Eating Disorders and Irregular Periods
Regular periods are essentially a result of hormonal changes in women’s bodies that are induced by the hypothalamus gland. When subjected to extreme weight loss or conditions of near starvation, the body responds by suppressing the hypothalamus to conserve energy. Put differently, an inadequate caloric intake can bring about Amenorrhoea i.e. loss of menses in women of childbearing age, as the body fights to budget what little energy it needs to function.
Unsurprisingly, obesity caused by binge eating disorders also alters the hormone levels affecting menses. Excess male hormones or androgens in obese patients have been found to interfere with the levels of estrogen and progesterone required for regular menses.
Facing the Odds
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia often have severe underlying psychological issues. Common patterns of thought include anxiety around food, gaining weight, a compulsive need to look a certain way, and body dysmorphia that prevents patients from objectively perceiving their bodies.
Likewise, with binge eating disorders a focus on healthy exercise and identifying the psychological patterns responsible for binge eating is key.
If you suspect that you, or someone you know, suffers from an eating disorder, therapy and a strong support system are key factors in recovery. With continued emphasis on developing normal and healthy eating patterns, patients have been found to resume menses on reaching within 90% of their ideal body weight.
This is optimistic. A natural reversal of the strain on the body leading to a regular and healthy menstrual cycle. A few points to keep in mind:
- Healthy BMI (Body Mass Index): Women with eating disorders who suffer from lack of periods, or scanty periods, often find themselves at opposite extremes of the BMI scale, i.e. underweight or overweight/obese. Correcting eating habits and moderating food intake goes a long way in helping patients reach their target BMI.
- Therapy and peer support: To address the psychological triggers behind unhealthy eating habits, it is important to speak to professionals and build a strong support system of close family and friends.
A Cautionary Tale
While it is tempting to believe that normal menses can be achieved at any point by simply reaching a healthy BMI, this is not always the case. In some severe and prolonged cases, the body may never return to normal menstruation. Not only does this impact a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant, it could also lead to a host of other complications.
- Lower concentrations of Calcium in bones may cause Osteopenia, a condition that weakens bones, making them more susceptible to fractures;
- Vitamin deficiencies leading to conditions such as anaemia;
- Dry and thinning hair; and in some extreme cases
- Heart or kidney problems.
There’s a lot to be cautious about. The best approach is a focused emphasis on a speedy recovery.