Carrying on from 2 weeks ago with the post, How to get rid of painful periods, I would like to dive a little deeper into the powerful mensrtrual cycle and chat about what dietary habits may cause irregular periods and provide a few tips on how you can adjust your nutrition to work with your period.
The following dietary habits can negatively influence your menstrual cycle:
1. Low energy availability
Energy availability (EA) is defined as the amount of dietary energy available to support physiological function minus energy expenditure from exercise. Low energy availability (LEA) due to increased exercise, reduced energy intake or a combination of both, is a potent disruptor of the endocrine system and has become a hot topic in sport science and nutrition (1). LEA is caused by undereating either intentionally or unintentionally by under fuelling for the amount of energy you expend.
A hormone questionnaire called the Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire (LEAF-Q) is available to help practitioners detect for LEA or signs that may suggest a client may end up in this state. Knowing this, it is possible to create a personalised nutrition plan to avoid the LEA.
2. Disordered eating
Disordered eating patterns such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can directly influence your menstrual cycle due to the high risk of insufficient nutrient intake and the extremely low body fat percentage commonly associated with these conditions. Body fat percentage (both high and low) is an important factor when menstruation is considered, as it is strongly associated to the regulation and production of sex hormones, which can cause variations in the menstrual cycle.
Hormone production relies on fat cells to be produced. The body's production of oestrogen and progesterone can be decreased if fat cells are lowered (2). This is due to the hormone, leptin, as it is influenced by fat cells and is needed to maintain normal menstrual function. Leptin levels can be suppressed when carbohydrate and calorie consumption are too low, which can interfere with leptin's ability to regulate your reproductive hormones. A body fat percentage of around 14-25% is a healthy range and what is needed for maintenance of a regular cycle.
3. Pro-inflammatory diets
A pro-inflammatory diet is one high in sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated fats and large amounts of meat and dairy and low in fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, wholesome grains and legumes and high quality protein sources (animal and plant). This type of diet promotes low grade chronic inflammation that can spread throughout the body. This inflammation can not only cause premenstrual symptoms to worsen but will also cause irregularities in your cycle.
4. Low carbohydrate & low fat diets
Eating a low fat diet decreases the body's production of oestrogen and progesterone. This is because all hormones are made from proteins, fats and cholesterol. A certain amount of dietary fat is needed to modulate hormonal production. As previously discussed a low carbohydrate diet as well as a low fat diet can create or contribute to a state of LEA. If you suspect you suffer from one of these dietary habits or you were plan on taking on one of these diets, I highly recommend you to seek a professional´s advice.
Areta, J. L., Taylor, H. L., & Koehler, K. (2021). Low energy availability: history, definition and evidence of its endocrine, metabolic and physiological effects in prospective studies in females and males. European journal of applied physiology, 121(1), 1–21.
Ziomkiewicz, A., Ellison, P.T., Lipson, S.F., Thune, I., & Jasienska, G. (2008). Body fat, energy balance and estradiol levels: a study based on hormonal profiles from complete menstrual cycles, Human Reproduction, 23(11), 2555–2563.