No carbs, no period?
Whether you’re cutting back on carbs to slim down before a vacation, going plant-based to help the environment or simply focusing on diet and nutrition for general well-being, these efforts can impact your time of the month.
The female menstrual cycle is the natural way that the body prepares for pregnancy and cleans the body if pregnancy does not occur, explains Dr. Valerie Swiatkowski, obstetrics and gynecology specialist with Advocate Medical Group in Oak Lawn, IL. The menstrual cycle is typically around 28 days with normal variation from 21 to 35 days, and a length from 2 to 7 days.
“I recommend that women track the menstrual cycles with a traditional calendar or menstrual app on their smartphone. This way, she will have record of what her usual cycle is like and then will notice when a change happens,” she says.
This can happen for many reasons, she explained, including changes in body weight (either weight gain or weight loss), stressful life events, dietary restrictions or hormonal-based issues.
“It’s important to eat a healthy diet to maintain the normal menstrual cycle,” Dr. Swiatkowski says.
Women at both ends of the weight spectrum are at risk for menstrual irregularities, she said. Women who do not take in enough calories will notice a change, and for different reasons, the menstrual cycle also changes in women that are overweight or obese.
“The relationship between menstrual cycle and diet can be seen even with different food choices,” Dr. Swiatkowski says. For example, she described that women who follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet will usually have normal cycles. Menstrual irregularities can occur, but it’s unclear whether the link is from the diet itself or from inadequate nutrition such as low fat or low protein.
Similarly, some studies and research have shown that the keto or extreme low-carb diets can cause menstrual irregularities and even stop periods altogether due to change in hormone levels or rapid weight loss.
It’s all about finding a balance of nutrition to keep both your cycle and diet efforts on track, Dr. Swiatkowski says.
“If a new diet change does not meet the energy needs of the woman, it is likely that her period will become irregular in the transition,” she says. “With any diet, women should be checking to make sure they’re getting enough of the basic building blocks to maintain normal bodily functions, including menstruation.”
Look to Dietary Guidelines for Americans or see a dietitian or nutritionist to find the right fit for you.
Swiatkowski encourages women to focus on a healthy lifestyle to maintain their weight and periods:
- Include healthy food choices and routine exercise.
- Get enough protein and fat, particularly with specialty diets.
- Be realistic with weight loss goals to prevent rebound weight gain or medical complications from nutritional imbalance or insufficiency.
- Incorporate a multivitamin to ensure you have enough folic acid, iron and B vitamins, which support a healthy menstrual cycle, as well as calcium and vitamin D for bone health.
- Create a plan with adequate lean protein choices, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates while also limiting empty calories found in sodas, juices and sweets.
It’s important for all women to know about the normal menstrual cycle and seek care when something changes, particularly for women who would not accept blood products for treatment of life-threatening anemia, Swiatkowski urges.
“As a gynecologist, we work with our patients to promote lifelong health as well as prevent complications that can happen when periods become irregular. Regular visits with an OB/GYN can catch a problem before it is serious,” says Swiatkowski.
About the Author
Anna Schapiro is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a background in public relations and communications and studied journalism at Northwestern University. When she’s not working on internal communications for the organization, she enjoys cooking, reading and living in Chicago.