Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) implies two things.
#1) Your hypothalamus – the control center in your brain that regulates many physiological processes, including reproduction, is not functioning properly.
#2) Amenorrhea – you don’t have a regular cycle, specifically you’ve missed at least 3 menstrual periods in a row
If your hypothalamus isn’t working properly, hormones such as GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone), FSH, and LH shut down or stop signaling properly. Thus, these hormones cannot communicate to the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone in the proper amounts needed for reproduction. Ovulation and menstruation stop. This can lead to missing periods, and as a result, infertility.
How does it happen?
One of the biggest reasons is: STRESS! Sounds simple, but even the stress variable has multiple roots.
- Not eating enough calories
- Not eating enough carbohydrates (controversial, but I believe it is important)
- Exercising excessively
- Mental stress (work, moving, relationships, money, environment)
- Physiological stress (blood sugar dysregulation, unidentified food allergies)
If your body is feeling stressed, it does not think it is safe to reproduce. Our body is so smart! If you are barely eating enough to support your own metabolic functions, how can you support another life? Also, who feels like having sex when you’re depressed, tired, irritable, and have ZERO estrogen to make you feel womanly?
The reason why some women don’t catch onto this is because they have this horrible habit of comparing. They see another Crossfitter or supermodel that looks really healthy and lean. The woman strives to meet this ultimate ideal. Want to know a secret? They probably don’t have a regular cycle either! You can look stunning on the outside, but be broken on the inside. True story. STOP COMPARING!
Healthy does not mean having a six pack and bragging about how much you work out.
Healthy means feeling comfortable in your skin, eating a piece of chocolate if you want, not overexercising, fueling yourself with nourishing foods, having a spiritual practice, spending time with loved ones, getting quality sleep, incorporating play time in your life, not overextending yourself, and being present.
As many of you already know, I have a history of disordered eating and excessive exercise. For years, I thought I was invisible to any kind of health complications. I saw the scale showing lower numbers and since I was eating fat-free, low-cholesterol, vegetarian foods I HAD to be healthier than most people, right? Oh, was I ever wrong.
Truth is, I felt “fine” (after starting to eat Paleo I realized that fine=crappy). I had the energy to push me through 1.5-2 hr workouts, my clothes were loose, and people would compliment me on my skinny figure all the time. I had NO idea just how much this lifestyle was taking a toll on my health. My real wake-up call happened when I got off the birth control pill a few years ago.
My husband was deploying and I figured that being on the pill for 10 years straight was probably excessive. I got off the pill and expected everything with my cycle to just magically re-regulate. Well, it didn’t, even after 4 months. *Some studies state that your cycle should regulate after 6 months post-pill. If it goes beyond 6 months, then you should get checked out.
I went to my doctor and told her my concerns. Her response? “Ah, just wait it out. If you hit seven months, let’s get some testing done.” Seven months came and no period. I went and had the standard blood tests done (unfortunately, they didn’t believe in the extended Female Hormone Panel) as well as a transvaginal ultrasound. The results showed that I looked like a post-menopausal woman. My estrogen and progesterone levels were in the tank!
How it happened to me:
I was trying to be my own health coach. I was structuring my workouts and diet plan the way I had in the past, but “healthier.” You see, when you go from exercising 1.5-2 hours a day to 1 hour + a walk you think you’re making improvements and taking it easier on yourself. However, when that 1 hour is a full hour of high intensity work, you’re not doing yourself any favors. When your walk is 50% uphill, you’re not doing yourself any favors. I had an amazing talent of justification.
I was also eating more, but my starch intake was LOW! I would have butternut squash every now and then, but sweet potatoes were something I rarely had. I was loving the research on low-carb diets and felt like I recovered pretty well without them. Hello, justification.
Active women need starches!! I don’t care how compelling the very low-carb research is, eat them. Honestly, even having 2 sweet potatoes and a cup of berries a day still qualifies as a low carb diet. Going ketogenic (less than 30-50 grams of carbs a day) is not supportive for our lady hormones.
How I overcame hypothalamic amenorrhea:
It took me close to 2 years, but I kicked its butt – 100% naturally. While every single doctor I went to, even ones I considered more natural, threw prescription hormones at me, I knew I could do it on my own.
Here’s what I did:
- I stopped letting my body-conscious thoughts get the best of me. Did I have “fat days?” You betcha. The difference was, I found a way to justify my life in ways other than the size of my jeans. I realized just how incredible of a wife, friend, and daughter I was. I realized that I had completed a master’s degree with a 4.0. I looked back at all of my achievements with my career. I became thankful for overall health, despite the HA. I became clear on what mattered to me in life and it wasn’t how skinny I was.
- I realized I wanted a family someday. This one was super powerful. If you’re not having a regular cycle, good luck with having a family. I knew I had to get this sorted out sooner than later. I’ve witnessed many friends dealing with IVF and infertility struggles.
- I started adding carbohydrates back into my diet. I went from <50 to 100-150 grams/day through sweet potatoes/yams/fruit/winter squash. My energy and digestion significantly improved, pretty fast.
- I ate more. I went from about 1600 calories a day to 2,000-2,200ish a day. I don’t count, so this is a guess.
- I gained weight. It was scary at first, but I am fine and still look very healthy. Weight is just a number. Your health is worth SO much more.
- I changed my workouts. Instead of long, high intensity sessions I opted for heavy lifting and shorter sprints. I walk everyday, but on flat roads, not mountains. I make sure to make my walks mindful, listening to the noises, sounds, and sights around me and practicing gratitude.
- I added supplements to support my cycle. Some of the ones I added in included a detox program, Femmenessence, Vitex, B-complex, Vitamin C, and adrenal support.
- I gave it time. You can’t expect your cycle to come back in a month or two (although it could). Patience is required!
- I gave my brain a break. I started a regular yoga and meditation practice multiple times a week.
- I told my friends and family. They provided me with so much support and encouragement!
- I got acupuncture. I started going twice a week for the first month, then went down to 1 time/week. It was definitely tough financially, but I truly believe in its power.
I hope this helps you or a friend/family member you know going through this right now. It is 100% possible to beat it, trust me 🙂 I would love to support you on your journey to recovery.
Any comments, questions, or concerns? Please share below!