Are you always wondering when your period is finally going to arrive? Do you find yourself constantly worrying that you may be pregnant if your period is always late?
Spent way too much on pregnancy tests checking just in case?
This is a very common experience for many women with long menstrual cycles. With the “average” being considered around 28 days, long menstrual cycles are typically classified as being consistently longer than 35 days.
Often the solution presented for long menstrual cycles is taking the oral contraceptive pill (OCP). Taking the OCP shuts down the communication highway between the brain and ovaries, stops ovulation and provides a withdrawal bleed whenever there is a break in the active tablets, giving the illusion of a ‘regular period’ (if the breaks from the active tablets are done regularly of course).
However, long menstrual cycles are illustrating a barrier or delay to ovulation. Once ovulation occurs, we can predictably expect a period to arrive within two weeks (excluding pregnancy).
It is the pre-ovulatory phase (follicular phase) of the menstrual cycle that has been drawn out in long menstrual cycles, not simply the period refusing to arrive. With ovulatory menstrual cycles being deemed a woman’s fifth vital sign by American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists & Obstetricians (ACOG), if there is something compromising ovulation, it is in our best interests to first uncover the underlying cause that may be driving this, rather then completely shutting down ovarian function all together.
Once a cause has been determined, if a woman still chooses the pill, that is her prerogative; however it is not doing her health any justice to do no investigations as ovarian health, ovulation, and menstrual cycles are an extension of whole body health.
So what are some factors that can delay ovulation and cause a long menstrual cycle?
● Stress: sounds simple, however stress can alter the functioning of the nervous system and change the way the sensitive HPO axis functions, which governs the whole menstrual cycle. This may include mental, emotional, physical, and chemical stressors.
● Over exercising/undereating/weight loss: Similar to the above point on stress, as all
these three factors create stress on the body. They all also have the potential to lower body fat into a zone where it compromises ovarian function. We need a certain amount of body fat specific to us to facilitate ovulation and healthy hormone production.
● PCOS: Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a metabolic condition that can impact the regularity of ovulatory menstrual cycles. Some common signs and symptoms associated with PCOS can include metabolic dysfunction, acne, weight gain, hair thinning/hair loss, hirsutism, polycystic appearing ovaries on an ultrasound, irregular or absent menstrual cycles. Not all of these signs/symptoms need to be present to have PCOS. The diagnosis of PCOS should be determined via a combination of assessing symptom picture, blood tests, and ultrasound.
● Hypothyroidism: The thyroid plays a big role in our metabolism and cellular functioning. When the thyroid is under functioning, this can lead to slower development of follicles and longer menstrual cycles.
● Low Vitamin D: Vitamin D is heavily involved and necessary for optimal hormone health and regular menstrual cycles. Low vitamin D status can compromise ovulation; so have you had your levels checked lately?
● Breastfeeding/high prolactin: Are you postpartum and having irregular cycles? This may not be necessarily something to worry about! Whilst breastfeeding, prolactin
levels rise to produce milk and can slow down or stop ovulation all together.
● Circadian rhythm dysregulation: Our circadian rhythm is our sleep/wake cycles and plays a big role in hormone production and ovarian health. If this is compromised, it can alter ovulation and lead to longer menstrual cycles. Read more about the circadian rhythm here.
A common misconception is that you can’t track your BBT with irregular/long menstrual cycles, and this is absolutely not true! In fact, we think this is an ideal time to track your BBT as you will be able to determine exactly when your period is going to arrive which takes away the big guessing game (and some stress!) with long menstrual cycles.
A prime way we can use our body literacy to our advantage!