate androgens are to lose weight, committing to steady exercise, and eating healthier," says Dr. Gottfried. "We know that weight loss reduces insulin resistance and excess androgens, so this can be a big help."
Consider Supplements and Vitamins
Dr. Gottfried also recommends combining healthy lifestyle changes with supplements that promote healthy hormone levels. "Start with healthy food, exercise, movement, sleep, and stress," says Dr. Gottfried. "Then when that foundation is in place, we can try supplements like vitamin C or chasteberry to raise progesterone, or inositol to lower androgens."
Try Birth Control
If you're not already on a method of birth control, talk to your gynecologist or doctor about the options that may help you experience a period each month. "The 'period' that someone has (when using monthly or extended-cycle OCPs (oral contraceptives) is really just withdrawal bleeding from the lack of hormonal support during the pill-free week and is usually much lighter than her normal period would be," Dr. Robert Berg said. Going with this option, however, could help you settle into a routine where you can experience the symptoms that come along with menstruation on a schedule you can keep track of since you will most likely bleed out during your placebo week.