Ladies, if you have missed three consecutive periods or more, there is a good chance that you are suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea or HA. HA affects 20% of active women. With the stigma lifting on women’s health problems, HA is becoming more and more prevalent. It usually exists in those who have a history of disordered eating. However, it can present for many different reasons as well.
One of the major health problems associated with HA is loss of calcium, resulting in women being at risk of stress fractures and osteoporosis. It can also affect your ability to have children. Unfortunately, the bone density lost during the time of HA won’t be able to fully restore. However, the younger you are when you get HA, the more chance you have of it restoring.
So, why do some women get it and some don’t? It all comes down to nutrition. If you experience HA due to undereating, your body can experience famine-like symptoms and menstruation may stop as a result. Women who are 15% under the expected weight, suffer from an intense fear of gaining weight, or have a distorted body image, can also get HA. All of these concerns can be associated with female athletes, which is why loss of your menstrual cycle can be a red flag with those who restrict their eating.
Other factors contributing to HA amongst women include sarcoidosis, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, psychiatric disorders and galactosemia. Congenital issues, cervical stenosis, ovarian insufficiency, pituitary disorders, hypothalamic, endocrine gland disorders and physiological issues can also contribute.
Women with HA may find it difficult to get their period back, however, it will eventually come back. These women usually have a full team of people in their corner, ensuring they do all that they can to bring it back. There is no timeline placed on getting it back. If this is you, you will need plenty of rest, food and lots of self love. The four pillars of health – food, exercise, stress and sleep, are essential here.
Women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea may find it helpful to:
Balance your calories – Eat enough at every meal so that you can exercise at your optimal level while your body functions normally. You can achieve energy balance by exercising 5 – 15% less and eating a little more, or simply by eating enough to support your training.
Avoid dieting and weighing yourself – Allow your body to come to a natural weight which is comfortable for your genetics. Women who find it difficult to let go of the compulsive idea to lose weight could benefit from only being a 100 – 200 calorie deficit.
Eat adequate protein for your body type – If you’re undereating, your body is likely to be burning protein for energy. Your bones will become weaker as a result. Active women, who do at least 1 hour of exercise per day, should consume 1 – 1.2g of protein for every kilo you weigh.
Eat 20% of your calories from healthy fats – Your body needs healthy fats in order for it to perform at it’s best. Your body uses fat to absorb vitamin A, D, E and K. These healthy fats include things like nuts, salmon, peanut butter, extra virgin olive oil and avocado. And no, you won’t get fat from eating these.
Eat a diet full of calcium-rich food – Calcium allows our bodies to build and maintain healthy, strong bones. Your heart, muscles and nerves also need calcium to work properly. Exercise helps keep your bones strong and so eating proper amounts of calcium is important.
Get adequate vitamin D – Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed and therefore benefits your bone health. We are lucky in Australia that there is a lot of sunlight. However, there has been an increase in vitamin D deficiency of late with one in four adults being in deficit and 7% suffering from a severe deficiency. We need to make sure that we are exposing ourselves to sunlight for at least 10 minutes per day.
If you are reading this and you believe that this sounds like you, please book an appointment with your doctor.