7 Things That Mess With Your Period That You Never Realized, According To Experts

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I used to think that as long as you were basically healthy, you would get your period every month. But my own experience didn’t live up to this belief. When I was 15, I started dieting, and before I was even clinically underweight, my period stopped — for over a year. After my dieting turned into a full-blown eating disorder, it remained absent for over a year. Even well into my recovery, it came once every two or three months. The only time it was regular was when I was on birth control. Once I went off it, my period was wildly irregular again, disappearing for three or four months at a time. I probably had an unbalanced diet and wacky sleep cycle to thank for that.

I’d begun to suspect I had PCOS or another hormone disorder. But then, last year, I started talking to functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti, founder of FloLiving and author of WomanCode, who explained that my weird periods could very well be a result of my behavior. Our periods are extremely sensitive to even small issues in our diets, sleep habits, and moods.

So, I made some lifestyle changes, including adjusting my bedtime from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m and starting to take vitamins. Lo and behold, my period is now coming once every two months rather than every three or four.

Whether it’s irregular periods, heavy periods, long periods, PMS, a lot of us deal with some sort of period issue. But these should be seen as issues, Vitti explained to me, because they’re all an indication that something’s out of whack. If you’re having any kind of period issue, these are some possible culprits, according to experts.

1Stress

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The mind-body connection is real. If you’re chronically stressed out, your body prioritizes the functions that are essential, like brain activity, and may neglect less essential systems like the reproductive system, Astroglide’s resident OB/GYN Dr. Angela Jones tells Bustle. This can lead to late, light, or missed periods.

2Exercise

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In moderation, exercise can make your periods less painful, says Jones. But in excess, it can cause you to skip periods, which is why many athletes don’t get regular periods.

3Getting Sick

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Your body treats sickness as a stressor, says Jones, so you might miss a period after getting sick.

4Drinking

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Excessive alcohol can also make your periods irregular or absent, the research team behind the period tracking app Clue tells Bustle. It’s been theorized that alcohol increases estrogen levels, preventing follicular development and ovulation . The good news that light to moderate drinking probably won’t affect your period or fertility.

5Smoking

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There’s some evidence suggesting that smoking can affect your levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which can all mess with your menstrual cycle, says Jones.

6Breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding lowers your estrogen, the hormone that causes the lining of your uterus that’s shed during your period to grow, Jones says. And in order to replenish your milk supply, your body produces more prolactin than usual, which can stop you from ovulating. However, she warns, this effect isn’t strong or reliable enough to rely on breastfeeding for birth control.

7Travel

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Travel disrupts your circadian rhythm, which can throw off your body’s hormonal balance, resulting in abnormally short, long, irregular, or absent periods, says Clue’s research team.

You may feel lucky if you’re not getting your period every month, but the truth is, period issues are usually issues with more than just your period. By figuring out what went wrong and fixing it, you’ll improve not only your period but your overall health.