Knowing what causes irregular periods is important; even better is learning the natural remedies that regulate your menstrual cycle. Getting regular periods is awesome – whether you want to get pregnant, are planning a beach vacation, or you just want to know when to expect your monthly guest.
While researching the causes of spotty, missed, and irregular periods, I realized that most articles don’t offer a medical explanation or give a natural remedy. I also learned that irregular periods can be caused by anything from PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to changes in your sleep cycle – but that doesn’t tell you what to do about regulating your menstrual cycle.
So, below are the most common medical causes of irregular periods, plus natural remedies or ways to regulate your cycle. But, remember that this is general research-based information. That is, it’s not an actual diagnosis or reason that your own periods are irregular. Your body is unique, special, and specific! For example, I had irregular periods for more than a year because of perimenopause. I didn’t know it was perimenopause until I went to the gynecologist for a check up. He said it could’ve been my fibroids that were disrupting my menstrual cycle, but it turned out to be my advancing age. So, when you read though these causes of irregular periods, remember that the best way to learn why your menstrual cycle isn’t regular is to see a doctor.
While researching the causes of irregular periods, I found a women’s gynecological health forum. A reader said she’s had irregular periods for almost 10 years, and wants to know the cause. Here’s what the gynecologist said:
“What blood tests have you already had, and what treatments for irregular periods have you already undergone? Without having any healthy information about your medical history, I can’t tell you what is disrupting your menstrual cycle. However, if you were my patient, I would suggest the following things:
- Serum TSH and free T4 test
- Serum prolactin test
- Glucose tolerance test with 75 g of glucose
- An ultrasound scan to look for polycystic ovaries
The above tests can evaluate for polycystic ovarian syndrome, rule out hypothyroidism, and test for excess prolactin levels that can cause irregular periods.”
See how complicated it can be to determined the reason your menstrual cycle isn’t regular? Be careful when you’re searching online for health or medical information, because the information you’re getting may be 100% accurate….but not applicable to YOUR body.
That said, however, I wrote this article because I know how you feel! It’s a pain in the patootie to have an irregular cycle. Plus, there is a lot of good, valid scientific research-based information on the internet about the causes of irregular periods in healthy women. So I wanted to gather it all up and share it with you here, on Blossom.
9 Causes of Irregular Periods – and Natural Remedies
Your menstrual period usually lasts 3–5 days. The lining of the uterus, which builds up in the peri ovulatory phase of your cycle, is necessary for pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, your body sheds this uterine lining…and that’s what causes bleeding during your period! It’s simply the shedding of the lining of your uterus. If you do get pregnant, the fertilized egg travels down and nestles in the lining of your uterus. you won’t get a period – though you may bleed a tiny bit after conception.
The definition of “irregular periods”:
- The time between each period changes, making your menstrual cycle unpredictable
- You are losing more or less blood during a period than you normally do
- Your period lasts for different numbers of days all the time
If you can’t predict when your period will appear and how long it’ll last, then you have periods that aren’t regular. I have written an article that describes easy ways to make your menstrual cycle regular – but the more research I do, the more I realize that it’s not as simple as eating chocolate or increasing your vitamin D intake.
1. Hormones and your menstrual cycle
Your body produces the hormones estrogen and progesterone; if those hormones rise and fall, then your period will become irregular. This is why teenagers and preteens have irregular periods: their hormones are fluctuating constantly! Not only is it normal for teens to have an irregular menstrual cycle, it’s also normal for perimenopausal women like me to have irregular periods.
Natural remedies for fluctuating hormones
Hormone therapy can regulate your hormones, which in turn will regulate your menstrual cycle. Birth control pills (also know as oral contraceptives) often containing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and are commonly prescribed to help control irregular periods. A hormone medication called progestin can also help trigger periods that don’t come at all.
2. Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism and irregular periods
If you’re in your 40s (like me!), you may have developed hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid gland – which means your body isn’t producing enough of the hormone thyroid. Or, your body may be producing too much of the hormone thyroid (hyperthyroidism). This can also cause irregular periods.
Hypothyroidism can also lead to weight gain. And, according to Perimenopause and Thyroid Problems—common and confusing, the most reliable symptom of an underactive thyroid gland is a relentless coldness in the centre of the body. So if you’re always freezing cold in the core of your body and if you have an irregular menstrual cycle, then it’s possible you have hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism may also cause sleep problems, fatigue, low energy, depression, changes in your period, and heavy bleeding. How do you know if you have hypothyroidism? Your doctor will give you the “TSH test”, which is a blood test that is a good indicator of hypothyroidism.
Natural remedies for hypothyroidism
Remember that you are what you eat! One of the best ways to get healthy is to reduce or eliminate caffeine and sugar. Refined carbohydrates such as white flour aren’t good for you. Instead, follow a healthy eating plan. And, increase the amount of protein you eat. Protein transports the hormone of thyroid throughout your whole body and can help normalize thyroid function. Healthy protein-based foods include lean chicken and fish, nuts and nut butters (eg, almond butter), quinoa, eggs, beans, and legumes.
Also, remember that your doctor is the best source of ways to regulate your thyroid hormones and regulate your menstrual cycle. Don’t believe for one second that simply cutting out caffeine and eating more protein will regulate your hormones. Some health issues need more attention and support than natural remedies can provide.
3. Polycystic ovaries (PCOS) and irregular periods
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that causes irregular periods – and it affects millions of women. Sometimes it’s called Stein-Leventhal syndrome. How do you know of you have polycystic ovaries? Your doctor will give you blood tests to check your hormone levels and thyroid function.
Both men and women need male and female hormones; if you have PCOS, then you have too much of the male type of hormones. This creates problems with your ovaries: You might have irregular periods or no periods, and you could get cysts in a “string of pearls” pattern. PCOS is also a common cause of infertility.
Natural remedies for polycystic ovaries
The best natural remedy is to restore your hormonal balance. PCOS can’t be cured, but it can be treated with birth control pills (which are female hormones) or other types of hormones to trigger a period. If you’re trying to get pregnant, then your fertility doctor may prescribed infertility medications may be prescribed.
4. Sleep habits and your menstrual cycle
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, irregular periods and premenstrual symptoms are associated with “delayed sleep phase syndrome.” This is when your sleep is delayed for two more hours after your conventional bedtime. This delay in falling asleep makes it more difficult for you to wake up when you want – and it can cause irregular periods in women. And guess what? Fluctuating hormones causes sleep disruption AND irregular periods. So, an irregular menstrual cycle is rarely caused by just one thing.
The exact effect that disrupted sleep, delayed sleep, and insomnia has on your menstrual cycle is unknown right now. But, the researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine say that the effect of sleeplessness on irregular periods is associated with “circadian misalignment.” They say sleep plays a vital role in our health and well-being (which I’m sure you know from the experience of a sleepless night!).
Natural remedies to regulate your sleep cycle
These sleep tips are from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine:
- Make your bedroom a comfortable and safe place – not too hot, loud, cold, or exciting
- Check your bedding: is it light, comfortable, and soft?
- Go to bed only when you are sleepy, and only use your bed for sleeping and sex (No texting, searching the internet for what causes irregular periods, or watching television!)
- Set consistent rituals to help you relax at bedtime, such as taking a soothing bath or enjoying a light snack (maybe even a glass of warm milk)
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays
- If you nap, don’t sleep for more than an hour – and don’t nap after 3 p.m.
- Only drink caffeine in the morning; avoid alcohol and cigarettes late in the day. (Remember that there is caffeine in chocolate, tea, and other surprising foods and beverages. Find out if your favorite foods and drinks contain caffeine)
- Stay away from fatty, spicy foods if they upset your stomach or cause heartburn (which disrupts your sleep cycle)
- Increase vitamin E in your diet, or take a vitamin E supplement (vitamin E helps regulate Restless Leg Syndrome, which disrupts sleep)
- Only use sleeping pills if a doctor prescribes them
To learn more about irregular periods and sleep, read Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome Linked To Irregular Menstrual Cycles, Premenstrual Symptoms In Women.
5. Stress and irregular menstrual cycles
Did you know that most irregular periods are not caused by disease, but by hormonal imbalances? It’s because our bodies are amazing!
A stress-related hormonal imbalance in your body can be caused by:
- Being sick
- Feeling very emotionally upset, always worried and anxious
- Losing weight or being too slim
- Very rarely – intense or over-exercise (always combined with one of the other stressors)
Dr Jerilynn Prior is a Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at UBC in Vancouver – has spent her career studying menstrual cycles and the effects of the cycle’s estrogen and progesterone hormones on women’s health. She says that when you lose your period, it’s a sign that your hypothalamus is being smart. Its job is to protect you; when you miss your period, your hypothalamus is saying, “I wouldn’t want this very skinny or very stressed woman to get pregnant. So let’s save energy for other things and shut down her reproductive system.”
Natural remedies for stress
This is the section of the blog post that you need to write for yourself! Why? Because you know what helps alleviate stress in your mind, body, and soul. Different things work for different women, and we need to find and hold on to what works for us.
I deal with stress by getting outside in the fresh air. I’ll run in rain, hike up hills, and jog through the joltiest weather imaginable. And, I connect with God. I step into His life-giving lightness and love. He is the only source of peace, joy, and love that doesn’t dry up. He is the only thing we can count on; God is always there for us. And yes, He cares about our irregular periods! Believe it or not.
How do you deal with stress? Whether it’s exercise or playing with puppies, reading or walking on the beach…do more of it.
6. Excessive exercise – not by itself a cause of irregular periods
In my research, I discovered that exercising too much isn’t actually a cause of an irregular menstrual cycle! See why you have to be careful what you read on the internet? Myths get repeated over and over, and we start to believe them. Especially when our doctors believe them, as well.
On Am I Skipping Periods Because of Too Much Exercise?, a 19 year old reader asked what is causing her irregular menstrual cycle.
“My periods are usually two or three months apart and my doctor says it’s because I’m doing too much exercise,” she says. “I’m 19, healthy, and studying to be a medical office assistant, I walk, run or kick-box every day but feel good when I do it and not good when I don’t. I’m slim (I think my body mass index is 18) but I feel good energy at this weight. I’m never sick, I eat well, don’t smoke and really try to be healthy. Do you think that too much exercise is causing my infrequent periods?”
Dr Prior says that most of the time, exercise does not cause an erratic menstrual cycle. She calls it the “Myth of Athletic Amenorrhea”, and says that oligomenorrhea (periods that last longer than 35 days) or amenorrhea (absent periods or no flow for six or more months) caused by too much exercise has been shown to be wrong by three different research studies on exercise and women’s menstrual cycles.
So, if excessive exercise isn’t causing the reader’s irregular menstrual cycles…then what is? “Women’s menstrual cycles and ovulation are carefully controlled by our hypothalamus,” says Dr Prior. “The is the part of our brain that gets information about how much we are eating, how much energy we are expending, how stressed we are and whether or not we are ill. Also, it takes about 12 years after the first period for the coordination of this complex reproductive system to “grow up” and our menstrual cycles to become regularly ovulatory.”
This means that the cause of the reader’s irregular periods is that she hasn’t been menstruating for a long time so her cycles aren’t consistent or stable yet. Add that to the stress of school, and you have an irregular menstrual cycle.
Natural remedies for “excessive exercise”
Dr Prior said that if this reader has low body weight, then perhaps she’s concerned about eating too much and gaining weight. This concern with weight gain is likely to cause irregular cycles in younger women, and can even cause irregular periods in older women (who are gynecologically mature).
So it’s not often the over-exercising that causes irregular periods…it’s the diet or eating plan. See how complex it can be to determine the exact cause of an irregular menstrual cycle? Read What to Eat for a Normal Menstrual Cycle for tips on food and flow.
Other Possible Causes of Irregular Periods:
- Changing birth control pills or using certain medications
- Thickening of or polyps on the uterine lining
- Uterine fibroids
If you’ve recently stopped using birth control pills or an IUD, talk to your doctor about how long it will take your body to adjust to the change in hormone levels. Same if you take prescription medication, or think you may have a uterine health issue such as polyps or fibroids.
Wrapping this up, I want you to remember that figuring out what causes irregular periods for you isn’t as easy as doing an internet search. And, even the best natural remedies that regulate most women’s menstrual cycle may not work for your body. So you really need to get a gynecologist to give you an in-personal check up – and perhaps some blood tests – before you “diagnose” the cause of your irregular periods.
I welcome your thoughts below! While I can’t offer advice, I do read every comment. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience.