10 things that can negatively affect your period



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


05 July 2018

Travel

Whether it’s a weekend away or a few weeks abroad, all holidays involve a little travel. Sure, it’s great that this allows us to indulge in airport shopping or countryside views however, depending on how long your journey is, this travel could actually have a negative impact on your period.

A quick internal flight or a short drive is unlikely to influence your monthly symptoms but long-distanced flights of six hours or more definitely can. That’s because this can upset the circadian rhythm leading to that well-known and slightly inconvenient feeling of jet-lag. The menstrual cycle is closely linked to the circadian rhythm and so if one is thrown off balance, the other often is too.

Nevertheless, the good news is that as your body gets used to the new time zone and your jet-lag slowly fades, the menstrual cycle tends to return to normal too, even if it needs a few weeks to do so.

What can you do? If you are planning on travelling long distance any time soon my advice is to be prepared. So, if your period is later than normal whilst you are away don’t panic, just give your cycle a little time to settle down after the stresses of travelling long distance. Equally though, make sure you pack sanitary products, even if you’re not expecting your period to come whilst you are away. After all, the changes to the circadian rhythm don’t just mean your period could come late, it could come early too! 

Further information: 5 tips to beat jet-lag

Changes to weight

As I discussed in ‘Could your weight be affecting your periods?’, both losing and gaining weight can negatively affect the menstrual cycle, especially if these things happen in extremes.

Being overweight can often lead to oestrogen dominance for example, because this hormone can be stored in fat cells. Oestrogen dominance leads to symptoms like heavy, painful and frequent periods so in this way it contributes to worsening periods. 

In contrast, being underweight can lead to a lack of oestrogen which results in symptoms like infrequent periods, low mood and light periods. Also, being underweight puts a great deal of stress on the body causing it to focus on survival (fight or flight) rather than reproduction. This can put a stop to periods or, at the very least, will disrupt the regularity of your flow.

What can you do? If you are struggling with your weight, your first step should be to visit your doctor. It may feel a little daunting to discuss your weight issues at first but you’d be surprised how much relief can come from a simple conversation. Plus, your doctor will be able to provide you with information and further support on how to tackle the issue so this really is the best way forward.

Further information: Understanding your period and hormone imbalance

Excess exercise

Whether it’s skiing, triathlon or dancing, we all have our favorite sports but unfortunately if any of these are done to the extreme it can affect your period. That’s because too much exercise puts the body under a great deal of stress and so it begins to prioritize. It puts survival ahead of reproduction and as a result, periods can become irregular. This may seem like your body is over-reacting but really it’s just doing what it feels is necessary to keep going in the long run.

What can you do? Excess exercise may disrupt periods but, in contrast, light exercises such as swimming, aerobics and walking can actually help to relieve period symptoms. This activity releases endorphins which help improve mood for example, plus it increases blood flow around the body which can help to ease cramp. So, if you want to exercise whilst you are on your period it’s best to keep to low impact sports – definitely no marathons!1 

Further information: An easy ten minute workout for beginners

Stress

I’ve discussed how fluctuations in weight and the strains of rigorous exercise both put the body under a considerable amount of stress therefore causing irregularities in the menstrual cycle. It should come as no surprise then that stress itself can affect your period. Whether it’s money worries, concerns about workload or family issues, whatever the stressor, it could have an impact upon your monthly flow. 

The body’s usual pattern of hormones is disrupted by stress meaning periods may become longer or, equally, some may become shorter. However, if the stress is pro-longed or severe, periods may stop altogether as well. What’s more, period cramps can become more severe with stress because it can make you more susceptible to pain.

What can you do? First of all you should try to address and eliminate the things that are causing you stress. How you do this will depend on what’s causing you stress in the first place but in general, a good place to start is by talking to family members, colleagues and friends to let them know how you are feeling. Alongside this we have a natural herbal remedy called Stress Relief Daytime that can be used for the relief of mild stress and anxiety. This is made from organically grown and freshly harvested Valerian and Hops which will help to ease some of the stress that comes from day-to-day life.

Further information: Breathing tips to help relieve stress

Lack of sleep

As I discussed in ‘How to get a good night’s sleep on your period’, it’s not always easy to sleep well when you are in the middle of your period however, could lack of sleep make your period symptoms worse as well?

As the research suggests, the answer here is definitely yes. One study for example, used sixty-eight nurses under the age of forty to look at the effects of shift work on the menstrual cycle. The results showed that 53% of these women experienced changes to their menstrual cycle whilst doing shift work thus highlighting that sleep disturbances may lead to menstrual irregularities.2 In another study a similar conclusion was made about flight attendants who had irregular working hours.3

So, how exactly does poor sleep affect the menstrual cycle? Well, continuous sleepless nights can disrupt melatonin levels, a hormone that helps to regulate the menstrual cycle. Also, like jet-lag, lack of sleep can throw off the circadian rhythm and therefore the menstrual cycle as well.

What can you do? If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep you may wish to turn to our herbal remedy Dormeasan. This contains fresh extracts of Valerian-Hops to help restore a natural sleep plus, unlike many traditional sleep remedies, this one is non-drowsy.

Further information: What nutrients do you need to get a good night’s sleep?

Lots of caffeine

Okay, so perhaps the odd cup of tea or coffee is unlikely to upset your period but when consumed in large quantities, caffeine does have the potential to upset your menstrual cycle. 

A large study of over four hundred premenopausal women found that those who consumed large amounts of caffeine were twice as likely to have a short menstrual cycle compared to those who didn’t drink any coffee.4  

Caffeine acts as a stressor, putting your body on high alert and so as I’ve discussed already, this plays with your usual menstrual cycle. In turn, this can increase the likelihood of symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, tension and irritability.

What can you do? Instead of your usual cup of coffee or tea why not switch to a herbal variety instead? These have much less caffeine than a cappuccino or an English breakfast, plus there are so many tasty flavours to choose from as well! 

Further information: 6 drinks to help period cramps

Too much alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption is thought to negatively impact your period for a variety of reasons. It affects the release of oestrogen and luteinizing hormones for example, which initiate ovulation. However, too much alcohol can cause dehydration, poor sleep and, due to the high histamine content, may lead to oestrogen dominance. 

What can you do? Cutting down your alcohol consumption is the best way forward in this instance however, if you are struggling with this your doctor should be your next point of call.

Further information: Boozy periods: what are the effects?

Missing the pill

Missing more than three contraceptives in a row can further upset the hormone balance leading to problems like spotting or bleeding outside your usual cycle. However, missing your contraception might also cause you to miss your period altogether. 

What can you do? The NHS provides detailed information on what to do if you miss one pill or more so this is a good place to find further advice on the issue. However, to ensure you don’t forget to take your contraception I’d recommend you have it at the same time each day, perhaps before brushing your teeth in the morning or just before you go to bed. This way it will quickly become part of your routine and you won’t forget to take it.

Further information: 8 things that can happen after stopping birth control

Diet

The onset of your period can often cause cravings for sugary and salty treats but unfortunately although your body’s telling you it wants these things, they could make your period symptoms worse. 

The hormonal changes that occur during menstruation cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate and, as a result, cravings become prominent. However, should you give you give into these cravings, blood sugar levels can become even more unstable leading to increased mood swings and tension . Plus, sugar is pro-inflammatory so it has the potential to worsen cramps too. On the other hand salt, which is contained in many everyday foods, can increase the likelihood bloating. 

What can you do? To keep your sugar and salt levels under control try to avoid processed foods like crisps, ready meals, cakes and fizzy juice. As an alternative, try making your meals from fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish. You can find a range of healthy recipes on our website to help you with this.

Further information: 5 vitamins and minerals to help you through your period

Smoking

Finally, among the many negatives of smoking is the damage it can do to your menstrual cycle. Research shows that smoking can increase the severity of period pain and the more cigarettes smoked, the worse the pain tends to be.  

What can you do? Give up! You can find out more information and advice on how to go about this using the NHS website.5

Samadi, Z., Taghian, F. & Valiani, M. (2013) The effects of 8 weeks of regular aerobic exercise on the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in non-athlete girls. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 18(1): 14-19 

2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12418990# 

3 http://www.nel.edu/userfiles/articlesnew/NEL340813A08.pdf?route=archive_issues/o/34_8/34_8_Radowicka_809-813.pdf

4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10084244

5 https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2014/10/28/tobaccocontrol-2014-051920  

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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel  Women’s Health advisor, I recommend Agnus castus to help relieve premenstrual symptoms such as painful periods.

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Did you know?

Did you know the average age of starting your periods has changed? A 100 years ago, 16 was the average age for a girl to get her first period in the UK but now this has dropped to just 12! Incredible!

15 interesting facts about your period

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