Women often dread "that time of the month," with its cramps, bloating and mood swings. But a regular menstrual cycle is a sign of good health. The loss or absence of a regular period is called amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is not a disease itself but a symptom of some other problem. Dieting and weight loss are one reason you may lose your cycle.
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Types of Amenorrhea
If a young woman hasn't had her first period by age 16, she has primary amenorrhea. Failure to menstruate can be caused by the absence of reproductive organs, problems with the pituitary gland and stress. Often, the exact cause is unknown. Secondary amenorrhea occurs when a woman who has had normal cycles misses her period for six or more months. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and some forms of birth control result in missed periods but are not considered secondary amenorrhea. Secondary amenorrhea may be caused by hormone imbalance, stress, a pituitary tumor and thyroid dysfunction.
When your body is stressed, it sacrifices non-essential functions -- such as the ability to become pregnant -- to survive. Consequently, sudden weight loss from restrictive dieting, excessive exercise and a very low body fat of less than 15 to 17 percent can cause secondary amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea may also result from an eating disorder and excessive exercise.
When dieting results in the cessation of menstrual periods, it is usually because of extreme calorie restriction and inadequate intake of vitamins. If you've lost your menstrual cycle, it is possible that what started as a diet has progressed to an unhealthy obsession with weight loss. Some of the warning signs of an eating disorder include intense fear of weight gain, hair loss, persistent coldness, refusal to maintain a normal weight and compulsive exercise. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Psychological evaluation and counseling are necessary to heal from eating disorders.
Nutrition for Normalcy
Returning to and maintaining a healthy weight may help reverse amenorrhea. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends a diet rich in healthy fats from fish, nuts, seeds, oils and avocado. Limit your consumption of processed foods, and avoid beverages containing caffeine or alcohol. Focus on whole foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, meat, poultry and dairy. Talk to your doctor about taking a dietary supplement, too. Nutrients particularly important for individuals with amenorrhea include calcium, vitamin B6 and essential fatty acids.