Has your period changed recently? Is it heavier, lighter, longer or doesn’t show up for months? A menstrual cycle is an important part of every woman’s life and paying close attention to the small changes in your cycle is of utmost importance as it mirrors not just your reproductive, but also your overall health. While stress and worry may mess with your monthly ritual temporarily, some factors could cause the damage to be more permanent.

Here are six important factors that may be influencing your monthly cycle.

1. Stress
The number one cause for a lot of things—be it an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or diabetes—stress tops the list in affecting your menses, too. While daily hassles like commuting, deadlines and kids do account for stressful episodes, they are unlikely to impact your menstrual cycle. According to Eduardo Lara-Torre, MD, an ob-gyn at Carilion Clinic in Virginia, “It often takes a one-time extraordinarily stressful event to create an abnormal period.” Scientific studies have backed this observation, finding that women under extreme stress can double their chances of infertility and irregular menses. (Related Article: De-Stress Naturally With Aromatherapy)

2. Body Weight
Being too thin or too fat can adversely affect your period. Rapid weight gain or weight loss can throw your hormones off balance and conflict with your ovulation cycle. Excessive body weight is associated with high estrogen levels that can interrupt the release of eggs from your ovaries and hence mess up with your cycle. On the flip side, the reality is equally appalling for those who are underweight. If you’re underweight, your body isn’t going to produce enough estrogen to produce an endometrial lining that will not only affect your cycle but also fertility. (Related Article: 5 Yoga Poses To Fight Obesity)

3. Toxins & Chemicals
Toxins in the form of environmental pollutants, pesticides and other harmful chemicals sneak into our system through food, water and other everyday items such as detergents, soaps and plastic packages. These toxins can wreak havoc in your body, mimicking the function of hormones, thus messing with your endocrine system and hence your cycle. Go organic—consider filtering your drinking water and check if your makeup contains harmful chemicals. (Related Article: 10 Chemicals In Everyday Life That Can Cause Infertility)

4. Excessive Exercise
Strenuous exercise routines can also hamper your menstrual cycle, making it irregular. If you start exercising suddenly, your body perceives this as a stress signal, disrupting your hormonal symphony. Also, weight loss exercises can make you rapidly lose body fat which is important for ovulation. If you skip your period for more than three months or notice any other irregularity, it is advisable to visit your doctor.

5. Inadequate Sleep
Your irregular periods may be a result of your irregular sleeping patterns or shift work. A lack of shut eye can affect your body’s circadian rhythm that has a direct correlation to your fertility hormones and melatonin levels, both of which affect ovulation and menstruation. Try these herbs or yoga poses to sleep better every night.

6. Prescription Drugs
If you are taking prescription medicines for a thyroid or autoimmune condition, you may be able to detect potholes in your monthly cycle. Antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs also radically affect your menstrual cycle due to an imbalance in your hormones.

A bacterial infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, STDs, endometriosis and PCOS can also be responsible for your infrequent and irregular cycle. If you observe any symptoms for these conditions, it is best to bring it to the attention of your doctor. Here are six signs that could mean your hormones are out of balance and foods that can get you back on track.

Read More:
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