- If you have an irregular cycle, it can be frustrating and difficult to plan your month around your body's natural fluctuations.
- Knowing more about your menstrual cycle, the causes of and signs to look for in an irregular flow, and tips for keeping your period on track can help make this process smoother.
- There are a variety of holistic support options available to help regulate your cycle, which can also benefit your mental, fertility, and overall health as well.
Dr. Jessica Ritch, MD helps to treat patients and get them back to their lives faster through behavioral modifications, physical therapy, medical treatment and surgical treatment including robotic surgery, advanced laparoscopy, hysteroscopy and vaginal procedures. She specializes in the management of benign gynecologic conditions such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
The Elix Guide to Unpredictable Cycles
Back again so soon? It’s always unsettling when your period comes early and takes you by surprise—you’re suddenly unprepared, confused, and maybe even taking a rain check on plans you had for the week. Or perhaps your period has gone completely MIA and you haven’t seen it for a little while.
If you are trying to plan your month around your body’s natural fluctuations, knowing more about your menstrual cycle, the difference between a regular and irregular cycle, and tips for keeping your period on track, can make this process a lot smoother and help put your mind at ease.
How do I know if my cycle is irregular?
A regular cycle is typically anywhere from 21-35 days in length from the start of one period to the start of the next. Most women with a regular cycle have periods that start within a few days to a week of their typical range (ie. every 24-28 days or 31-35 days). On the other hand, a cycle is classified as irregular when it falls outside of this range—either it’s too short, too long, or sometimes a combination.
To check if your cycle is regular or irregular, instead of looking at your calendar, it’s better to measure the days from the start of one period to the next.
Dr. Rtich recommends using a cycle tracking app to make this process easier. There are so many great apps out there like Clue or Flo to help you calculate the days between cycles and notice patterns of fluctuations in your cycle—usually letting you know within a few days of when to expect your period and ovulation. Another natural way to track your cycle is to look at your basal body temperature and cervical mucus changes to help further determine time of ovulation, and calculate the length of your cycle without using an app. If you are noticing through these methods that your cycle has been unpredictable for more than 3 months, it’s time to bring this up to your doctor.
What are the causes of an irregular cycle?
It’s no secret that stress and our cycles are intimately connected. Studies show that high levels of stress can cause amenorrhea (not getting your period), abnormal ovulation or anovulation (not ovulating), and changes in cycle length.
Stress causes the release of stress steroids like cortisol and adrenaline, which are what kicks us into fight-or-flight mode. During these times, energy is diverted away from non-essential tasks like digestion and reproduction, to focus on the ‘immediate danger’ present. However, when we have chronic stress, these hormones can cause some of the more long-term issues mentioned above.
2. Life stage
- Starting your first cycle: Cycles are often irregular in the teenage years, especially in the first few years after your first period. This is usually due to anovulation as it takes some time for the body to start producing hormones in a regular cyclic pattern. While it is typical for teenagers to go for a few months without a period, if you have been wondering where your monthly flow is for 6-12 months, then it’s time to see your doctor.
- Perimenopause: Irregular cycles are one of the defining symptoms of Perimenopause, or the time when your body is transitioning into menopause. This typically starts in the mid 40s and lasts for an average of 5 years. During perimenopause, your ovaries start to lose their momentum and produce less estrogen, resulting in fluctuating hormone levels that significantly cause sporadic ovulation and periods.
3. Diet + Exercise
When our bodies are low in nutrients, antioxidants, and probiotics, but high in stress, this can really take a toll on our cycle health and overall wellbeing. Excessive exercise, such as overdoing it in your HIIT or cardio workouts, especially without adequate calorie intake, can cause amenorrhea (absence of your period). This overexertion affects the hormones released by the hypothalamus in the brain that stimulate ovarian function, causing your cycles to go haywire.
One of the defining symptoms of PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is irregular cycles. Many women with PCOS experience anovulatory menstrual cycles, meaning that they’re not ovulating in the middle of the month and don’t get the same hormone surges an ovulatory cycle would create. This is usually due to elevated levels of sex hormones like testosterone.
How To get Your Cycle Back On Track
1. Maintain a healthy weight
One of the best things you can do to help get your cycle back on track is to get enough exercise and nutrients in your diet. Eating quality fats, protein, and fiber like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and vegetables can support healthy hormone levels and ovulation.
Exercising regularly also has many benefits that can help support your period. If you have amenorrhea (absence of a period) or PCOS, low-impact exercises like yoga, pilates, weight training, walking, cycling, and swimming might be great to try instead of more high-intensity workouts that can add more stress to your body.
2. Herbal supplements
Chinese herbal medicine has also been shown to regulate menstrual cycles with fewer side effects than conventional treatment. At Elix, we use the same science to create personalized herbal blends, to help balance hormones, and give your body the proper nutrients it needs to get your period back on track. Some of the herbs in our formulas that target these specific concerns include:
- Safflower: Reduces inflammation, promotes blood circulation, and helps to regulate an irregular menstrual cycle.
- Vitex Berry: This berry is an ideal hormone balancer—especially in cases of estrogen dominance—and helps keep the menstrual cycle regular.
- Cyperus Rotundus: A well known herb for regulating menstruation and reducing symptoms such as cramps, breast tenderness, and mood changes.
3. Build in habits to reduce stress
Since stress and our cycles are so intimately connected, consciously approaching stress by incorporating self-care rituals and habits into your daily life is key to having a smoother cycle each month. Try making time in your morning or evening routine for some meditation, yoga, acupressure, walking out in nature, or drinking herbal teas to help reduce stress levels, and balance hormones throughout the day.
Elix is here to support every cycle of your journey and help reduce those period surprises. Take our Health Assessment and discover your personalized herbal formula to address your worst menstrual symptoms and heal from within.This article was reviewed by Dr. Jessica Ritch.
Dr. Jessica Ritch is a board-certified and fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologist who specializes in the management of benign gynecologic conditions such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. She completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, where she was selected as chief resident and received the prestigious AAGL Outstanding Resident in Minimally Invasive Gynecology award.