The Vanishing Period

This is the story of losing and regaining my period. I am sharing this tale in the hopes that my story will resonate with a friend or follower who currently doesn’t experience her monthly bleed. I challenge that woman to take an interest in reclaiming that power and health. You can also read along if you’re simply interested, for whatever reason. ūüėČ

The Beginning

My first “visit” arrived in the 5th or 6th grade. I really can’t pinpoint my age, but I do remember calling for my mom from the bathroom while still sitting on the toilet. “Mom, I got my period!”. She entered the room, looked at me sympathetically and said, “Okay, no big deal!”, then handed me a pad. I know she was just trying to make me feel comfortable, but I couldn’t help feeling awkward and unsure about becoming a “woman”. Little did I know I wouldn’t become a “woman” again until I was nearly 30…

The Vanishing

As far as I remember, I had normal, light periods throughout junior high and high school. Although, I’d be surprised if I didn’t experience anovulation (sporadic missed periods due to not ovulating) here and there. Fast forward to late college though- I’m managing a salon, attending classes full-time, and paying private out-of-pocket tuition all by myself. I wasn’t sleeping well, maybe 4-5 hours a night at best. On top of all of this, I was barely eating. I recall going through a phase of only consuming 1 plain packet of oatmeal for breakfast (made with water), working a 12 hour shift, then maybe having a snack before bed. I was starved and stressed, and so was my reproductive system (the last thing on my mind at the time).

This chronic stress caused me to develop hypothalamic amenorrhea (the absence of your period for 3+ months due to hypothalamus insufficiencies). I didn’t think much about my missing period. Heck, I thought it was kind of awesome not getting one in my early 20s. I didn’t have to buy tampons, so I saved money there. I also escaped the monthly woes of the dreaded bleed, including mood swings, cramps, breakouts, cravings, etc. Bonus points for not having to worry about it interfering with sex! Hey-o! Not getting a period was great, or so I thought.

A Story Within a Story

I met my husband in the winter of 2011. We did long distance from Chicago to Nashville for about a year, and then I moved to Tennessee to be with him. In the following years, I started training for marathons. Boy did I love running and the stress release it provided. In fact, I still do. When training for and running my first marathon, I could barely finish due to under fueling. I was incredibly tired and drained. Plus, my recovery was killer from the lack of nutrients and depletion. I’m actually shocked I didn’t injure myself that first training cycle, especially because amenorrhea can have adverse effects on bone density (something I wasn’t aware of or cared about at the time).

As my training and experience progressed throughout my 9 marathon training cycles, I came to realize that I was not going to get faster without proper fueling. This realization, a couple of injuries, and the desire to recover from my eating disorder made me dive deep into nutrition research, ¬†purchase my favorite “Run Fast. Eat Slow.” cookbook, and it even inspired me to major in nutrition & dietetics! ūüôā

I proceeded to learn how to properly fuel my body and ALL of its systems with what it needs- macro + micronutrient- wise. I gained a bit of weight, and guess what? I ran my fastest race and qualified for the Boston Marathon! In April 2019, I PRed at Boston with a 3:21.. Do you know what else? I had regained my period a couple of years prior leading up to that, which I attribute to my bone health, injury prevention, hormonal balance, increased energy levels, a quicker recovery time and improved athletic performance. Regaining my period was a blessing in disguise, and I never take its presence for granted now. Here’s more info on Why You Shouldn’t Dread Your Period, and to even embrace it for what it’s doing for you, your overall health, and your ability to conceive if you so wish.

The Takeaway

What I have learned from my hypothalamic amenorrhea was that just because it didn’t appear to be doing damage, the absence of a period can cause long-term health consequences. These consequences include, but are not limited to: infertility, osteopenia or osteoporosis, thyroid issues, adrenal disorders, PCOS, and hormonal imbalances. I was lucky that my running injuries were fairly minor and that I didn’t suffer any stress fractures. The plan is to get a DEXA scan to check my bone density. I’m hoping there is no serious damage or signs of onset osteopenia/osteoporosis.

While amenorrhea occurs naturally while pregnant and breastfeeding, it should be taken seriously as a health concern when caused by an eating disorder, extreme exercise, being underweight, medications, stress, and sometimes birth control (among other causes). Many OBGYNs claim that there is nothing wrong with the absence of a period while on birth control, but I strongly suggest that you educate yourself on how birth control works and what that means for your body. For example, hormonal birth control suppresses ovulation (an entire phase of your cycle) and therefore induces a “withdrawal bleed” during your placebo week. In other words, you are not getting a real period on birth control. This is something to think about.

My last message about amenorrhea is to not take it lightly like I did in my early 20s. Having the mentality that you are saving money on sanitary products, avoiding period symptoms, and changing the game with your lifestyle and sex schedule can be detrimental and negligent to your long-term health. I know it is difficult to adopt a new perspective after learning new information, but I promise you it’s worth the investment in yourself and your health. If anything, do me a favor and educate yourself, continue to learn, then make changes that are right for you and your body.

Please feel free to reach out without questions regarding amenorrhea, and check out my previous post, “I Don’t Have a Period. Now What?“.

 

Disclaimer: The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 

 

Let’s Talk About PMS.

PMS. It is the dreaded acronym to every woman who has ever experienced it. PMS stands for Premenstrual Syndrome. It is a condition that can alter your emotional, mental, physiological AND physical states. Did you know that PMS symptoms are not normal? I didn’t either up until this past year. I bought into the story we’re told as young girls that PMS is part of it all. This is FALSE! Think about it. Our bodies are so intricately designed to perform on an optimal cellular level to keep us alive. Why would it fail us when it comes to reproductive health?

Pre-, meaning before, and menstrual, meaning your period, means that PMS is experienced the week leading up to your bleed. Signs and symptoms can range from mood swings to extreme physical discomfort. Refer to the list below for the slew of possible signs and symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms of PMS

  • mood swings
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • bloating
  • acne
  • abdominal pain or discomfort
  • sore breasts
  • food cravings
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • heightened senses to light, smell, taste
  • skin sensitivity
  • fatigue
  • trouble sleeping
  • depression
  • behavioral changes¬Ļ

*Among many others. PMS has been associated with nearly 200 hundred signs and symptoms! Every woman experiences this differently.

On average, 47.8% of women experience chronic PMS symptoms. The highest recorded prevalence rate was 98%.²

These numbers are staggeringly high for a syndrome that shouldn’t be making an appearance at all, let alone every 21 days. So what is the cause of PMS that is plaguing women on a global scale?

Possible Causes of PMS

  • hormonal fluctuations/imbalances
  • neurotransmitter changes
  • anemia
  • endometriosis
  • thyroid disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • connective tissue or rheumatologic diseases¬Ļ
  • eating disorders
  • vitamin or mineral deficiencies

Ways To Treat Symptoms

  1. First and foremost, you know I’m going to suggest reevaluating your diet. Removing or minimizing fast food, foods high in sodium and saturated fats, sugar, caffeine and alcohol should be your first move. It doesn’t sound fun, but let’s focus on what you can ADD to your diet. Adding foods that are rich in magnesium, calcium, and B vitamins have been shown to reduce PMS symptoms.

These foods include:

  • dark chocolate (woohoo! Just make sure it’s over 70% and low in sugar)
  • avocado
  • spinach
  • almonds
  • sunflower seeds
  • salmon
  • wheat germ
  • black cohosh (a medicinal root, also found as a supplement, shown in some studies to help relieve menopause and PMS symptoms)
  • low-sugar yogurt
  • citrus fruits
  • bananas
  • brown rice
  • shellfish
  • legumes

Just to name a few…

2. Secondly, moving your body can help relieve symptoms, boost endorphins, and even metabolize excess estrogen that could be the culprit of some symptoms. Walking or doing light yoga is ideal during this time of your cycle, but you choose a form of movement that feels good for you.

3. Drunk up, buttercup! Staying hydrated can help with bloating, water retention, and abdominal pain. Aim to drink 1mL for every calorie you consume, or from 1,500-2,000mL (1.5-2L) per day.

4. Mayo Clinic suggests acupuncture as an alternative treatment to relieve symptoms.¬≥ (I can’t wait to try this).

5. Reduce stress to decrease cortisol levels, which has an effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. One again, stress management looks different for every individual. Pick a few ways to manage stress that works FOR YOU.

6. Catch those Zzz’s! I’ve said it in many other posts, but sleep is so very important in our overall health and wellbeing. It’s the third pillar of health after diet & exercise. Sleep is when our brains detoxify, which can affect our neurotransmitters! If you recall, neurotransmitter changes (such as a dip in serotonin and dopamine levels) can be one of the root causes of PMS.

6. If holistic measures do not work for you, talking to a doctor about antidepressants, NSAIDs, or diuretics may help those with underlying issues and severe conditions.

Conclusion

If you’ve experienced PMS symptoms and do not want to live with these predictable symptoms anymore, try some of these remedies out. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions. I am happy to help, and keep in mind that I’ll be accepting nutrition clients come next Feb/March to help alleviate these issues through food!

Take care. Be safe, and stay healthy, friends! ‚̧

Disclaimer: The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

References

  1. Higuera, V. (2027, June 05). Premenstrual Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/premenstrual-syndrome
  2. A DM, K S, A D, Sattar K. Epidemiology of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Study [published correction appears in J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Jul;9(7):ZZ05]. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(2):106-109. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/8024.4021
  3. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). (2020, February 07). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20376780

Better Sleep Can Improve Eating Habits, and Vice Versa

Better Sleep Can Improve Eating Habits, and Vice Versa

I attended the largest-held food and nutrition conference in the U.S. for the last two years- last year in Philly, and two years ago in D.C. It’s called FNCE, short for the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. Both were fully funded by my university’s Student Government Association, and I couldn’t be more grateful for these opportunities. If you have never been to one of these grandiose and usually overwhelming events, you may not know that several rooms host various speakers all the same time. It is the attendee’s responsibility to choose, plan, and navigate each session as the day goes on.

One topic that stood out to me was about sleep and nutrition. We have known for awhile now that 8 hours of sleep is the standard recommendation, but does everyone really know the science behind it and how it relates to our eating habits? I was intrigued, so I added that to my schedule. The session was called “Best of the Rest: Improving Health Through Better Sleep”, and it was presented by Michael A. Grandner, PhD, MTR from the University of Arizona. He was pretty engaging, which my friends and I were thankful for since it was started at 9am on a Sunday.

He introduced the topic by simply defining sleep as a “naturally rhythmic and recurring process with a reduction or lack of consciousness, perceptual disengagement, immobility, ¬†and which is reversible”. Now this process is controlled by two mechanisms: 1) Our sleep drive, and 2) our biological clock, aka circadian rhythm.

Did you know…

when we are awake that our brains accumulate fluid, toxins, and adenosine (a cell by-product from energy production)? Yep! This is our body’s sleep drive. When enough build-up and pressure is present, we grow tired. When we sleep, this is when these fluids, toxins, and adenosine are released. Sleeping is detoxifying for our brains!!!!!

This is such an important fact I think everyone should be made aware of. We tend to glorify those who can function off of less sleep and praise the “hustlers” and “go-getters”, but is the exchange of long-term health for success worth it? That’s kind of a rhetorical and subjectively-pointed question. ¬†What I can tell you is that this presenter made it clear that no matter how well you think you function sleep-deprived, no one is exempt from the health recommendation of getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

The tricky thing is getting enough quality sleep. Many of us think we are getting our suggested 7-9 hours in because we spend that time in bed, but quality sleep takes many things into account:

  • Sleep onset, or how quickly you fall asleep
  • Number of awakenings per night
  • Total sleep time
  • Sleep efficiency

For quality sleep, you should be falling asleep within 20-30 minutes of putting yourself to bed. If you are having a difficult time with this, try turning off any devices 2 hours prior to bedtime, wearing blue-blocking glasses if you absolutely need to have screen time (I just ordered myself a pair), avoid doing anything but sleeping or having sex in the bedroom, and practice going to bed satisfied with food (not hungry, but not too full).

Some foods that have been proven to aid in melatonin production, relaxation and sleep include:

  • tart cherry juice or tart cherries,
  • kiwis
  • foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan (which is a precursor to serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin- whew! science) Foods with tyrptophan include turkey,¬†seafood,¬†dairy,¬†chicken,¬†nuts,¬†seeds and eggs.

What about melatonin supplements?

Melatonin supplements aren’t typically effective. Our bodies already produce this hormone, so it isn’t necessary to supplement with it. Melatonin supplements can have a minimal effect on sleep quality by timing the dosing right around 8pm, the peak at which natural melatonin reaches a high in the body. When the sun sets, our body’s secrete the most melatonin. This occurs around 8pm on average, so it makes sense why we would have to time our melatonin supplement then- to aid in the amount of melatonin present for sleep support.

Now to return to the other points I made about quality sleep…

The average person wakes up about 30 times a night, but only for a few seconds. Yep. That’s kind of a startling number, right? This is normal, and we typically don’t remember these brief awakenings. What we do want to focus on is the number of times we remember waking up. Since each full sleep cycle entailing the 5 stages of sleep (REM + nREM) takes place in 90 minute intervals, we should be getting about 5-6 cycles in per night. So we shouldn’t be consciously waking up more than 5 times per night, at the maximum.

How long should my naps be?

This was a popular subtopic when the end of the presentation opened up for questions. Dr. Michael Grandner suggested that a person should set their alarm for a 90 minute nap if possible. Why is this? Because this is the duration of a full sleep cycle, which gifts you quality sleep. He acknowledged that everyone does not have the luxury to take a 90 minute nap and that any amount of sleep is better than none.

What’s this talk about circadian rhythm being important?

Circadian rhythm is our body’s internal mechanism of knowing when to wake up and when to sleep. A large component of this is light. When the sun rises, our eyes register this light and release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that makes us alert, hence, why it is secreted when we rise- to wake us up! It is this reason why coffee first thing in the morning is not suggested- because it is not necessary with our body’s natural way of waking itself up. We just have to give it time. I do not practice what I preach when it comes to this though, simply because I LOVE my caffeine highs. ūüėČ I must note that if you are having trouble sleeping, you should consider reducing or removing caffeine from your diet. Stimulants and depressants (including alcohol) have shown to disrupt sleep in numerous studies, even when the subject was unaware.

What else does sleep deprivation affect?

  • weight gain- increased appetite
  • (those who sleep less consume 300-500 kcals extra/day)
  • exacerbates¬†chronic disease symptoms
  • adds to inflammation
  • toxins build up in the brain
  • lowers immune responses
  • reduces performance
  • effects mental health
  • can cause behavioral issues
  • can lead to poor decision-making
  • shorter life expectancy

What else can I do to improve my sleep?

Aside from shutting down electronics 2 hours before bed, only using the bedroom to sleep and for sex, and eating or drinking tart cherries, kiwis, tryptophan-rich foods, or taking a melatonin supplement, you can also…

  • drink more water for improved temperature regulation
  • invest in black-out curtains
  • ensure a comfortable sleeping environment
  • engage in regular exercise
  • eat healthy, balanced, and sufficient portion sizes
  • avoid stimulants or depressants
  • maintain healthy relationships to decrease stress.

Summary

Sleep is considered the third pillar of health, next to diet and exercise. It is essential for humans to reset, detoxify, and function properly. A regular schedule and ample amounts of sleep can lengthen one’s expected life span and decrease other health risks, including but not limited to weight gain, chronic disease, and heart issues.

While eating healthy, exercise, and certain food and supplements may help, you should seek help from a professional sleep expert and undergo a sleep study should you still have trouble sleeping. Many suffer from undiagnosed insomnia and sleep apnea, which are serious medical conditions that cannot be helped by lifestyle changes alone.

Resources

American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society

National Sleep Foundation

Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

Reference

Grandner, M. (2019). Best of the Rest: Improving Health Through Better Sleep [1-46].

The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.