How to Cope with Irregular Periods: Tips for Women with PCOS
Irregular periods are common for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Not only can irregular cycles be debilitating physically, they can also impact the emotional well being of women. Within this piece, we will aim to give women a better understanding of why they might have irregular periods and offer helpful tips for coping with this symptom of PCOS.
Why do I get irregular periods?
Every month, your ovaries release a follicle to be fertilized. However, since PCOS causes hormonal imbalances, leading to higher levels of androgens like testosterone and the luteinizing hormone, the tiny follicle does not mature or get released.i Instead of being released, the rebellious follicle (often called a ‘cyst’) remains in the ovaries. High levels of circulating testosterone can disrupt your menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation.2 Without regular ovulation and the normal biological events that lead up to it, your uterus does not have the momentum it requires to shed its lining.ii This is what leads to oligomenorrhea – or infrequent periods.
Be mindful that every PCOS woman can experience this in varying ways. Some women will continue to have regular periods every 28 days, others may have longer cycles and get their period every 30 to 40 days, and some may stop having periods altogether.iii Though this is a common symptom of PCOS, it still needs to be addressed. Irregular periods can interfere with your fertility plans, inconvenience your daily routine and impact your quality of life.
There are ways you can manage your cycle and cope with the physical and mental side effects. Below we will go into tips and tricks that will help.
Talk about it
In order to stamp out antiquated social taboos about menstrual health, we need to break the silence: literally and metaphorically. A great place to kick things off is by having an open, frank discussion with your friends, family or partner about your menstrual health. Menstruating is a biological function that every woman experiences and nothing to be embarrassed about. By starting this dialogue, you will help to inform and educate your loved ones and garner their support when you need it.
Use a cycle tracking app
In our modern age, there is an app for just about anything. Period tracking apps have grown in popularity over the past few years. They allow you to keep a close eye on your menstrual health by assessing your temperature, mood, physical symptoms and sleep quality. They produce highly intelligent data reports to help you develop a more nuanced and accurate understanding of your cycle, especially its length. My Period Calendar, Month Long, Period Tracker Lite, Flo Period Tracker, and Clue are all great choices.
Stress causes the body to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can impact your menstrual cycle by tampering with the function of your adrenal glands.iv It is important to combat stress effectively to ensure your cycle is not affected. There are many ways to do this and the trick is finding a couple that works for you as there definitely isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Some people find meditation, yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness, physical exercise, spending time in green spaces or relaxing in a long hot bath to help. It’s worth noting here that you shouldn’t put your body under too much physical stress either, as this can stunt your periods. So go easy on the ultra marathons and extreme sports. Take a look at our top tips to mindfulness with PCOS for a more in depth guide.
As we always say: a quality multivitamin and mineral should be your bedrock, as it ensures you get a ‘little bit of everything’. Once that’s established, you can start taking slightly higher amounts of the nutrients that will help regulate your menstrual cycle.
This family of vitamins has been long revered for restoring harmony to your hormones. Vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B6 are needed for healthy hormone production, while B5 (pantothenic acid) is vital for optimal adrenal function.v Imbalances in both of these functions can negatively impact your cycle. The best way to get a healthy supply of these vitamins is to take them in the form of a quality B-complex supplement. The B vitamins are synergistic – meaning they work well together. Find out more about how vitamin B6 can help to support the symptoms of PCOS here.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Studies have shown that consumption of omega 3 can encourage the regulation of your menstrual cycle. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, chia seeds and walnuts are all rich sources of omega-3. However, if you struggle to eat enough of these foods on a daily basis, it’s wise to add a high-strength omega-3 supplement to your diet.
As we’ve mentioned above, stress can have an impact on your cycle. When you are stressed, your body can flush out your magnesium reserves. Therefore, by upping your intake of this nutrient, you can support your hormonal function and keep ovulation regular.vi You can obtain magnesium from a range of foods including spinach, dark chocolate, cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts. But to properly bolster your body’s natural stocks, it may be worth adding a high-strength, quality magnesium supplement to the diet.
Myo-inositol is often referred to as a member of the B vitamin family. It acts as an insulin-sensitising agent, which in turn supports egg quality, ovarian function, hormone balance and menstrual cycle regularity.vii The best sources of myo-inositol include whole grains, citrus fruits, dried prunes and brewer’s yeast, but you’d have to eat masses of these foods to get your daily dose. The simpler and more convenient option is to take 2 to 4 grams of myo-inositol in powdered form each day.
To sum up
PCOS is known to have an effect on your menstrual cycle. It’s inconvenient and can be frustrating a lot of the time. However, you can manage your cycle effectively with the methods mentioned about.
To find out more about PCOS and the different ways you can manage your condition, browse the rest of our hub.
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Rosenfield, R.L. (2016). The Pathogenesis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS. 467–520.
Hart, R. (2007). Definitions, prevalence and symptoms of polycystic ovaries and polycystic ovary syndrome. In: Allahbadia G, Agrawal R, editors. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. 2nd. Kent, UK: Anshan, Ltd, 15–26.
Zschucke, E., Renneberg, B., Dimeo, F., Wüstenberg, T. & Ströhle, A. (2015). The stress-buffering effect of acute exercise: evidence for HPA axis negative feedback. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 51, 414–425.
Kennedy, D.O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients. 8(2), 68..
Nadjarzadeh, A., Dehghani Firouzabadi, R., Vaziri, N., Daneshbodi, M.H., Lotfi, M.H., Mozaffari-Khosravi, H. (2013). The effect of omega-3 supplementation on androgen profile and menstrual status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized clinical trial. Iranian Journal of Reproductive Medicine. 11(8), 665–672.
Glenville, M. (2018). Irregular periods. J Urol. Available online: https://www.marilynglenville.com/womens-health-issues/irregular-periods
Kalra, B., Kalra, S.& Sharma, J.B. (2016). The inositols and polycystic ovary syndrome. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 20(5), 720–724