How I Cured my Amenorrhea Naturally
I first spoke about my struggles with amenorrhea (lack of menstruation for several months) about 3 years ago. At this point I hadn’t had my period in over a year. What shocked me the most, was the amount of women who messaged, to tell me that they were going through the exact same thing. The more I openly spoke about my struggles on Instagram or with the women around me, the more I found out that I was definitely not alone. This was comforting in one way, but massively disconcerting in another.
Although I’ve now cured my amenorrhea, and have been getting regular monthly periods for the past year, it definitely did not come easily.
Before I get into exactly how I cured my hormonal issues, here’s a “brief” (ish) recap of how it all began…
How it all began
When I was 18 I went on the pill, because… I dunno, all the girls around me were and I thought it was a good idea. About a year later, I started getting really into fitness. I had always been active and I exercised daily, but it was at this point that I discovered the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide (a high-intensity mostly body-weight based exercise program). I was doing high-intensity exercise once or twice a day. It was around this time also that I went completely vegan.
Fast forward a few months, I was still on my high-intensity workout train, and following my strictly vegan diet. I was so focused on balancing my health & fitness routine with full-time university that I did not even take time to socialize let alone have a boyfriend. I therefore decided that taking the pill was a waste of my time and money and I stopped. My period never came back.
When I spoke to people about it, they would tell me; “it’s normal, it can take months to come back”. That sounded fair to me, plus who was I to complain, my life was a hell of a lot simpler without it.
A growing concern
Fast forward a few months, I hadn’t gotten my period in a year. I was in Singapore visiting my parents at the time, and decided togo see a gynaecologist. She took one look at me and said in a harsh tone: “how often do you exercise”. I hesitantly replied “every day…”. She looked at me with an intense stare I will never forget and said: “you need to stop exercising Victoria.” I was furious. So furious that I didn’t know if I should yell or cry. How dare she tell me to stop the one thing that made me happy. I was going through a tough patch at uni at the time, and my daily workouts were my natural happy pill. They were the one thing that I looked forward to and the one thing that I felt like I could control, in a world where I was “stuck” in a city I didn’t like, and in a university where I felt out of place and alone. I didn’t want to entirely ignore this piece of advice, but I definitely didn’t want to take it on board either. I therefore decided get more into weight lifting. I created myself a lifting program which included 1.5hrs of heavy weight lifting 5-6x a week.
That ought to solve it. Switching from high-intensity cardio-based exercise to heavy weight lifting. That way I’m keeping my heart rate lower, reducing the stress on my body, my period will come back in no time.
Along with this new weight lifting program I created myself a strict 2,000 calorie vegan meal plan. I ate the exact same thing for over a year. I weighed every single gram, avoided social events where food was involved and didn’t stray off the plan for a minute. How I managed to keep this up for a year and a half is beyond me. But still, despite avoiding cardio-intensive exercise, and eating more than I ever had, my reproductive organs were not working properly, I had no period.
Only getting worse…
Fast forward a few months, I moved to Australia to do a 6-month internship at Food Matters. I was still vegan, and discovered a boxing gym where I started doing box-fit training 5-6x a week. Being surrounded by so many inspiring, health-conscious people at work motivated me more than ever to get to the bottom of my hormonal issues. I went to go see a Naturopath, and she gave me 3 pieces of advice:
Meditate daily with my hands on my uterus, trying to get the receptors in my brain (who seemed to had turned off the natural egg-dropping process) to get back on the ball.
Give up my beloved vegan lifestyle, and start re-incorporate warming, healing animal-based foods like bone broth.
Stop using all cosmetic products, creams, perfumes, lotions etc.
I did all of these things. I started by spending 15 minutes out on my balcony under the moonlight every evening with my hands on my belly imagining the layers of my uterine wall building up and shedding (definitely one of the stranger visualizations I’ve ever done).
I stopped using perfume, cosmetics or make-up, and stuck to only coconut oil as lotion & conditioner and coffee grinds as body scrub.
I also took the very difficult decision to give up veganism. Read more about that journey here.
Not only did my period not come back, but I started to get very intense eczema. It was so severe that I would wake myself up in the middle of the night itching my elbows until my entire arm was covered in blood. It just seemed like everything was getting worse and worse.
Fast forward a few months, I was back in Switzerland, eating meat almost daily, and back to my weight lifting grind. Although my eczema had calmed down a bit, I was still without a period. It had, by this time, been over 2 years.
I decided it was time I go see another gynaecologist. She did all the tests, and told me that other than being slightly low on estrogen, everything was healthy, therefore it was just my brain not communicating with my body. When I asked her what the causes could be, she said; “it can be lots of things: stress, being very busy, moving around or travelling a lot, exercising a lot, restricted food intake…” Great, considering I was a health & fitness obsessed, travel-loving international kid with high expectations of myself and a never-ending to-do list. She then said “I know you’re not going to want to do this, but here’s a prescription for the pill. If you don’t want to take it, there’s nothing more I can do for you.”
I hated the idea of dealing with the consequence and not the cause, so I took the prescription, stuffed it in a drawer at home somewhere and never took it out again.
A simple piece of advice…
That summer (July 2017) I went to India to do my Yoga Teacher Training. I went to go see an Ayurvedic doctor who just by looking into my eyes and feeling my pulse told me he could sense that I had irregular or missing periods… crazy hey. He told me what I had already researched about through Chinese medicine: that I needed to be eating more warm, healing foods rather than cold foods (eating cooked, hot & spicy, rather than cold, raw & acidic).
Being in Northern India, everything was vegetarian, and since I had still stuck to the dairy-free part of veganism, I was essentially back to my vegan diet.
Speaking with my friend Mary in YTT she said one little sentence which changed pretty much everything: “why don’t you try not exercising for a few weeks.”
It was such a simple little idea, that what struck me the most about it was how I hadn’t done it yet…
I was willing to give up veganism, an ideal, a culture, a lifestyle that I believed in so much.
I was willing to sit on my balcony with my eyes closed facing the moonlight with my hands on my uterus for 15 minutes every evening.
I was willing to spend money, time and energy on gyno visits, doctor visits, naturopath visits and hours of scrolling the internet reading about how Traditional Chinese doctors cure fertility issues, but I hadn’t even tried to cut out exercise. What did that say about me?
After coming back from India, I did something I had never really done: nothing. I spent a full month with the focus on putting the least amount of stress on my body as possible. Despite having free time, I didn’t travel, I did no exercise other than an hour of yoga every morning, slept as much as I could, I spent my days reading in the park or strolling along the lake, and I ate whatever I wanted. I tracked nothing, and simply ate what made me feel good; taking advantage of all the lovely summer fruit, and filling up on icy smoothies and raw salads. This was in no way aligned with what the naturopath recommended, what Chinese medicine or Ayurveda proposed for such an issue, but I decided to trust the wisdom of my body. If I felt like it, if it gave me energy and made me feel good, then I was going with it.
One month later, surely enough, my period came back. I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to have to deal with something so inconvenient. I felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my chest, it felt like the biggest release.
Now that I managed to get it back, I felt like I finally understood the issue:
The amount of stress (both physically & mentally) I was putting on myself, put my body in a severe state of anxiety. An anxious body is no home for a child. My body was simply making the necessary compromises: since I was in a state of extreme stress, energy was put towards survival (or getting me through a billion burpees) rather than my reproductive hormones.
Now that the cause had been discovered, it was time for next step: how the hell was I supposed to maintain these low stress-levels when I was just about to start my last semester of uni? What would happen when I started exercising again? I had in the mean time passed my Personal Training Certification and was going to start giving group classes. How was my body going to deal with a new, physically demanding job?
The difference this time was I had something to base myself off of. I planned to slowly reintegrate aspects of my “normal” life and use my period as a monthly check-in.
To my huge surprise, my period came back, month after month.
It skipped one month last February when I did my big end-of-uni trip, taking about 10 flights crossing the world 3 times over, changing time zones every 2nd week (still trying to make up for my carbon footprint on that one…) But other than that, I’ve been regular. Despite being completely vegetarian and 90% vegan. Despite now teaching up to 10 group training classes a week (including very high-intensity spinning). Despite starting my own business at 23, having complete financial and professional insecurity. How the hell does that work?
Well, I’m no doctor, and genuinely know nothing about the science behind this (other than what I’ve read in books or listened in podcasts), but I have a few hypothesis as to why my period came back, and why it stayed:
It wasn’t exactly the stress that was the issue, but the chronic stress. Perhaps simply taking a month completely off was enough to signal to my hunter-gatherer brain that although there may be little bursts of stress in my life, my tribe is not in the midst of a 50-year-long war, nor are we going through an ice age where energy must be conserved for survival. I was safe.
My Yoga Teacher Training course in India taught me so many things, including how to let go of this unnecessary sense of massive pressure and urgency we tend to carry. I learned how to properly meditate and properly breath. Even as I came “back to reality” perhaps certain aspects of this stuck with me, and I now manage to subconsciously keep stress hormones under control.
Around the time where my period came back, I met my boyfriend. I haven’t read about this anywhere, but I feel like the simple fact of being in a loving relationship and interacting with male hormones has signalled for my reproductive organs to wake up.
I can’t completely explain when or how this happened, but I feel like I’ve definitely changed a lot. Although I’m still a hard-working A-type and struggle to take time off, I’m definitely a lot less high-strung. Perhaps it was making my peace with, and even learning to love Lausanne (I used to hate it so much it made me feel physically ill, which sounds like a massive exaggeration, but it’s true). Perhaps it’s being in a loving relationship where I really feel like I have someone on my team, or maybe it’s simply called growing up. Although I still get very stressed when I have too much on my plate (and tend to seek out new projects the second I have breathing space), I’m ultimately calmer, more flexible and more “detached”.
As I said before, my disclaimer is that I am in no ways a doctor, and cannot tell anyone how they should cure their amenorrhea if they have it, all I can say is what worked for me.
What I learned
I think one of the biggest lessons I learned from all of this is to never be attached to unsupported ideals.
One of the first recommendations I had gotten was to reduce the amount I was exercising. Although I slightly changed the type of exercise I was doing, I didn’t properly take the advice. I genuinely believe that the issue wasn’t necessarily the exercise in itself, but my personal limitation to even be open to taking a few weeks off. I was unhealthily gripping to an ideal, to this identity that “I am the kind of person that always goes above and beyond, that exercises every day and never takes the easy option”. It was my ego standing in my way.
It clicked the second my friend Mary suggested to take a break from exercise. It was as if that was the answer I always knew, but refused to try. Perhaps it was an obsession with an aesthetic that I was scared to lose, or maybe (most probably) it was an obsession with the image I had of myself that I was scared to let go of. Regardless, I was attached to an ideal, and it was letting it go that was the hardest, but probably what ultimately solved my issues.
Being open to change is what’s most important. Being secure and confident enough in your personal value system, that the ideals don’t matter. And even then, your value system will change as you grow and evolve, as it should. The key is simply always trying to do what is right, and for the most part, we all know what is right. That’s probably why the first gynaecologist appointment hit me so hard, because to some extent I knew she was right, but it suggested letting go of my ego or my ideal, and I wasn’t ready to do that.
When something really gets you mad or vexed, remember that it is more often than not a reflection of your own shortcoming. Take it as an opportunity to reflect.
That being said, not going back on the pill as a quick fix, and rather working to find a way to discover the root cause was one of the best decisions I’ve ever taken. There may be cases in which taking hormone supplements is necessary, but in my case it definitely wasn’t. With this approach, when I did have a completely natural period, I could use this to do regular check-ins. If I wasn’t on the pill when I started high-intensity exercise and went vegan, than maybe I would have noticed immediately when things got too much for my body.
All in all, this will definitely be a work in progress, and as my life changes, my hormonal balance will as well. But as long as I stay in tune, conscious and connected, I trust that I’ll be able to work with my body to find balance, no matter what life throws at me.
If you’re going through something similar, I hope this gave you some insight, but be sure to work with a professional to understand your personal case and don’t be afraid to be vocal. This topic is often taboo, but considering fertility issues are on the rise and could very well be the biggest upcoming health epidemic to pose threat to the reproduction of the human race, it’s no worth being shy about it. Speak up, reach out, get advice.