If there’s one thing that can throw off any woman, it’s irregular menstrual cycles. If you suffer unpredictable timing, or wildly variable flows, then you know just how true that is! Women who are trying to conceive can’t get a handle on their fertile times, and those who don’t want to conceive end up having pregnancy scares all too often.
Even if you aren’t sexually active, there’s still the constant hygiene concern. Menstruation is meant to be a 28-day cycle, and when it isn’t, it can really complicate managing your life!
Irregular periods are often accompanied by PMS symptoms, which makes them especially hard to deal with. When you first start to have periods during puberty, some irregularity is a normal part of your body’s beginning this new process, but after your monthly cycle becomes regular, it’s not uncommon to start having irregular menstrual cycles in your thirties. That’s when you enter the time of life called perimenopause, or premenopause, and your body is starting to produce less estrogen and begin the transition to menopause.
There is a lot that goes on with your hormones during perimenopause, but the two that will impact your menstruation the most are decreases in estrogen and progesterone. It’s also possible for progesterone levels to drop simply because your lifestyle is too stressful.
Effects of Low Estrogen and Progesterone
Low estrogen levels can cause irritability, postpartum discomforts, and worsened menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, anxiety, and insomnia. Insufficient progesterone results in a condition called “estrogen dominance,” which can happen when estrogen is too high, but can also happen nearer to menopause, when levels of both hormones are low. Given this, it is important to recognize that estrogen dominance does not necessarily mean that your estrogen level is too high, but rather, it means there is an imbalance that is causing the problem.
When progesterone levels are low, the effects are especially noticeable during the second half of your menstrual cycle. (Your cycle starts with the first day of your period, so the second half would be the two weeks before your next period, when many women experience PMS.) Anxiety that occurs only during that time is a good indication of insufficient progesterone, as is frequently waking up during the night and not being able to get back to sleep.
Additional Hormones That Cause Irregular Menstrual Cycles
Estrogen and progesterone are the hormones most involved in the changes your body go through between the ages of thirty and sixty as your reproductive system is winding down. But as influential as they are, other hormones impact your menstrual cycle as well.
Thyroid hormone is a vital part of your metabolism, but is also essential to your mental well-being. If thyroid levels are too high or too low it can cause irregular menstrual cycles. Inadequate thyroid hormone can also cause exacerbated PMS and heavy periods. It isn’t only the menstrual cycle that is affected, though. Thyroid affects your weight, skin, digestion, energy level and a host of other aspects of your health.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and high cortisol can cause your body to experience a continuous “distress” mode. This can cause you to stop ovulating consistently, which can lead to infertility, reduced progesterone, exacerbated PMS symptoms, and much heavier menstrual flow.
Clearly, your hormone balance affects your health in many ways, and irregular menstrual cycles are a good indicator that you should have them checked.