Irregular Periods: Understanding Symptoms and Treatment

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Irregular Periods and Adrenal Fatigue

The stages of the female reproductive cycle has a strong effect on day to day life, so irregular periods can be disruptive to your daily life.The female menstrual cycle is an essential part of the reproductive system. Every 28 to 31 days the period begins again, boosting and changing hormone levels which leads to the shedding of the uterine lining as it prepares itself for a period of high fertility. In cases of severe Adrenal Fatigue, the body is slowing down to conserve energy for survival. During that time, the body deprioritizes reproduction which is regarded as non-essential function. Menstrual cycles can become easily disrupted. Irregular periods (known as dysmenorrhea) become common, or even absent in severe cases (amenorrhea).

In a normally functioning body, hormones regulate the various processes of menstruation. The two most well known of those female hormones are estrogen and progesterone. The levels of these hormones rise and fall in anticipation of the shedding and regrowth of the uterine lining that nurtures the growth of a fertilized egg. Estrogen is at its lowest point just before and during the menstruation stage. It rises sharply in preparation for the regrowth of the uterine lining and then falls slightly during the ovulation stage. Progesterone rises after ovulation, then decreases again at the cycle’s end.

Progesterone is distributed through the body in anticipation of a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilization, progesterone is unnecessary and the body ceases its production before the next cycle begins. It is not a simple process. If any of these hormones aren’t distributed adequately or the body does not properly regulate the levels of the hormones, major disruptions can occur. In the case of advanced Adrenal Fatigue, the lack of progesterone can trigger miscarriages during the first trimester of pregnancy. Repeated first trimester miscarriages without apparent reason is an important sign of adrenal weakness.

Hormone Levels Are Crucial

Sex hormones, especially estrogen, are regulated by two other systems: the adrenal glands and the adipose tissue. Stress can agitate the adrenal glands, which then can lead to excessive estrogen on a relative basis compared to progesterone. This is also called estrogen dominance. Caffeine and an improper diet can also lead to the same adrenal/hormonal effects. Caffeine, for example,.can increase estrogen output from the adrenal glands many fold. Because the menstrual cycle depends on the regular rising and falling of hormone levels, these agitations interrupt the process.

Regular medical checkups with general practitioners, endocrinologists, and gynecologists are important to maintain the female body’s reproductive system in optimum state. When these conventional resources fail to find the source of menstrual irregularity, it’s understandable to be confused. Learning about Adrenal Fatigue and understanding how its symptoms permeate any number of our body’s systems is important.

Though some symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue can be difficult to spot, irregular periods can be a noticeable sign. A normal cycle might begin, then stress overloads the adrenal glands and interrupts the process. The worse the stress is on the adrenal glands, the more irregular the period can become. In some cases the menstrual cycle stops altogether; some interruptions can last just days and others can carry on for months.

Stress and Irregular Periods

The disruptions to daily life caused by irregular periods are unpleasant. Finding out what is behind them is key.Stress’s effect on the adrenal glands can affect progesterone output. Women with Adrenal Fatigue can see problems arise from estrogen dominance like PMS, endometriosis, irregular menses, fibrocystic breast disease and fibroids. The cessation of menstruation altogether can similarly occur in athletes who put their bodies through extreme training because of the way that affects the adrenal glands. Reversing the issue can be simple for some women and very complicated for others, depending on the degree of damage.

If you understand what the body tries to do when the adrenal glands falter, you see how systemic the issue truly is. Irregular cycles from Adrenal Fatigue are the product of the body’s emergency reaction to adrenal exhaustion. To prevent further stress and further fatigue, the body simply stops whatever processes it might deem superfluous.

People who have extensive and longstanding Adrenal Fatigue may see their periods stop for a long time. As they recover from the Adrenal Fatigue, the adrenal glands become stronger once again and signals to the hormone producing systems that reproduction can begin again. Going from an extended stretch of amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) to starting the process once again can lead to some short-term irregularity. Such irregularity can include what is known as “stop and go”cycles. These cycles can happen when the body is stressed as well. So they can signal when a body is in trouble, or a body in the midst of recovery. To fully interpret the symptoms properly, one has to know the history and the clinical state at the time.

Recovering from Adrenal Fatigue takes time. One to two years for recovery is not unusual even in the best of hands. During this recovery time, the start of a new cycle may be stop-and-go. There might be spotting at unusual times or a very short period of shedding before the hormone system prepares for ovulation. This sort of irregularity can happen in rare cases for healthy people as well, but a body with a healthy and regularly functioning endocrine and reproductive system should otherwise function regularly. Knowing that this is the case, if the issue persists it’s important to consider the possibility that the irregularity is a symptom of Adrenal Fatigue.

Assessing and Addressing the Issue

The reproductive system is sensitive to the effects of Adrenal Fatigue, which can disrupt its normal function and cause irregular periodsHormonal irregularity and irregular periods are not uncommon. Still, understanding the issue is the first step to dealing with it. The sort of issues that Adrenal Fatigue causes can correlate to other problems you may be experiencing or you may experience later on. Adrenal Fatigue can affect so much of the body’s functions, including the all important thyroids. The reproductive system is an important indicator for the rest of the body’s health. Because of what we know of the process and how it ought to work, we can use interruptions or irregularities in the reproductive process as a sign of what might be wrong and how the body might be encouraged to repair it.

Thankfully, Adrenal Fatigue can be dealt with and you don’t have to just get used to irregular periods or malfunctioning reproductive processes. Stressors can be handled in healthy ways. We have the ability to take control of our bodies. If the body is given time to rest the adrenal glands, it is likely to return to regularity on its own. Properly administered exercise can be healthy for the adrenal glands. A healthy diet with adequate nutrition can also help the adrenal glands return to a functional state.

Irregular periods and menstrual cessation (amenorrhea) can be confusing, inconvenient, and even dangerous. Infertility is a serious problem that many women deal with in their lives. If we can better understand the problems that Adrenal Fatigue is causing, we can better see how we can return our adrenal glands to the way they should to properly regulate sex hormones.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Questions

In general, as your AFS improves, your female hormones and symptoms will start changing. There may be turbulence as the body needs time to get used to hormonal self-adjustment. PMS may surface that previous had not. It will take a few months for the body to regulate the changes.

You may want to journal and see if your facial acne is worse during your cycle time. In women, when there is AFS or a hormonal imbalance, it can lead to an increased conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone or DHT and result in acne.

This may be due to your hormones being imbalanced. Read my article on OAT axis imbalance. Do not be afraid. Concentrate on helping your adrenals recover. Usually, as the adrenals get stronger, such irritability tends to subside.

A heavy period can indicate a hormonal imbalance. Blood loss can reduce your energy reserve. Both are not good.

Irregular periods
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Thank you so much for all of the prompt replies! I have read all of the information and watched your videos as well. Over the years, I have extensively read adrenal information on the web. I don't remember how I found your site, but everything here is EXCEPTIONAL! It put all of the pieces together that I have read elsewhere and I understand it.


  • Susie says:

    Hi Dr. Lam, I was reading on another one of your posts about the adrenal crash and recovery cycle. I am coming out of a crash and am starting to feel a little better with a bit more energy and not as bedridden. My cycle before the crash was 28 days and then during the crash was from 24-27 days and now this month it was 21 days. Is this a sign I might be doing too much or that my adrenals are not getting better or are getting worse? Thank you for your advise!

    • Dr.Lam says:

      There are many variables that goes into how the body regulate the menstrual cycle. The adrenal is one, but not the only system involved. Crashes can influence menstrual timing, and it can be temporary or permenant. The more severe the crash , the longer the cycle can be affected. Each person is very different and this is general info. For specific situational condition, a much more detailed history and current state is required to make better assessement. I can explain to you more if you call my office.

      Dr Lam

      • Susie says:

        Ok, thank you! What I meant to ask was in your crash and recovery post you mention that menstrual irregularities can be a sign of recovery … is this the type of irregularity you are referring to? I’m looking for hope that I am getting better – not worse. =) Thanks again!

        • Dr.Lam says:

          The irregularity can refer to change in cycle length but more frequently than not it refers to the intensity of flow. Everyone is different.

          Dr Lam