Other than PMS, irregular periods are one of the most common complaints about menstrual cycles. Although they are not necessarily a cause for worry, they can sometimes be a symptom of other health problems. While doctors will often recommend birth control pills as a means to regulate irregular periods, birth control pills cannot successfully regulate menstrual cycles unless they are coupled with a well-balanced diet and a healthy amount of exercise.
It is often assumed that a regular period will occur every 28 days; however, the length of menstrual cycles can vary from woman to woman. Depending on hormones and lifestyle, it is not uncommon for menstrual cycles to occur as often as every 20 days or as infrequently as every 35 days. A typical period can last from three to seven days, with the average period lasting five days. Keeping a chart that marks the days between cycles and the length and intensity of flow is the most effective way to determine what your regular period is.
Hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which are stored in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and ovaries, are essential in monitoring menstrual cycles. Typically, irregular menstrual cycles are a result of hormone imbalances. Any abnormal bleeding is considered an irregular period. This can include late periods, early periods, missed periods, spotting and menorrhagia, or heavy bleeding. On average, irregular periods only affect around 30 percent of women during their reproductive years. With birth control it is possible to regulate hormones, unless the hormonal imbalances are a result of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills are a hormonal form of birth control which, when taken daily, decreases the likelihood of conception by mimicking the hormones naturally produced in the body. Combination oral contraceptives contain two synthetic hormones normally produced by the ovaries, estrogen and progestin. The body responds to the increase in hormones in several different ways, all of which can prevent pregnancy and regulate menstrual cycles. Another common form of birth control pill is the progestin-only pill. This only contains progestin and works by suppressing ovulation.
Birth Control Pills and Irregular Periods
It is not uncommon for women on birth control to experience irregular menstrual periods, especially those just starting the pill and those who are taking progestin-only pills. Due to the increase in hormonal levels that birth control pills cause, it is normal to experience irregular periods and spotting for a few weeks after starting the pill. And for women taking progestin-only pills, it is not uncommon for them to completely miss their periods. Although birth control pills can stabilize hormones, period regularity can still be affected by diet and exercise.
Diet, Exercise and Birth Control
Dieting and exercise affect hormone levels and body composition, both of which play a part in regulating menstrual cycles, regardless of whether or not a woman is taking birth control pills. Intense exercising and extremely restricted diets not only wreak havoc on the body's hormone levels, they also cause an unsafe drop in body fat. The restriction of calories through crash dieting, anorexia, bulimia or extreme exercise can lead to nutritional deficiencies, a lower metabolism and can cause menstrual cycles to stop completely. On the other hand, diets high in saturated fat coupled with limited physical activity can also affect menstrual cycles and actually make PMS symptoms worse.