Q. How can I treat irregular periods?

A. First, let’s clarify what ‘irregular’ periods (oligomenorrhoea) are. Many women think that if their periods don’t come every 28 days they’re irregular, but that is not so. Some irregularity – due to stress, trauma, travel, puberty, perimenopause and post-pregnancy – is normal.

Ruth Trickey, specialist women’s health naturopath and author of Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle (Allen & Unwin), says periods are irregular if: they last less than three days; bleeding is slight, requiring two or fewer pads or tampons daily; and the cycle exceeds 35 days. Amenorrhoea, the absence of menstruation (in non-perimenopausal or menopausal women) for over six months is a major concern.

Common causes for ongoing irregularity are hormonal imbalance, a failure to ovulate and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These require a professional consultation and diagnosis from your naturopath as there are strict guidelines regarding herb dosage, treatment duration and contraindications for the Pill, HRT and progesterone drugs like Provera. Treatment may entail:

Herbal helpers

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is the queen of hormone-balancing herbs. It acts on reproductive hormones including: prolactin (stimulates breast growth, induces breast milk post-childbirth, may be elevated due to stress or thyroid problems); progesterone (encourages the uterine lining to grow in preparation for possible pregnancy, is prevalent in second, post-ovulatory half of menstrual cycle); and follicle-stimulating hormone (stimulates development of the follicle containing the egg). Vitex also acts on the HPO axis, the complex communication pathway between the brain, the pituitary gland and the ovaries that keeps the reproductive system functioning.

Food factors

Foods high in refined carbohydrates – bread, baked goods and confectionery – may disrupt blood sugar and increase risk of insulin resistance, which adversely affects hormonal balance and ovulation. Organic foods are important if you have irregular periods, as pesticides can cause xenoestrogens to lodge in the body. Meat from animals fed synthetic hormones can interfere with female hormones, so choose organic, biodynamic, hormone-free meat. Use glass, plastic or stainless steel containers. Plastics contain xenoestrogens (environmental chemicals with oestrogen-like activity) that cause hormone havoc.

Mind-body connection

Louise Hay suggests that period problems involve some level of rejection of the feminine self, possibly due to fear, guilt, or shame. Menstruation is a fundamental symbol of womanhood, so I ask all my female patients with menstrual difficulties how they feel about being a woman. Today, a woman juggles multiple roles – worker, mother, lover – with little support, and she may move into her ‘masculine’ side – a place of control, rather than surrender (‘feminine’) – to cope. However, she loses touch with her deep feminine wisdom, intuition, and connection to the flow of nature.

Reconnect with your essence

* Choose a form of exercise that celebrates the feminine, such as bellydance, or yoga, for harmony.
* Do not rely on your partner to fulfil all your needs. Connect regularly with female friends and family – women provide the nurturing support that men cannot.
* Celebrate, discuss and share all the stages of womanhood with female friends – menarche, pregnancy, birth, and menopause.
* Practise surrender (not to be confused with submission!). Surrender is the ultimate in femininity, because you relinquish the need for control in your life and let things flow naturally.

Naturopath, herbalist and Ayurvedic practitioner Nina Stephenson assists you in achieving optimal health and healing.