**This one is all about the female reproductive system. This does not mean boys/men should stop
reading… getting support is important for recovery and this is an important piece for male coaches, teammates and support staff to understand. **
Are you missing your period? Are you an athlete who has been told that it is normal to not have your period while training? Ready to have a baby but your period is still missing and you don’t understand why? You may be loving aspects of not having your cycle because it means no cramps and less mess. Please hold off on those party balloons, as not having your cycle has some serious health repercussions, one important one being fertility.
The What- The lack of period is known amenorrhea and may likely be hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) but very few women get a HA diagnosis. Amenorrhea refers simply to a missing period and there can be many causes of this including PCOS and endometriosis. HA is when the hypothalamus is involved, and signalling gets messed up due to hormone imbalances and chemical mess-ups. I have spoken to multiple different clients, colleagues and friends who have experienced HA at some point in their life. The cause of it is a combination of undereating, energy imbalance, over exercising, stress and genetics. The exact combination and degree of cause will look different for anyone who experiences HA. Let’s take a quick jump over to athletes…
ATHLETES EXPERIENCING A LACK OF PERIOD IS NOT NORMAL (unfortunately I have heard too many athletes say their physician told them this is normal)! The combination of training and low energy availability can lead to a loss of menstrual cycle which is brushed off as a normal part of being an athlete all too often. Low energy availability does not mean you are underweight or have an eating disorder. It means that you do not have the energy coming in that sustains your menstrual cycle on top of your high volume of training. Many health professionals often miss this concern since you may be a normal body weight (according to the BMI categories) and are very active (what we see as a ‘healthy’ lifestyle) yet your cycle has disappeared - a clear sign that something is off and you are not ‘healthy’. Your menstrual cycle is a vital sign, it tells us more about what is going on with your body than just your reproductive function. Putting fertility aside for one second (as this is definitely on of the negative health effects of no period), the absence of a period means estrogen levels progesterone and testosterone drop. This will affect athletic performance. The other short term effects include thinning or loss of hair, brittle nails,
low libido and skin problems. Long term, it leads to weak and brittle bones, cardiac disease, increased risk of early dementia and earlier cognitive (estrogen is highly protective of brain cells).
Before you panic, regaining of your cycle can reverse negative changes or prevent further damage.
YOUR MENSTURAL CYCLE IS A VITAL SIGN
The Now What?-Hope is not all lost, regaining of your period is VERY possible but it will take some work and commitment. With every individual having a different combination of factors at varying degrees to why they lost their period, the treatment to regaining of your period will all look slightly different. For some, the addition of a few more snacks for a few months is the key, others, it means slowing exercise down for a bit and keeping intake the same; but for some, it takes a bit more tinkering with the factors before a result is seen. Nicola Rinaldi, PhD and author of “No Period, Now What?” states that a full recovery plan will include eating more for a while, cutting out high-intensity exercise, working on negative thoughts and mental health and allowing the body time to re-equilibrate. This will not happen over night. Support is also critical! Getting support from loved ones, teammates and coaches is greatly important, but you may also need support from a health care team that can include a registered dietitian, therapist and doctor.
- If you are interested, you can check out Nicola Rinalidi’s book- No Period, Now What at
http://www.noperiodnowwhat.com/. Results from a survey done by the writers of No Period,
Now What, out of over 300 women, 53% were able to regain their natural cycles back, 90% were
able to do this within 1 year of starting a recovery plan. These results are pretty awesome!
There will be part 2, 3 and maybe even 4 but for now, I want to leave you with feelings of hope. Your period is a sign of health, no matter what anyone tells you. Even with a loss of period from HA, RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE! Maybe you are having a bit of a lightbulb moment right now… I hope this has shed some light on where you can get started.