Does Fasting Affect Your Menstrual Cycle?
Religion and cultural practices are an integral part of humanity. Most religions with their origin in India consider fasting as an expression of faith. Most Indians especially women practice religious fasting or observe limitations of certain food items.Fasting is a willful abstinence from all or some kinds of food and drink for a certain period of time.
Fasting is observed as a part of religious customs, for health purposes like before a surgery or a diagnostic test and every night while we are asleep.
Fasting when observed for a long time may lead to calorie restriction and nutrient deficiency. This can have a significant impact on the health and lifestyle of people.
Women of reproductive age experience a cyclical physiological process called menstruation or a menstrual cycle. Menstruation is a normal physiological process regulated by hormonal action and interaction between hypothalamus (small part of brain), pituitary (gland in the brain), and ovaries.
There are many factors that contribute to the variability or regulation of menstrual cycle. These factors can alter or suppress hormonal secretion and disturb the rhythm in hypothalamus-pituitary-ovaries axis (HPO axis).
The factors that might cause menstrual cycle irregularity are:
· Body mass index
· Age of menarche
· Psychosocial stressor.
Does fasting really affect menstrual cycle?
Yes, one of the many factors contributing to affect variability of menstrual cycle is dietary pattern. Sudden changes in diet or extreme calorie restriction or prolonged fasting can affect the normal body functions.
Does fasting during Ramadan affect menstrual cycle?
Ramadan, a holy month in Islamic culture is celebrated by millions of Muslims worldwide. During Ramadan, Muslims fast, abstain from pleasures and pray to become closer to God. The month of Ramadan lasts for 28-30 days in which food and drink is prohibited during the daylight hours.
The common practice being having one heavy meal after sunset (iftar) and one light meal before sunrise (suhoor). This leads to a shift in dietary pattern, sleep pattern, and daily activities.
Research has shown that fasting for more than 15 days during Ramadan can cause changes in the menstrual blood flow but there was no statistically significant difference in the menstrual cycle abnormalities like oligomenorrhoea or amenorrhea. Infact, there is evidence to suggest that fasting can have a positive effect on health. So, fasting can affect your menstrual cycle if there is a lack in your nutrient intake.
Following a few measures might be beneficial for your overall health:
· Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. You can also include hydrating foods like watermelon, cucumber, tomato, etc. during iftar and suhoor.
· Avoid or reduce caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee. Instead, drink lemon juice, fruit juices or buttermilk.
· Have grilled or baked lean meat, skinless chicken or fish, to get a good portion of healthy protein.
· Avoid fried and processed foods which are high in fat or sugar.
· It is a tradition to break iftar with 3 dates. Dates are an excellent source of iron and fiber.
· Avoid over eating and enjoy your meals.
· Include a variety of vegetables and fruits during iftar and suhoor.
Can fasting cause a delay in periods?
Reproductive health and menstrual cycles are governed by a range of both external and internal inputs into the brain. These inputs can include things like your energy state, or your nutritional and caloric intake and expenditure, your stress levels and even external inputs into your circadian rhythm.
Research shows it is unlikely that a few days of fasting can affect ones menstrual cycle. However, calorie intake, exercise and weight gain can affect the hormonal cycle in a reproductive female. For example, extreme forms of calorie restriction, lack of exercise, nutritional deficiencies and excessive weight loss can cause amenorrhoea (absence of periods) or delayed menses. Fasting and a delay in periods can go hand-in-hand if you do not follow the right type of fasting that suits your body and end up keeping your body devoid of all the essential nutrients.
When fasting for a prolonged period of time or while following a particular type of diet, one needs to consume a nutrient-rich diet, sufficient calories to support the metabolic processes and enough fluids.
Can intermittent fasting affect menstrual cycle?
Menstrual and reproductive functions in females are primarily controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands and their input to the reproductive organs i.e. ovaries and uterus.The function of the hypothalamus and pituitary are very much influenced by nutrition, metabolism and energy availability.
While intermittent fasting doesn’t necessarily lead to menstrual problems, experts suggest that one should be extra careful to listen to the body’s signals when it comes to this way of eating.
Intermittent fasting alone shouldn’t cause amenorrhea (absence of menstruation or missed more than 1 cycle).
If intermittent fasting is done right i.e. one does not go on a super low calorie diet which may cause menstruation to stop, but rather reduce the eating window then, the cycles are undisturbed. In other words, if you’re planning to follow intermittent fasting to focus on your health and not on restriction, then your period shouldn’t be affected. The main purpose of intermittent fasting is to give your bodies and mind a break from eating and not the extreme weight loss. Your menstrual cycle on intermittent fasting will not get affected when you follow the fast in a correct manner.
If you are following intermittent fasting, you must consume all macronutrients and also micronutrients in the short window period of eating. Plan out your meals so as to include a variety of whole grain foods, vegetables, fruits and proteins for sufficient energy supply for the rest of the day. Low energy eating can lead to hypothalamic amenorrhoea which occurs when the body is devoid of energy for the process of menstruation to occur.
At all times, take hints from your body, if you feel low on energy or unable to focus, you should speak to your dietician or healthcare provider. He/she may help you alter your diet plan.
For efficient functioning of the metabolic process in the body and to avoid low energy levels and low blood sugar, one must not go without eating for more than 12 hours.
Our bodies need energy to function which is provided by an adequate amount of food. If the body doesn’t get enough calories to support its energy needs, it is entirely possible that the reproductive system will suffer and you may miss your periods or have an irregularity in the cycle. Hence, if you do not wish to let fasting affect your menstrual cycle, it is best that you consume a diet rich in the essential nutrients that your body demands and requires to function properly.