XX chromosome filter: How do I lengthen my period cycle?
May 14, 2013 4:36 AM   Subscribe

How do I lengthen my very short period cycle?

Hey guys,

I know this is pretty personal, but I have a 21-23 day period cycle and am worried about it! It wasn't always this way but I would like for it to be longer because I hate having my period! And I am also worried about early onset menopause because my impression is that you only have a limited supply of eggs and when they run out you get menopause, and if my period cycle is shorter surely that means I will run out of the eggs more quickly than my long-cycled counterparts?

So I guess I have a few questions:
-Is it possible to lengthen my period cycle (without taking the pill? I have quite a regular exercise and sleep schedule although I am so tired I fall asleep without switching the lights off a few times every month)
-What causes short cycles? Is this because of a hormonal imbalance?
-Am I more likely to get early onset menopause?

Thank you!!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A 21-23 day cycle is actually well within the standards of normal. Mine was 21 days for the first twenty years or so I menstruated then lengthened naturally to be closer to 28 days now. I've never wondered or worried about why this happened because it's also totally normal for your cycle to not be exactly the same every month or stay the same over time. This is just how my body has decided to change as I age.

Also there isn't a direct link between cycle length and menopause onset. Keep in mind that hundreds of potential eggs die each cycle, it's not a 1:1 ratio. I can't comment on your chances of early menopause specifically because there are a variety of factors involved (family history probably being the main one), but it's definitely something you could discuss with a doctor at some point regardless of cycle length.

Your cycle length is regulated by your hormones of course so I'm unaware of any way of changing the former without the latter. I'd be very wary of anything that claims to affect menstruation that doesn't come from a doctor (e.g. supplements and stuff) because changing how your hormones are working in an unregulated manner isn't a great idea. But then I never cared about having a short cycle because my period was also very short (often a day or less), so I never discussed this with any medical professionals. Given you don't like how thing are working for you now it would be totally reasonable for you to do so, and they can give you more specific advice or opinions based on your medical history etc.
posted by shelleycat at 4:49 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh also, for some reason a lot of the information we're given about how menstruation works seems to overlook what really is a normal range. I've studied quite a lot of reproductive physiology at University and it's pretty clear that cycle lengths anywhere from three to five weeks long are totally unremarkable for human females, 28 days is just the average. I'm not sure why this isn't more widely taught.

If you're worried about your reproductive health it is always appropriate and reasonable to go and get medical advice even if it just ends up being reassurance. You have the right to know what is going on with your body. Places like Planned Parenthood are often great about education as well as the more medical stuff.
posted by shelleycat at 4:54 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Oh and last comment I promise! I haven't read it but from everything I've read about it the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a great resource for learning more about how your cycle works in general, not just for the purposes of getting pregnant. It's highly recommended here on ask.me and would probably be really helpful for you.
posted by shelleycat at 4:57 AM on May 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

You mention not wanting to go on the pill--are you against other forms of birth control? It won't directly impact your cycle length, but Depo Provera shots or the Mirena IUD both often have the side effect of much lighter, shorter periods. (I have a Mirena and basically have no period, though I still clearly have monthly hormonal cycle if I pay attention to what my body's doing.)

Agreed with previous posters that it sounds like you're well within the range of normal, and that the number of eggs you release in a year has minimal effect on menopause age.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:00 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, you kind of have a limited supply if eggs, but it doesn't quite work the way you think it does.

From WebMD: The vast majority of the eggs within the ovaries steadily die, until they are depleted at menopause. At birth, there are approximately 1 million eggs; and by the time of puberty, only about 300,000 remain. Of these, 300 to 400 will be ovulated during a woman's reproductive lifetime.
posted by Specklet at 5:00 AM on May 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

The Iyengar yoga system has a menstrual sequence, with special adjustments for lengthening your cycle. If you believe in that sort of thing.
posted by munyeca at 6:05 AM on May 14, 2013

I've read many times that B6 supplementation lengthens the luteal phase, thus lengthening your cycle. However, a cursory look through PubMed didn't turn up any good references, and I think that generally speaking it's wise to be skeptical of "vitamin cures". I'll look more carefully in a little bit.
posted by Cygnet at 6:08 AM on May 14, 2013

Ok, I poked around a bit more. The evidence is weak, but you could (after consulting your doctor/making sure this is safe for you) try taking 50 mg B6/day for a few months anyway, because unless special circumstances apply it's not likely to hurt.

Basically, B6 is thought (among those interested in natural fertility) to act in a progesterone-like way to correct a luteal phase that is too short. There seems to be some clinical disagreement about whether luteal phase defect even exists, and I couldn't find a lot about it in the literature. I did find a few very old papers supporting the idea that B6 might act in a progesterone-like way in the uterus, but nothing recent, and I couldn't find any comprehensive resources.

Even if B6 does act in a progesterone-like manner to correct luteal phase defect, it might not have any effect on your cycle if you don't have luteal phase defect, if that even exists.

There's much better evidence that B6 can help with PMS symptoms, by the way.
posted by Cygnet at 6:34 AM on May 14, 2013

The menstrual cycle has two phases-- pre-ovulation, when the egg ripens, and post-ovulation (aka "luteal phase"), when the body basically hangs out to see if the egg will be fertilized or not before initiating menstruation. The "classic" cycle is 14 days to ovulation, then a 14-day luteal phase to follow, after which things begin again. It'd be useful to know which phase is shortened in your cycle-- that is, are you ovulating early? Or is your luteal phase short? Or both? Or are you possibly cycling but not ovulating at all (which can definitely happen)? Charting your cycle (see the perennially-recomended Taking Control of Your Fertility) can help you figure out what's going on with this.

If your cycle turns out to be short because you ovulate early (e.g. Day 10 ovulation + 13-day luteal phase), then I'm not sure if anything much can be done about that, but I don't believe it's generally considered a problem. If the luteal phase is too short (e.g., Day 14 ovulation + 9-day luteal phase), then there are various herbal supplements that can supposedly correct that (I believe Evening Primrose Oil is one, or Cygnet's B6-- a quick google-around will pull up plenty of stuff). If you're cycling but not ovulating at all, then that's certainly something to consult a doctor about, particularly if you plan on having kids someday.
posted by Bardolph at 6:53 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bardolph's comment explains most of what I was going to say, so I'll just second it. Taking Charge of Your Fertility is an excellent resource for learning about what is going on in your body, both generally as in what happens in all/most female bodies and what is happening with your body specifically. Once you get that figured out you can know what, if anything, you can do about it.

Also, acupuncture regularized my cycles. I started seeing an acupuncturist before I got pregnant, and after a couple of months of treatment my cycles went from 35-ish days to 28.
posted by apricot at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2013

nthing the Taking Charge of your Fertility book. I just got it from the library yesterday and sat with it for hours and it explains a lot thath is colloqually talked about (he just looks at mem and I get pregnant!) but never really taught in health class. THe only downside is that while it will teach you about your cycle so thath your process makes sense, it will scare the bejesus out of you for ever considering the Pill and I really don't think the Pill is as great an enemy to women as the book makes it seem. (I got the book becuase I've been on the pill for 11 years and was considering going off of it for a while to see what the noticable differences are with and without)
posted by WeekendJen at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2013

Why don't you go to the doctor?
posted by radioamy at 9:22 AM on May 14, 2013

You said "without taking the pill" - but I just want to point out, in case you weren't sure, that the pill will give you a cycle with the length of your choice (28 days, 90 days, no periods at all). Some pills are packaged out of the box with a specific cycle length (generally those I listed above; 28 days is the most common), but you can have a period as often as you like as long as you take the active pills for at least 21 days and the inactive/placebo pills for no more than 7 days each cycle.

posted by amaire at 9:35 AM on May 14, 2013

My period was on a 21 day cycle for eight months last year. I normally have a 28 day cycle. Turns out I was far more stressed than I realized. When a very specific personal life issue - that lasted those same eight months - resolved, my period went back to normal for me.
posted by aniola at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2013

1. Get sleep.
2. Get exercise.
3. Get iron & B-vitamins
4. Put on / lose weight (when I was at 120lbs I had a 21d cycle; 135lbs its 28d)
5. Track your cycle to see if it's pre/post ovulation (luteal phase) that is too short (Bardoph's comment, and the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility as people have said)
6. See a doctor and get hormone levels checked.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2013

I've had luck with taking Vitex pills (also known as chasteberry, I think).
posted by jaguar at 10:30 AM on May 14, 2013

1) If you have any other health issues, address those.

2) Going from being anemic to nonanemic helped get me to a regular cycle, but from the opposite direction of infrequent, iregular cycles. So I will suggest you check to see if you are too high in iron.

3) Keep a food diary. Changing my diet helped with a lot of my menstrual issues.
posted by Michele in California at 10:30 AM on May 14, 2013

Best answer: Strictly anecdotal, but my cycle has been 21 days for some 20+ years now. When it first shortened like that (from an average of 28-30 days) I was alarmed and ran to my doctor. He did an exam and said that 21 days is within the normal range, and told me to continue tracking it - if it got any significantly shorter or longer, to come back in. It has remained at 21 days ever since, and I did not go through early menopause. In fact, my hormone levels at my physical last year still didn't show signs of perimenopause, and I'm a little bit over age 50. (Due to health considerations, I've never been pregnant nor have I ever used hormonal birth control.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:35 AM on May 14, 2013

If hormonal birth control is an option, you can get shots or a patch.
posted by yohko at 2:04 PM on May 14, 2013

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