• Alex Bovell

The Way You're Eating Now Could Affect Your Fertility

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

My period came when I was 12 and shortly after I went on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) to control it whilst playing a lot of sport. Looking back now, I’m completely aware this wasn’t a great decision. However, my mum and I took the doctors opinions as truth and because they had no hesitations or objections neither we. I came off the OCP at 17 and went on the Implanon at 18. Straight away my periods ceased. The Implanon is a tiny little rod inserted into your for birth control, which releases the hormone progestin into your body. Progestin thickens your cervical mucus, stopping sperm penetration and ovulation, therefore preventing you from falling pregnant.

During this whole time, at 18, I faced my darkest times, in the grips of an eating disorder and severe depression. I used my eating disorder to escape, to control 1 thing in my life when I felt I’d lost control everywhere else. I was slowly destroying my body and my mind. The irony of an eating disorder is, the more control you think you have, the more control the eating disorder has over you. I remained on the Implanon for 3 years (the limit it’s allowed to be in your body). Towards the end of those 3 years I was falling more and more in love with holistic health & nutrition. I decided not to replace the Implanon when it was removed, at 21, because I wanted to have my period back and understand my body more, I felt like a child.

I suspected I had secondary amenorrhoea because I was extremely thin, severely restricting my food intake and had an extremely low body fat percentage. Secondary amenorrhoea is the lack of menstrual periods in a woman during her reproductive years who has previously been menstruating for 6 months or more. However, I covered it up in my mind because the doctors mentioned some girls may not bleed on the Implanon.

Fast forward nearly two years since having the Implanon removed and secondary amenorrhoea remains at the forefront of my worries. There’s constantly an upsetting thought that one day I may not be able to have children and this truly breaks my heart. I’ve had countless tests, ultrasounds, specialists appointments, naturopath visits, doctor appointments and acupuncturist appointments. I’ve taken herbal after herbal and been diagnosed with PCOS, only to be told there’s not a lot I can do until I want to have children. I’ve been told to be patient; it may come in time however patience isn’t exactly one of my finer qualities.

When you’re young, you don’t think about the consequences of your actions.

How many of us have done something in our past we wish we hadn’t? Dated the wrong person, wasted money, argued with a loved one. Why? The future wasn’t a priority. Our only concern was that moment right there. Unfortunately, some of our actions can have long-lasting effects that cause huge stress on our lives. Secondary amenorrhoea is a constant reminder for me of what I’ve done to my body in the past. I can’t change the past, as much as sometimes I regret it with all my heart, I can only use what I’ve done to educate others and avoid them repeating my mistakes.

How does an eating disorder disturb your menstrual cycle?

Our reproductive system is amazingly complex and involves a delicate dance of constant communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and ovaries, which secrete hormonal messages regulating our monthly cycle. There are a number of eating disorder characteristics that can suppress the production of reproductive sex hormones and therefore disrupt ovulation and menstruation including:

- Low body weight

- Low body fat percentage

- Very low daily caloric intake

- Food restriction

- Emotional stress

- Excessive exercise

Fats are structural components of hormones and regulate sex hormone production. Sex hormones including oestrogen and progesterone are made from cholesterol. Therefore, when we adopt a low-fat/restrictive diet, which is extremely common in all the magazines, our reproductive hormone levels decline. Additionally, the psychological and physical stress from an eating disorder raises your bodies cortisol levels. This places your body into a flight/fight response, shifting the bodies energy and reserves towards ‘survival’ mechanisms and unfortunately that means sex hormone production goes to the back-burner.

This is extremely personal, however I’m happy sharing because it’s this sort of truth that may make just one person think again about dieting or starving themselves as it can impact our lives years down the track. It may help one person consider the way they’re eating isn’t going to benefit them in the future when they’re ready to “adult” and have babies.

I’m not a professional, so please keep in mind this is my personal experience, opinion and education. Think of this blog as your Smörgåsbord, where you can take the information you like and leave what doesn’t resonate with you. Xxx