If you're involved in any type of high intensity activity or sport that places a large amount of pressure on you to maintain a desired body image, it's likely you've heard about women losing their menstrual cycle—or maybe you are even experiencing this yourself.
Amenorrhea is a common occurrence among many female athletes, particularly fitness competitors or bodybuilders since they are required to get down to such low body fat levels.
Since the reproductive system is largely regulated by steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone and so on) and fat is a key component of steroid hormones, problems can arise when you have been dieting too long.
It appears as though the development of amenorrhea is actually more closely related to total calorie intake however than raw body fat percentage.
What Does Amenorrhea Mean?
Amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual periods for 6 months in a woman who had previously been regular, or for 12 months in a woman who had irregular periods.
Some women, despite being of a low body fat percentage can still find themselves menstruating regularly because they are taking in enough calories to support their physical activity.
If you take a step back and look at this, it does seem to make sense. If you are looking to get pregnant but are not currently supplying your body with enough energy to even meet your own demands, how would you meet the demands of another living, growing human being inside of you? You wouldn't, hence menstruation stops making this situation impossible.
When you are eating enough to support your own needs, then you could potentially carry a baby to birth and thus your periods are regular.
This definitely isn't to say that every female can be at very low body fat and still be getting their periods, but some do. Most often though, to get to those low body fat levels it will require a great amount of dieting and reduced calorie intake thus that creates the whole situation anyway.
What Should You Do?
So what do you do if you are currently suffering from amenorrhea?
The first thing would be if you could, try and bring your calories up. Often this isn't what an individual wants to hear because they are currently dieting and bringing calories up could translate to a weight gain.
A couple factors to consider.
First, you could very well have a greatly stalled metabolism if you haven't had a diet break in a long period of time and therefore, it may not really matter anyway, you aren't losing that much weight to begin with so you need to do something to get things going again - reducing calories further isn't likely to help.
Very often some of these individuals will find that they don't really gain much weight at all when they increase calories, some even start losing weight again.
The second thing to consider is if you are currently dieting for a fitness competition or some particular event, wait until that is over and then do it. You just need to figure out what your priorities are at this time and work with what you have.
- Caloric Deficit/Amenorrhea. - Started By sunnydelightcmb
"I was wondering how much of a caloric deficit is needed to cause Secondary Amenorrhea?"
- Exercise-Induced Amenorrhea Or Body Fat Too Low? - Started By breezein
"I missed my period by more than 2 weeks now. I have lost over a 100 lbs in just over 2 years (so nothing too quick), I workout at least 1 hour a day, now I read that the body fat % can cause it."
- Amenorrhea Help. - Started By shell_mac81
"Has anyone experienced amenorrhea? I am struggling to recover from it by increasing my caloric intake, but I am having trouble starting my period again."
If you aren't competing in fitness and are more just keeping calories low for vanity sake, if you are looking to get pregnant any time soon, you might just need to sacrifice a small amount and accept that your body is not meant to be incredibly lean and be able to reproduce at the same time. It sucks but it's life. Females aren't naturally supposed to be at low body fat percentages in the first place so you're fighting mother-nature.
To Be At Low Body Fat Percentages."
So now that we've addressed the issue of calories, the next dietary factor to consider is your micronutrient intake. It would be wise, even if you aren't bringing calories up a whole lot, to really focus on certain nutrients as women suffering from this issue tend to be low. This will help to ensure that you don't see other health problems develop on top of already having amenorrhea.
These nutrients to focus on are calcium, the B vitamins, iron and zinc.
Considering usually the two main food sources to go on a diet are red meat and dairy products, which are the major contributors of calcium and iron, it isn't all that surprising this is the situation at hand. While it's best to get these nutrients from food, if you must choose a non-food supplemental source for the time being, this will be better than nothing.
Supplementing with B vitamins will be important to ensure adequate energy production as well as the proper building and repair of muscle tissue. You get a large amount of B-vitamins from carbohydrates so those on low carb diets (which is usually any dieter out there to some degree), will benefit from adding more to their intake.
So if you are seeing a loss of your period right now, consider the above points. There are a variety of medical treatments out there you can use if you are having trouble getting a period to help you get one and become pregnant, however if you are always dieting it's still going to be hard to support a growing baby. If having a child is a current goal of yours, you may want to think long and hard about your current diet, training principles and what you might be willing to do to help the conceiving process along.
- Manore, MM. Dietary recommendations and athletic menstrual dysfunction. Sports Med. 2002; 32(14):887-901.