We don’t need to tell you that your body changes as you age — who hasn’t figured that out by now? But you may not realize just how it changes, and that includes your period.
“During your 20s and 30s your period should reflect your hormonal balance,” says Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “If your ovaries are functioning properly you should have a period every 21 to 31 days. If your ovaries are not functioning properly, your periods may be erratic, occurring every few months. If you are one of the millions of women taking the birth control pill you can easily regulate your cycle so your periods come each month. One of the common side effects of low dose birth control pills is to have a light or non-existent period.”
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Typically, it isn’t until perimenopause when your period starts to become erratic. “You may not get a period for two to three months or you will have periods every two to three weeks,” Ross says. “The flow can be heavy or light depending on how your hormones are imbalanced. These years are also full of stress, which can cause your periods to disappear or become irregular. Expect the unexpected when it comes to your periods during the peri-menopausal years.”
But it isn’t just age that’s a factor — your lifestyle plays a huge role in your period, too. These are seven things that could be making your period worse:
It’s best to hold off on booze while you have your period, since it can make bloating worse. “Excessive alcohol use can increase levels of estrogen, disrupting hormones enough to cause irregular periods,” Ross says. “We know drinking alcohol increases your risk of period irregularities, heart disease, liver disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, colorectal and breast cancer. It has been found having two or more drinks a day increases the chance of developing breast cancer as much as 41%. Even moderate alcohol intake — which consists of one alcoholic drink a day or more — slightly increases your risk of breast cancer. For women, drinking one drink a day is acceptable. This means one serving of a 5 ounce glass of wine, one 12 ounce beer or one 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.”
Consuming too much sugar
This is never a good move, but it’s especially bad during your period. “Sugar can trigger cramps, mood changes, fatigue and perpetuate hunger cravings,” Ross says. “Sugar is also thought to worsen most of the PMS symptoms.”
Not getting enough sleep
We’ve all felt the effects of a sleepless night the next day — you can’t focus or think clearly, and it’s a struggle to get anything done at work. Not getting enough zzz’s can also make you feel easily frustrated, moody, irritable and stressed, which can make many PMS symptoms before a period feel even worse. “As with eating and drinking, sleeping is a basic necessity in life,” Ross says. “Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to good health, mentally and physically, especially two weeks before your period. The recommended hours an adult should sleep is 7 to 8 per night, especially before and during a period.”
Sitting too much
Avoid being a couch potato! “In general, prolonged sitting will increase your chance of getting blood clots in your legs,” Ross says. “Exercise might be the last thing you want to do during your period, but force yourself to go to the gym or even take a walk outside. Exercise helps gets rid of extra water weight gain, relieves cramps, releases endorphins which helps improve your mood and gives you more energy.”
We get that it’s hard to resist your morning coffee, but Ross warns that caffeine increases your tension and anxiety levels, constricts blood vessels and makes your cramps worse.
Eating salty food
“Avoid foods high in sodium that contribute to bloating and weight gain, such as Chinese and other salty ethnic foods,” Ross says. “Salt worsens water retention, weight gain and bloating.”
Chowing down on foods that cause bloating
Though they might seem like a healthy choice, many “B” and “C” vegetables are classic causes of bloating and gas, including beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Other dietary culprits include rich and fatty foods, whole grains, apples, peaches, pears, lettuce, onions, and sugar-free foods containing sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. Other lifestyle behaviors, including drinking carbonated beverages, overeating, eating too fast, lack of exercise and drinking alcohol all contribute to bloating. Instead, eat healthy foods — including fresh fruits and veggies, proteins-fish, chicken- and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and brown rice — to prevent bloating.