For many women, periods feel like this messy, moody, painful, unavoidable week they have to put up with every month. I recall friends (and even doctors) greeting me with a “No periods? How lucky!” comment when I confessed to suffering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (missing periods for three consecutive months or more) a decade ago.
As I worked my way through recovery, it dawned on me that the topic of periods is still so taboo that we, as a society, lack basic knowledge, as well as scientific evidence, to understand them fully. And because humans are biologically wired to fear what they don’t know, women are left vastly unequipped but also ungrateful for the one essential physical function that, well, perpetuates humanity!
So what is the purpose of a menstrual cycle? Essentially, it remains evolutionary. It serves to support reproduction. Women produce a combination of female hormones known as progesterone and estrogen, and a smaller amount of male hormones like testosterone and androgens. The majority of female hormones (FSH and LH) are made in the pituitary gland from a signal coming from the hypothalamus, and some of the male hormones are made in the ovaries, the adrenals, or in peripheral places such as fat. The perfect – yet effortless – synchronicity between male and female hormones is what allows for new life to be conceived.
Because humans are biologically wired to fear what they don’t know, women are left vastly unequipped when it comes to their menstrual health.
What we tend to forget, however, is that the female cycle is also a crucial part of women’s overall health, even for those who are not interested in becoming mothers. In my case, it took “losing” my cycle to realize how awkward and uncomfortable it felt to go for years without a speck of blood. My OB-GYN diagnosed me correctly (which I am grateful for), but she offered zero advice on what recovery could look like. My frantic googling did the rest, and I came across Dr. Nicola Rinaldi’s work on recovery from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.
Thanks to her book, No Period, Now What?, I was able to learn about the importance of periods, not only as a gateway to fertility, but also for the essential role they play in supporting women’s vital organs. I also learned that you didn’t need to lose your period completely to experience the negative side effects of hormonal shifts, like feeling constantly cold, weak, tired, or fixated on food.
“When you’re not getting a period regularly, it means your estrogen levels and your other reproductive hormones are low and not increasing through the month as expected. Short term, amenorrhea can be associated with thinning or loss of hair, brittle nails, and skin problems. It can also cause non-existent libido and vaginal dryness. Longer term, the lack of estrogen leading to ovulation can lead to more severe complications. It causes brittle bones and fractures due to low bone density, it can increase the risk of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries that feed your heart), and it can lead to an earlier, increased risk of dementia and neurodegeneration,” explains Dr. Rinaldi.
Bones. Heart. Brain.
I had certainly hoped to make use of these, as optimally and for as long as possible. And if this meant staining my favorite underwear or having to deal with premenstrual moodiness, I’d take that any day over the myriad of symptoms and overall despair that accompanied my period-free life.
Ten years later, well recovered and working as an Eating Psychology and Body Image coach, I make a point to share this message with women, to help some regain their cycles or to empower all to reconnect with their bodies in a compassionate, positive, and well-informed way. And to finally see their “week of the month” as a source of power and health.