Please note: I am not a healthcare professional, only an educated young woman passionate about spreading information on health. Please use this post as a guide to knowing your options and inquiring them further with professionals.
Also, while the following advice may be helpful to women suffering from irregular cycles due to complications such as PCOS, they should only be treated as aids to their other medical treatments, not replacements. Never stop a medical regiment unless instructed so by your doctor.
Before I get started, I want to remind everyone how and why regular cycles happen: a woman ovulates, and then has her period about two weeks later. Normally these events occur over a 23-35 day span, with length varying slightly in number from cycle to cycle in any given woman. For this to be a reality, maintaining a woman’s hormonal balance is key. And when hormonal balance is obtained, so it healthy fertility.
To achieve a regulated cycle naturally, you must utilize lifestyle changes of all kinds that encourage this hormonal balance and state of fertility. Things like how you sleep, the food you eat, and how you react to stress can have an affect on your hormonal activity.
The following are natural practices that can help promote the hormonal balance needed to better regulate your cycle (or, if male, to optimize sperm production). Results will vary depending on what your body is like and how rigorously you follow the advice. (It is also recommended to learn how to chart your cycles, in order to more properly implement these practices! You can sign up for my sympto-thermal method classes on this website if you wish to learn how)
Cycle Friendly Sleep Habits
When you sleep in complete darkness (meaning you can not see your hand in front of your face after 15 minutes), you produce the optimum amount of melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by the pituitary gland activated by the onset of darkness, and it not only gives you good rest but also helps balance out other hormones that effect your menstrual cycle. (Directly, balanced melatonin helps balance out the other pituitary hormones: FSH and LH, which stimulate eggs to ripen for ovulation. In turn, it will help the other ovarian hormones, estrogen and progesterone, balance out as well.)
This practice to achieve hormonal balance through sleeping in darkness is called Lunaception, or Night Lighting, depending on how you view the practice and how you practice it. There are different ways to practice this, but all involve sleeping in complete, total darkness, and lessening exposure to artificial light during the night.
Some women will leave a night light on during days 12-16, 14-17, or 13-15 of their menstrual cycle; they do this in an effort to regulate ovulation, their cervical mucus patterns, or align their cycles with the phases of the moon. This stems from the theory that our ancient foremothers had menstrual cycles in sync with the lunar cycle, where ovulation occurs around the full moon (full light), and bleeding around the new moon (full darkness).
Such a theory is up for debate, but some women have found their cycles being regulated through this kind of lighting, whether or not they attempt to sync up with the moon. Others will simply use night lighting at the first occurrence of fertile cervical mucus (and not on a certain number of days of the cycle), or not use lights at all.
Note that some women’s cycle react right away to Night Lighting, while others may take several months. It all depends on what is causing your cycle irregularity to begin with and how your body uniquely responds to light.
(Men, too, can benefit from the good sleep that sleeping in darkness provides, which in turn can benefit sperm production. However, it is unlikely that simulating moonlight on certain days will improve anything on the man's side.)
You can read some accounts on Lunaception/Night Lighting here:
Cycle Friendly Diet
Throw out everything you know about “dieting”! Low-carb, low-fat, low calorie: all these things are not the foundations of a healthy diet. Sure, they may make you lose weight, but not in a way that is healthy for your fertility!
Your focus should not be on losing weight through diet, but on maintaining a healthy muscle/fat ratio to your height. In fact, women need 17% body fat in average in order to ovulate. Low body fat may cease ovulation, and high body fat can cause hormonal imbalances that impede a healthy cycle. (For men, being underweight usually does not affect sperm production, but being overweight can).
And its not just about body fat: the kind of nutrients you consume and how to obtain them is equally important. Do you eat too much dairy? Is your no/low-fat diet causing problems? Are you eating enough vegetables? Are your meats harvested from animals that were grown on hormones? Do you possibly need to supplement with multivitamins/multi-minerals? Anything you eat can affect hormone production, so knowing these thing can help you find out what is helping or harming your cycles.
There are two popular books on how to maintain fertility through nutrition: Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition, and The Fertility Diet. They are good sources to have on hand to know the foundation of healthy fertility, and to use that outline to create your own unique diet. They also go over foods and nutrients that can help with some conditions such as PMS, PCOS, etc.
You may also want to acquire the advice and direction of a nutritional counselor or dietitian. A quick google search is usually sufficient to find one in your area, but be sure that their credentials are legitimate. You can see these credentials for yourself here at the American Nutrition Association.
On a final note: there are various wholesome food-based diets out there, and they all have their pros and cons! Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, so on: these varieties exist because people’s health needs and bodies vary from one another. There are even variations in a single diet! They may seem to contradict one another, but only because they each have points they may work well for some, but not for others.
Another thing to try may be elimination diets. This includes eliminating specific foods from your diet over a period of time, to test what kind of foods may be irritating your body. Many people discover their food allergies this way, and food allergies could be what is causing your cycles and hormones to be out of balance. Others will try the GAPS diet if they fear a poor digestive health, which can in turn affect fertility.
When looking into diets, keep an open mind. If a vegan, don’t be quick to scoff at the health benefits of cage-free eggs; if paleo, look to see what kind of grains are the healthiest instead of brushing it to the side; and so on. You don’t have to be a “diet Nazi” and religiously follow only ONE diet. Learn from them all and see what works for you realistically. And, if your preferred diet is negatively affecting your cycle: own up to it, and switch to something else to get back to your healthy cycles again. (Of course, if following a diet religiously is needed medically, then by all means, do so).
Another emerging way of looking at diets is by picking your diet by blood type. I have not looked much into this myself, but the science behind it may interest you. You can visit the official website here.
Also, while this post is aimed at women, please note that men and women will generally follow a similar diet for boosting fertility, but there are some differences because men and women produce different amounts of different hormones. You can learn the basic differences here.
Generally, most wholesome food diets can agree on one thing. To the best of your ability: eat fresh, eat local, and avoid processed foods as much as possible!
Research on these diets, speak with a supportive professional, and decide what kind of diet is best for you.
Quick note: Some problems with being overweight or obese are related to hormonal issues, such as thyroid disorders. If, after proper diet and exercise, you are still not losing weight or even gained some, research into these possible problems.
Cycle Friendly Exercise
Remember my comment on the importance of body fat/muscle ratio? This rings true with exercise as well. Weight should be only one factor of many to consider when looking into exercise.
Overall, any kind of exercise will be cycle friendly IF you do not over-exert yourself and lose too much fat. Likewise, not exercising enough in proportion to how much you eat can cause too much fat gain, which can cause a hormonal imbalance.
If you are new to exercise, activities such as walking, jogging, and swimming can be good places to begin. Almost anyone of any body type and health status can start with these types of exercise with their own intensity, and gain some health benefits overtime.
Aside from that, there is no specific exercise one can do to “boost” fertility. However, there are some specific physical practices you can look into that may help.
This includes things like yoga, pilates, etc, because of its ability to be taught to anyone of any age, gender, and background. Be sure to find a qualified instructor who teaches these classes that fit your needs. For example, some yoga classes specialize in helping women prepare for labor, so if you are not pregnant, they will not benefit you much!
Also, a note to athletes: if you train hard and often, and find that your resulting low body fat is causing irregular cycles, don’t feel pressured to lessen your training. Perhaps you enjoy the lack of periods, and charting is enough to let you know if and when your period DOES come. However, if you wish to regulate your cycles for the possibility of becoming pregnant, you will have to give your exercise regimen a total overhaul in order to regain the optimum amount of fat to muscle ratio for supporting ovulation.
Cycle Friendly Stress Management
It’s normal to have stress: preparing for a meeting or test, dealing with a loved one passing away, working through relationship issues, and so on. Even “good” stresses such as traveling for vacation or welcoming a new pet into the home can affect our hormonal balance. The stress hormone cortisol can really mess up our cycle if it goes on unchecked!**
Sometimes a random event will give us stress whether we want it or not, but there are ways to lessen everyday stress, and to remain in one piece should a major shift occur. This, in turn, can allow your body to relax and allow itself to minimize cyclical changes, or at the very least, allow you a clear enough head to deal with your stress in a healthy way.
The following are things I have found personally helpful, from my experience and from stories heard from others.
- If you are religious/spiritual: then pray, meditate, etc. As a Catholic, I often offer up any suffering I experience for the holy souls in Purgatory, or I pray to Jesus and ask Him to walk with me in my struggle to carry my cross. Suffering has meaning and purpose in my faith, and it prevents me from allowing the stresses of it from taking over my life in a negative way. There are many other ways for a Christian to pray, and I am sure other religions and philosophies have their ways of handling the curve balls life throws at them. Utilize your faith/personal beliefs and use it to find an inner peace in the storms of outside life.
- Have a healthy and safe outlet for dealing with stress. Many people claim that they look forward to their daily jog or bi-weekly yoga, because its a good time to burn off any frustrations from the day. Some look to reading a favorite book, or pursuing an artistic/crafty hobby (drawing, writing, knitting, listening to or playing music, etc). The point is to have a type of favorite, engaging activity you can turn to if you need to focus your mind on something else and unwind. Expressing yourself in a non-destructive and pleasant way is key, so it matters little what the hobby happens to be.
- Find a trusted friend to talk to; and if you don’t have that, take up journaling. By no means should you use a loved one as a punching bag for your constant stress, but it always helps to blow off some steam by talking out your problems/struggles with someone you trust and is compassionate. If you feel that talking isn’t enough, or you don’t feel comfortable being that open, consider starting a journal. There you can let out your inner most self, and not bottle everything up inside while also being honest with yourself and your situation.
- Manage your schedule realistically. Lets be honest: society’s romanticization and overt humoring of sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, overworked youth is not acceptable. Americans work more hours than ever, and the rigorous testing to catch a place in higher education is taking its toll. An individual deserves proper rest and recuperation from a day’s work, no matter how small it may seem to be at first. Sometimes you will not have the ideal rest time you want, but make the best of what you can. Only sign up for classes you can handle; if you are struggling at work with your schedule, then speak up to your boss or rearrange your schedule for home; have an organizer to help you keep events and to-dos together; and above all, do not strain yourself if you can help it. Avoid excess activity that you do not want to do and don’t need to do (in short, don’t be afraid or feel sorry for saying “no”).
- If you feel overwhelmed, do not be ashamed to seek professional help. Sometimes, simple self-care is not enough. Some may suffer from a mental illness such as depression or OCD that makes managing life difficult; perhaps someone is not handling the stresses of college well; and others still may struggle with how they want to fit into their world. In cases such as this, counseling and maybe medication is needed to cope. There is nothing wrong in doing this, and doing so may help keep your cycles in check.
**This isn’t to say that those who suffer from infertility simply need to “relax” and then they will magically become pregnant. The wonders of conception are much more complicated and nuanced than simply regulating ovulation or sperm production, and often times stress has very little to do with the more complicated forms of infertility.**
Healthy Vagina = Healthy Cycle
This topic is a bit more specific than the others, as it focuses on yeast overgrowth in the vaginal environment and how it can cause a cyclical imbalance. However, the microbiomes of our digestive system and vaginal environment can have a huge impact on cycle regularity and fertility, so it should be mentioned and considered.
Vaginal infections occur whenever there is an overgrowth of bacteria/yeast, which in itself often arises because the pH balance of the vagina was upset. Sometimes the “good” gut bacteria in our intestines drops suddenly, which allows the “bad” bacteria to overgrow and find its way into the vagina where infections occur.
A point to remember: vaginal infections are a completely different discharge than cervical mucus. Cervical mucus is produced by your cervix around the time of ovulation to help sperm reach the egg. As you will read in the link above, vaginal infections are different in that they are not cyclical based, can smell and look funny, and burn and itch!
To prevent infection:
-Avoid douching unless medically prescribed. Your vagina is an intelligent, self-cleaning environment, and can take care of itself. Don’t interfere if all is well!
-Avoid using feminine wash products. Regularly washing with warm water and mild soap (or vinegar) is all that you need to keep your vulva clean.
-Wear cotton underwear, or at least underwear with a cotton crotch. Synthetic fibers can trap heat and sweat, a breeding ground for disease; cotton breathes easier, preventing the growth of bacteria.
-Eat a diet that supports a healthy gut and healthy bacteria colonies in the digestive system. This means avoiding excess (refined) sugars, and even adding traditional fermented foods to your diet as a probiotic.
To fight off a current infection:
Firstly: always seek out a health care professional! Infections can be persistent if you do not get the care you need or don’t know what you are doing.
Secondly: If you are sexually active, then abstain until both you and your partner are clear of the infection. You don’t want to be reinfecting one another over and over again, and an oozing, itchy, painful infection won’t make for fun sex nights anyway.
Thirdly: As well as speaking to your health care professional, research various ways to handle and get rid of infections. There are conventional and natural methods that may or may not work for you, so research into them and know what you want/need. Then, talk to your doc about it and find out what is best for you.
Last: Do not stop your medical regimen until your doctor confirms that the infection is gone for good! Just because you “feel better” doesn’t mean that you are in the clear.
If taking antibiotics, it is often recommended that you eat yogurt, fermented foods, and/or take probiotics to replace the good bacteria that is killed during the regimen.
Medications that may affect your cycle
Sometimes, for the sake of our health, we need to take medications or go through treatments that can have effects on our cyclical harmony, whether minor or drastic. This isn’t to say that you should go off of your medication: and you shouldn’t unless advised to do so by your doctor!
Still, it is good to know which medications can do what, so you can be prepared ahead of time and hopefully minimize the side effects by other means (if possible). As always, note whatever medications you are taking on your chart in case it causes any changes.
And there you have it!
Hopefully the information here can give you a good start into maintaining cyclical health. If you want to start these lifestyle changes, but do not know how to chart your menstrual cycle, you can always sign up here for my online course on the sympto-thermal method.
What tips have you heard about regulating periods? Share them below!