If your period comes infrequently, gets very light, or seems to stop altogether—and you’re not yet menopausal—stress of some sort is likely a primary factor.

Common culprits

  1. Low hormone levels. Intense exercisers often have very low body fat, which can diminish hormone levels and prevent the uterus from building up a lining, Stanton says. Chronic or extreme stress can worsen the problem by reducing effectiveness of the brain’s hypothalamus, which signals the ovaries to produce hormones. Women may not be aware of “invisible” stressors such as food allergies, toxins, and unstable blood sugar, she adds. Stress can also lead to PCOS, says Pick. Although the syndrome can create very heavy periods, it sometimes has the opposite effect, she explains.
  2. Insufficient nourishment. When nutrition and sleep levels are chronically low, the body prioritizes survival over reproduction, Welch says. The most common stress-related nutrient deficiencies include essential fatty acids (such as omega-3s), B vitamins (especially B6), and minerals (especially magnesium and zinc).
  3. Early menopause. “If you’re in your 30s and suddenly have low or scanty periods, get your hormone levels checked,” Stanton says. Family history, illness, and certain medical procedures can cause some women to go through menopause well before age 51, the average for U.S. women.

Restore balance

  1. Eat a healthy diet. Cut out empty calories from processed and sugary foods, and aim to eat lean protein (along with vegetables and whole grains) every two to three hours. It’ll help stabilize your blood sugar and reduce cortisol demand.
  2. Sleep well. Aim for at least 7 1⁄2 hours nightly. Supplement with a high- quality multivitamin and fish oil. You may want to look for a multi that targets stress, or take additional supplements of B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs such as shatavari, vidari, and dong quai may also help.
  3. Do forward bends. During your period, Clennell recommends practicing forward bends, which reduce tension in the abdomen, boost circulation in the pelvis, strengthen the internal reproductive organs, and help glands function properly during menstruation. Save back bends, lateral twists, and inversions for the rest of the month.