Does Low-Carb Prolong Your Period?
It was bound to happen at some point or another. And now it has.
I got an e-mail from a fan of my blog and my book (she said she has already read it twice!) a few days ago who wanted to know why her period continues on indefinitely for weeks at a time while she is livin' la vida low-carb.
Uh, heck if I know! Hee hee! As much personal experience I have had with the low-carb lifestyle over the past couple of years, that is DEFINTELY one area I will NEVER have any primary knowledge about (thank you, Jesus! LOL!).
But, thanks to some key friends who are all women (WOO HOO!) and experts in the low-carb lifestyle (BONUS!), I am able to assist this reader with some invaluable information and learn some things in the process.
Here was her very interesting e-mail dilemma:
"I have question that you personally have never had to deal with, but I am hoping you will tap your resources and be able to answer for me.
I have lived low-carb and then stopped several times for the same reason. I lose a lot of weight very quickly and then it tapers off to 2-3 pounds a week.
I currently weigh about 283 pounds. When I start on the low-carb lifestyle, I lost 15-20 pounds in the first month and then my period started and would not stop. I have had this happen now several times.
I spoke with my doctor about this and the answer he gave me I have never seen in a blog or book before. His explanation was as follows: your body fat retains estrogen and when you lose body fat quickly, then your body doesn't know what to do with the explosion of extra estrogen so it makes your cycle unexpectedly start prematurely. Then the estrogen level stays elevated because of your weight is dropping so your cycle never stops.
I have searched many blogs and books and can't find any mention of this phenomenon. The doctor told me that eventually my period will level off and get back to normal, but I have experienced PMS for 4-5 weeks in a row! As you can imagine, this demotivates me from continuing with my low-carb lifestyle and I give it up to go back to the way I was eating to make my PMS stop. Within a few days, my cycle returns to normal.
I know right now your going ewwwwww right about now and wondering why I had to ask you, but I trust you and your resources for help.
Thanks for reading this far and hopefully pointing me in the right direction for some help or explanations."
Yeah, you're right. EWWWWWWW! But I'm so glad you asked me this question because there are likely other women out there who may have experienced this same thing and can offer some insight. THANK YOU for trusting me to find the answers for you.
Before I get to my professional guests and what they think about this reader's questions, let me offer a few brief insights.
First, CONGRATULATIONS on choosing to do something about your obesity problem. Weighing 283 pounds is not at all healthy for you and I applaud you for taking action to get your weight under control. That is most of the battle right there and I admire you for tackling this issue head-on. YOU GO GIRL!
But I do I have a concern with something you said. You said you have started low-carb several times but stopped each time because the weight "tapers off to 2-3 pounds a week" after an initial burst of weight loss.
Don't take this the wrong way, but there are people who would kill to be able to lose 2-3 pounds a week! While we all would like to shed weight as fast as possible, the fact of the matter is that a slow, deliberate weight loss is VERY GOOD for your body.
Losing weight rapidly can cause problems such as excess skin (something I'm still dealing with over a year after losing my weight!) and the temptation to fall back into your old eating habits again.
Celebrate ANY weight loss, big or small. Our society has conditioned us to want whatever we want as soon as possible. But with weight loss, that doesn't mean this month or next month. It might not even mean next year. But if you are committing yourself to a permanent lifestyle change, then you've got the rest of your life to keep your weight under control. So don't rush it!
Do you realize that if you "just" lost 2 pounds a week for the next year that will be a weight loss of OVER 100 POUNDS!!! Slow weight loss or even the dreaded weight loss stall is no reason to give up on your efforts. Remember that you are doing your body a lot of good every time you drop a pound that you will never see again. It's time to get excited about getting rid of that weight once and for all!
Okay, enough of what I think because I don't have a clue about the period question. But we'll put the exclamation point on your questions to get a better grip on what's going on with you.
THANKS to these three ladies for so graciously sharing their expert insight on my reader's questions:
Jacqueline A. Eberstein, R.N. from Controlled Carb Nutrition, LLC
"This is most unusual. My experience has been that the first period might be slightly different but not as she describes. Yes, a rapid weight loss might theoretically imbalance hormone levels.
Regarding PMS, about 60% of women may have more symptoms with the first period after beginning to control carbs but it generally improves each month thereafter. After controlling carbs for a few months many women have minimal PMS.
We really don't want too rapid a loss. She can advance to OWL (ongoing weight loss) so she can lose about 2 pounds a week. This is a much better option than going on and off the plan. She can even begin at 30 grams of carbs and then move up from there. There are any number of ways to individualize the Atkins program and still get the job done in a healthy way."
Dr. Mary Vernon from the University of Kansas-Lawrence
"The answer your reader recieved is an appropriately simplified version of what can happen. The effect of weight loss on hormones is complicated. Often, women who gain weight quit having periods (due to the effects of high insulin and high fat mass). The levels of estrogen stay elevated and do not go up and down as is usual for women in their reproductive years.
There are some interesting side effects to this -- osteoporosis is associated with thinness. Overweight women have less occurrence of osteoporosis. This is thought to be due to the elevated levels of estrogen. However, these elevated levels of estrogen and no periods (periods stop because the hormones don't go up and down to trigger ovulation) can cause the uterine lining to thicken, cause uncontrolled bleeding and sometime the development of cancer.
This reader would almost certainly begin having normal menstrual periods again after the weight stabilizes. Insulin levels also effect the ovary, so a low-carb diet keeps insulin levels low and the ovary functions normally once the fat mass returns closer to normal levels.
It sounds like her doctor understands what happens and could maybe help with a plan to help her through the time when she is bleeding continuously."
Regina Wilshire from Weight Of The Evidence
"Her doctor is correct - the release of estrogen, which is stored in body fat, can be overwhelming to the system and cause havoc with menstral cycles for a period of time until the body figures out how to reach 'homeostasis' (balance). It's scary if you're not aware of the driving force behind it, merely annoying once you understand it.
That she has such a long period of bleeding really highlights how much her body fat is retaining and that, in the long-term, is not a good thing. While it's difficult to stick it out through the longer, heavier bleeding, it is worth it to know that you've gotten the body fat off the body because later it's going to be a problem.
If she wants to lose the weight with low-carb, then she's just got to bear with it because it will eventually normalize again."
I have nothing further to add to these comments except to again give a hearty THANK YOU to Jackie, Mary and Regina for sharing their incredible knowledge on this subject with my readers today.