Certain health conditions and dietary restrictions result in malnutrition or undernutrition with inadequate levels of protein and fats being consumed. Limiting protein and other necessary nutrients can affect your menstrual cycles, causing them to become irregular or to stop altogether. A number of conditions can lead to protein deficiency and menstrual disorders.
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Poor diet, deliberate calorie and protein restriction, such as occurs in anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, lack of appetite, which often occurs in depression and extreme dieting, can cause protein deficiencies. Following a strict vegetarian diet without understanding the need to balance plant proteins can also cause protein deficiency. Cancer and other wasting diseases can also cause protein deficiency and menstrual changes.
The Female Athlete Triad, which consists of eating disorders, absent periods and osteoporosis or bone density loss, often results in protein deficiency and irregular or absent menstrual cycles. Studies reported by Sophie Kennedy of Vanderbilt University found that between 3 and 66 percent of female athletes reported amenorrhea, averaging 33 to 37 percent, depending on the study. Diseases that cause malabsorption in the intestine, such as pancreatic insufficiency can also cause protein deficiency. Diseases that increase the body’s metabolic needs, such as severe burns or infection, can also cause protein deficiency.
If your protein and fat levels drop too low, menstrual cycles may become irregular, occurring at less frequent intervals or stop altogether in people with malnutrition and protein deficiencies. Other symptoms of protein deficiency include weakness, fatigue, brittle hair and nails, diarrhea and cognitive changes, Merck reports. Skin becomes pale, dry and cold and body temperature falls as malnutrition progresses.
Changing the diet to supply adequate amounts of proteins and fats, which often occur together in foods, helps regulate menstrual cycles. Medications that increase appetite may help if you have appetite loss. Antidepressants can help if you’re too depressed to eat. Working with a nutritionist to make sure your diet contains necessary nutrients is helpful if you follow a strict vegan diet, registered dietitian Gay Riley suggests.
If menstrual cycles stop altogether, you won’t be able to get pregnant, because you won’t ovulate or release an egg each month. Women with anorexia who later become pregnant may have an increase in miscarriages and cesarean deliveries, Kennedy states. Severe malnutrition can threaten your life, Merck warns.
If your menstrual cycles change, become more irregular or stop altogether and the cause isn’t clear, see your medical practitioner. If you’ve been following a restricted diet or haven’t been eating normally for whatever reason, change your eating habits and include more protein and fats in the diet if you can do this on your own. Many women with eating disorders don’t recognize they have a problem.