Some people's period comes along like clockwork. They know exactly when it's going to arrive, how long it's going to stick around for and how they're going to feel during that week or so beforehand. For other people, myself included, your period can seem like a mythical creature that pops up unexpected whenever it so pleases and basically disrupts the rhythm of your life for a few days.
Of course, there are health factors that might disrupt or unbalance our menstrual cycle, resulting in irregular periods. And if you've recently changed your contraception, chances are your period is also going to change its routine slightly too. But did you know that there are actually way more subtle life influences that can stir up your time of the month?
I reached out to Angelique Panagos, a nutritionist and women's health specialist, who enlightened me with some of the less obvious factors that could be impacting the regularity of your period. By tweaking these lifestyle factors, you might find that your period also becomes more in tune with your life, too. Keep scrolling to read Panagos's top tips…
"I know—easier said than done, but when we're feeling wired or whipping around in constant stress mode, our bodies produce too much cortisol, aka the stress hormone," Panagos says. "Simply put, the message of stress overrides other messages in the body. This puts a strain on the body, which in turn uses up a lot of nutrients and can throw our hormones and cycles out of balance." There are many different ways to manage stress, but Panagos suggests simple breathing techniques. "Try doing deep breathing twice daily. I like a technique called 4/7 breathing. Breathe in for the count of four and out for the count of seven."
We're all well aware that our plastic consumption is something that needs to be tackled, but did you know that plastic could also be the reason your periods are going awry? "Ditch the chemicals and plastics—not only for the sake of our planet but for the sake of our hormones and periods!" says Panagos. "There's growing evidence that pesticides, bisphenol, phthalates, and other chemicals act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with the body's carefully regulated hormonal system."
"They artificially increase levels of hormones in the body or impede their proper and essential breakdown, which, in turn, can lead to irregular cycles," says Panagos. It's hard to go completely plastic-free, but small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on the toxins we're exposed to. "Start by ditching the plastic bottles and containers, looking for BPA-free tinned foods and going organic where you can to avoid pesticides," she suggests.
We've heard it a million times: "Sugar is the enemy." But what is it doing to our hormones? "Hormonal balance is essential for a regular cycle, and what we eat or don't eat has a major impact on it. We're all biochemically individual, and there's no one-size-fits-all, but one thing we should all avoid (or at least reduce) is sugar," says Panagos. "Excess sugar leads to increased insulin, which, in turn, stimulates the ovaries to produce more testosterone. This then, in turn, further disrupts our cycle. Rule of thumb? Avoid or reduce white, sweet and processed foods." Want to completely cut out sugar? Read our editorial director's guide on how to give up sugar without completely hating your life.
Your Bowel Movements
"Having a good bowel movement a day is essential for hormonal balance," Panagos explains. "If you're backed up for days, you won't be eliminating your spent hormones properly. This can leave you with oestrogen being reabsorbed, recirculated and dumped back into our bloodstream through the gut, which can be adding reason your cycles are irregular."
I don't know about you, but I swear traveling affects my period. If I'm due to start and take a flight around the same time, I can 99% guarantee you my period is not going to appear (handy when you're going on holiday, let me tell you). Whilst there's less evidence to suggest how flying disrupts your hormonal balance, travel can disrupt your circadian rhythm, which could then throw off your body's hormones.
There are conflicting studies as to whether the moon affects women's periods or not. For years, it was believed that periods could sync with the moon phases, but a 2013 year-long study found no correlation between the menstrual cycle and moon phases. The jury's still out on that one, but what do you think? Is your period affected by the moon?
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Torres-Ruiz J, Sulli A, Cutolo M, Shoenfeld Y. Air travel, circadian rhythms/hormones, and autoimmunity. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2017;53(1):117‐125. doi:10.1007/s12016-017-8599-2
Ilias I, Spanoudi F, Koukkou E, Adamopoulos DA, Nikopoulou SC. Do lunar phases influence menstruation? A year-long retrospective study. Endocr Regul. 2013;47(3):121‐122. doi:10.4149/endo_2013_03_121