Why Eating Disorders Cause Amenorrhea (and Why That's Bad for You)

From puberty to menopause, females are expected to menstruate unless they are pregnant or nursing. If a young woman age 16 or older misses three or more periods in a row and is not pregnant, it is a sign that there is an underlying medical condition. Often, the culprit is an eating disorder.

Amenorrhea is the medical term for the absence of menstrual cycles, and it is a common symptom found in women with eating disorders.

What Causes Amenorrhea?

The hypothalamus is a small region in your brain near the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus produces a hormone known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH goes to the pituitary gland to stimulate the creation of two other important hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

Both of these hormones play a big role in your body's reproductive system. FHS regulates the function of the ovaries in women, while LH causes the ovaries to release an egg.

When you don't eat enough to fuel your body, the brain gets a message to stop non-essential functions like reproduction. This is the body's way of trying to protect a woman; when the body is over-stressed, getting pregnant can be a threat.

What's So Bad About Amenorrhea, Then?

Unfortunately, this fail-safe feature to halt reproduction comes with a price. LH and FHS stimulate the production of estrogen. When LH and FHS are suppressed, women may find themselves suffering from low estrogen levels.

Estrogen is essential to a woman's overall health. Infertility is one consequence that, for some families, may cause devastating struggles.

Even if you never plan to have children, other problems can arise from low estrogen levels. You may suffer from vaginal dryness, which can cause sex to be painful. The tissue in the urethra may thin as well, which can lead to more frequent urinary tract infections.

With low estrogen, a younger woman will share many problems with postmenopausal women. The most concerning issue is bone loss. Estrogen keeps bones healthy and strong by helping with the absorption of calcium; without it, women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and suffering from fractures.

Contact Your Health Care Professional

If you have missed your periods and suspect it may be due to an eating disorder, you should contact your health care providers. There are treatments to help you begin to menstruate again, and also treatments to help you with your eating disorder. It's a win-win situation.

Sources: Eating Disorder Hope, Very Well Mind

Photo: Pexels

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