Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Does Low-Carb Prolong Your Period?

It was bound to happen at some point or another. And now it has.

I got an e-mail from a fan of my blog and my book (she said she has already read it twice!) a few days ago who wanted to know why her period continues on indefinitely for weeks at a time while she is livin' la vida low-carb.

Uh, heck if I know! Hee hee! As much personal experience I have had with the low-carb lifestyle over the past couple of years, that is DEFINTELY one area I will NEVER have any primary knowledge about (thank you, Jesus! LOL!).

But, thanks to some key friends who are all women (WOO HOO!) and experts in the low-carb lifestyle (BONUS!), I am able to assist this reader with some invaluable information and learn some things in the process.

Here was her very interesting e-mail dilemma:

"I have question that you personally have never had to deal with, but I am hoping you will tap your resources and be able to answer for me.

I have lived low-carb and then stopped several times for the same reason. I lose a lot of weight very quickly and then it tapers off to 2-3 pounds a week.

I currently weigh about 283 pounds. When I start on the low-carb lifestyle, I lost 15-20 pounds in the first month and then my period started and would not stop. I have had this happen now several times.

I spoke with my doctor about this and the answer he gave me I have never seen in a blog or book before. His explanation was as follows: your body fat retains estrogen and when you lose body fat quickly, then your body doesn't know what to do with the explosion of extra estrogen so it makes your cycle unexpectedly start prematurely. Then the estrogen level stays elevated because of your weight is dropping so your cycle never stops.

I have searched many blogs and books and can't find any mention of this phenomenon. The doctor told me that eventually my period will level off and get back to normal, but I have experienced PMS for 4-5 weeks in a row! As you can imagine, this demotivates me from continuing with my low-carb lifestyle and I give it up to go back to the way I was eating to make my PMS stop. Within a few days, my cycle returns to normal.

I know right now your going ewwwwww right about now and wondering why I had to ask you, but I trust you and your resources for help.

Thanks for reading this far and hopefully pointing me in the right direction for some help or explanations."

Yeah, you're right. EWWWWWWW! But I'm so glad you asked me this question because there are likely other women out there who may have experienced this same thing and can offer some insight. THANK YOU for trusting me to find the answers for you.

Before I get to my professional guests and what they think about this reader's questions, let me offer a few brief insights.

First, CONGRATULATIONS on choosing to do something about your obesity problem. Weighing 283 pounds is not at all healthy for you and I applaud you for taking action to get your weight under control. That is most of the battle right there and I admire you for tackling this issue head-on. YOU GO GIRL!

But I do I have a concern with something you said. You said you have started low-carb several times but stopped each time because the weight "tapers off to 2-3 pounds a week" after an initial burst of weight loss.

Don't take this the wrong way, but there are people who would kill to be able to lose 2-3 pounds a week! While we all would like to shed weight as fast as possible, the fact of the matter is that a slow, deliberate weight loss is VERY GOOD for your body.

Losing weight rapidly can cause problems such as excess skin (something I'm still dealing with over a year after losing my weight!) and the temptation to fall back into your old eating habits again.

Celebrate ANY weight loss, big or small. Our society has conditioned us to want whatever we want as soon as possible. But with weight loss, that doesn't mean this month or next month. It might not even mean next year. But if you are committing yourself to a permanent lifestyle change, then you've got the rest of your life to keep your weight under control. So don't rush it!

Do you realize that if you "just" lost 2 pounds a week for the next year that will be a weight loss of OVER 100 POUNDS!!! Slow weight loss or even the dreaded weight loss stall is no reason to give up on your efforts. Remember that you are doing your body a lot of good every time you drop a pound that you will never see again. It's time to get excited about getting rid of that weight once and for all!

Okay, enough of what I think because I don't have a clue about the period question. But we'll put the exclamation point on your questions to get a better grip on what's going on with you.

THANKS to these three ladies for so graciously sharing their expert insight on my reader's questions:

Jacqueline A. Eberstein, R.N. from Controlled Carb Nutrition, LLC

"This is most unusual. My experience has been that the first period might be slightly different but not as she describes. Yes, a rapid weight loss might theoretically imbalance hormone levels.

Regarding PMS, about 60% of women may have more symptoms with the first period after beginning to control carbs but it generally improves each month thereafter. After controlling carbs for a few months many women have minimal PMS.

We really don't want too rapid a loss. She can advance to OWL (ongoing weight loss) so she can lose about 2 pounds a week. This is a much better option than going on and off the plan. She can even begin at 30 grams of carbs and then move up from there. There are any number of ways to individualize the Atkins program and still get the job done in a healthy way."

Dr. Mary Vernon from the University of Kansas-Lawrence

"The answer your reader recieved is an appropriately simplified version of what can happen. The effect of weight loss on hormones is complicated. Often, women who gain weight quit having periods (due to the effects of high insulin and high fat mass). The levels of estrogen stay elevated and do not go up and down as is usual for women in their reproductive years.

There are some interesting side effects to this -- osteoporosis is associated with thinness. Overweight women have less occurrence of osteoporosis. This is thought to be due to the elevated levels of estrogen. However, these elevated levels of estrogen and no periods (periods stop because the hormones don't go up and down to trigger ovulation) can cause the uterine lining to thicken, cause uncontrolled bleeding and sometime the development of cancer.

This reader would almost certainly begin having normal menstrual periods again after the weight stabilizes. Insulin levels also effect the ovary, so a low-carb diet keeps insulin levels low and the ovary functions normally once the fat mass returns closer to normal levels.

It sounds like her doctor understands what happens and could maybe help with a plan to help her through the time when she is bleeding continuously."

Regina Wilshire from Weight Of The Evidence

"Her doctor is correct - the release of estrogen, which is stored in body fat, can be overwhelming to the system and cause havoc with menstral cycles for a period of time until the body figures out how to reach 'homeostasis' (balance). It's scary if you're not aware of the driving force behind it, merely annoying once you understand it.

That she has such a long period of bleeding really highlights how much her body fat is retaining and that, in the long-term, is not a good thing. While it's difficult to stick it out through the longer, heavier bleeding, it is worth it to know that you've gotten the body fat off the body because later it's going to be a problem.

If she wants to lose the weight with low-carb, then she's just got to bear with it because it will eventually normalize again."

I have nothing further to add to these comments except to again give a hearty THANK YOU to Jackie, Mary and Regina for sharing their incredible knowledge on this subject with my readers today.

Gotta question about low-carb on ANYTHING other than your period (AAAACK!), then e-mail me at


Blogger Newbirth said...

I never had that trouble. My periods continued as normal through the early phases of weight loss, on through the very slow losses during OWL, and now in Maintenance. If anything, they have become more regular (not as late or early as before) since I started low carbing.

They are the worst part of being a woman, but I am still very happy to be female. :)

2/21/2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I have definitely had this problem even though I'm not doing hard-core low-carbing. In fact, what had been a bad problem (heavy bleeding during my periods) turned out to get much, much worse after I lost 40 lbs...turns out I had been developing some fibroids (whose growth is supported by estrogen) that led me to be having really long, heavy periods and becoming seriously anemic.

I've been on heavy-duty medication to suppress estrogen since October, and am having surgery in April to deal with the serious bleeding.

In the meantime, I still have a lot of weight to lose, so am obviously hoping to not grow any more of these suckers afterwards.

I've found a page on the Web that seems to have some good advice for women wanting to deal holistically with fibroids that may well work well for women who have heavy periods due to estrogen. See for more.

Note: I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV :). Check with your own physician first.

2/22/2006 12:59 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Yeah, that's been my experience too...LOL!

2/22/2006 4:50 PM  
Blogger CarbHealth said...

I have a different take on her problem. I too was experiencing something similar. I have endometriosis. What my doctor told me had to do with estrogen, but in a different way. Since physical fat loss as well as dietary fat intake can cause excess estrogen, and estrogen feeds endometriosis, my endo was growing at an accelerated rate. Of course endometriosis was the underlying problem for my bleeding, BUT, it wasn't until I started low-carbing that my endo got so bad that I had to have surgery.

2/22/2006 5:01 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks Jimmy! Thanks Everyone for your help. I wanted to fix the commication break down in my email. I have never stopped low-carb because the weight loss slowed down to 2 pounds a week...I have only stopped to end the PMS cycle. I am going to continue this time and wait out the problem. I will let you know how that works out. Thanks again for answering my questions.

2/23/2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger Doreen said...

Finally! I've been perplexed by the same symptoms myself! I currently have no endometriosis or fibroids and have no history of either problem. I've lost about 90lbs over the last 11 months.The more weight I lose, the heavier and longer my periods are. Last one lasted 14 days(!).It used to last exactly 5 days. I still have a lot more to lose, but at least I have an idea of what's going on hormonaly. I've already checked with my doctor and she couldn't really explain it. I'm currently waiting on results of hormone level blood work.
Thanks for the info!

8/08/2007 8:12 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Happy to help, Doreen!

8/08/2007 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting up this post about low carbing and estrogen. I've been low-carbing for about a month now, doing an extended induction deal for those who are familiar with Atkins. My pms has always been awful, as far back as I can remember, and although its not much better or worse now I have been experiencing symptoms that, from what I've read on the internet, are supposed to stem from either a liver problem OR elevated estrogen levels in the body.

I've been getting, in the last week or so, little red dots on my body that are called spider angiomas. I've had these in the past, but only one or two at a time. In the last week and a half alone I've counted 8 new ones. So I've been going nuts trying to figure out why these new ones have popped up seemingly out of nowhere. After my internet research turned up things about liver problems I became scared, but when I learned that these little dots also come from elevated estrogen levels I realised it might have something to do with my new low carb way of eating. The information in this post did a lot to put my mind at ease, regarding weight loss and dietary fat and how that has an effect on estrogen levels. I've always been a very pre-menstrual type of girl and I'm thinking the weight loss coupled with eating more fat is probably what's going on. It just seems like the angiomas occuring as I've started this low carb diet is more than a coincidence.

And no, I have no access to medical treatment right now (can't afford it) but if you or your panel of experts might be able to verify that what I suspect is the cause of the angiomas is a viable explanation that would be great. For me personally and maybe for other low carbers who have a similar problem.

But anyway, I'm babbling. Thank you Mr. Jimmy and to your friends who've provided more info on the matter. You run a wonderful blog and I'll be checking back for more info.

7/15/2009 2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... goes. I have been on a low carb diet on and off for years. At 61 and still on hormone replacement therapy, I experience heavy spotting EVERY time after two or three days on the diet. I have polycystic ovararian syndrome and have fibroids. My feeling is that the bleeding is from the fibroids and not menstruation at all. What is your take. If I were to go to a specialist about this, would I go to an endocronologist? My GP has no idea what is going on.

3/22/2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Thanks for commenting on my old blog, anonymous. However, please e-mail me at and I'll put you in touch with an expert friend of mine who may be able to help. :)

3/22/2010 9:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow! So I was actually searching on this because today is the first day of my 3rd week on phase II of the South Beach Diet which is low carb but still has carbs... and I have been losing 2-3 lbs a week. I am also still nursing.
Usually my cycle lasts about 4-5 days but.. today is day 8... and yet it lingers. It's not heavy, but it's not gone. Which is why I was researching! Thank you!!!

2/13/2012 9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too - Harcombe Diet phase 1 I had light spotting at day 14 of my cycle and then my period arrived at the usual time but instead of a normal flow for 2-3 days I've had a very light flow but for four days and it's still bright red and doesn't feel like it is going to stop. Weird.

2/17/2013 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know, I know this is so late, but I have to say I have experienced the EXACT same issues as the girl who originally wrote in with this question. I have done low-carb before a few years ago and lost a significant amount of weight over 8 months - and I bled the entire time. I just started up again last week and I of course, got a massive menstruation after a couple of days. I feel like that scene from The Shining. Anyway, the explanations about estrogen and insulin totally make sense and now I'm not so freaked out about it. I just will have to buy stock in Tampax. Thanks for posting this (icky but relevant!) question.

5/27/2013 4:39 PM  

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