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When I was younger, having a long or irregular menstrual cycle was simply dismissed as a quirk of nature you had to endure. Back then, not one woman I knew with this issue was ever told there may be health risks associated with it.
Thankfully, healthcare providers are finally waking up to the fact that there’s nothing normal about consistently having periods that last longer than 40 days, or monthly cycles that vary wildly from the 24 to 35 days considered healthy. In fact, it could be a sign of a more serious problem like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or early-onset menopause.
Having a long or irregular menstrual cycle has also been linked with a higher risk of ovarian cancer, cardiometabolic diseases and death before the age of 70. When compared to women with normal menstrual cycles over a 20-year period, women with irregular periods are 20 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and 17 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Now, a study has uncovered another health risk women with long or irregular periods need to be aware of…
Irregular periods could raise liver disease risk
Researchers have found that premenopausal women with long or irregular periods have an increased risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
About a quarter of U.S. adults have NAFLD, a chronic disease caused when excess fat builds up in your liver from causes other than heavy alcohol use. NAFLD can progress to chronic liver damage and a higher risk of death.
“Our study results show that long or irregular menstrual cycles may be associated with an increased risk of developing NAFLD, and this link was not explained by obesity,” says Dr. Seungho Ryu of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul.
The study included data from 72,092 women under 40 years old. About 28 percent of these women experienced long or irregular menstrual cycles, and 7 percent had NAFLD.
When following up four years later, the researchers found new cases of NAFLD in almost 9 percent of the women.
“Young women with long or irregular menstrual cycles may benefit from lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of NAFLD as well as other cardiometabolic diseases,” Ryu says.
Rebalancing an irregular cycle and keeping a healthy liver
All this recent research emphasizes the need for doctors to pay closer attention to their patients’ menstrual cycle.
In fact, some experts believe the length and intensity of the menstrual cycle should be considered one of a woman’s vital signs along with her weight, heart rate and blood pressure. That way, they’ll be able to spot irregularities early and possibly diagnose and treat conditions more quickly.
Doctors will most often recommend birth control pills to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce prolonged bleeding.
However, if you’d rather take the natural approach, there are steps you can take that may help bring your menstrual cycle back into balance while also promoting the health of your liver — at the same time!
Vitamin D: Research in 2018 found links between low levels of vitamin D and menstrual disorders. As well, research performed in 2020 found that NAFLD patients have low levels of vitamin D and that deficiency likely contributed to the development of liver disease. An optimal daily dose can help get vitamin D levels up and maintain them.
Other supplements that can support liver health include:
- N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
- Milk Thistle
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) (Also, when studied in women with PCOS for 24 months, the combination dose of myo inositol and alpha lipoic acid improved menstrual regularity.)
Weight: Make sure to maintain a healthy weight on both ends of the scale. Both obesity and being severely underweight have been linked to irregular periods. And of course, obesity is a major risk factor for NAFLD.
Get moving: Exercise is linked to helping maintain a regular menstrual cycle and in reducing the risk of NAFLD. But don’t overdo it. An extreme amount of exercise may actually cause you to skip periods.
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Women with irregular periods may be at risk for liver disease — Endocrine Society
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — Better Health Channel
What Are Irregular Periods? — Everyday Health