The term “amenorrhea” literally means an absence of menstrual bleeding. In medicine, it is used to indicate one of two conditions: the cessation of menstrual cycle in a woman of menstrual age or the failure to develop a menstrual cycle at all in a young woman who has reached the age of 16 years old. This article only addresses the first of these conditions, technically called “secondary amenorrhea.” To avoid using this long term, we will simply refer to the condition here as “amenorrhea.”
There are many causes of amenorrhea. Severe weight loss, such as may occur in a woman with anorexia nervosa, can cause the menstrual period to stop. So can extreme exercise, such as marathon running, bodybuilding, or professional-caliber ballet dancing.
Young women who go to college may develop amenorrhea too, possibly from stress or perhaps as a reflex reaction to what the body considers a “migration.” Pregnancy and nursing stop the menstrual cycle by design. Finally, women who have used
More rarely, amenorrhea may indicate a serious medical condition, such as a disorder of the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, or the ovaries. For this reason, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor if you miss more than one menstrual period, to see if more evaluation is needed. Medical treatment for amenorrhea depends on the cause. If examination reveals no underlying cause, physicians may recommend a period of oral contraceptive use to start up the cycle.
Proposed Natural Treatments
The hormone progesterone
In some women, the pituitary gland produces excess levels of prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone that naturally rises during pregnancy to stimulate milk production; it can also cause amenorrhea. Excessive pituitary prolactin release is a condition that must be investigated medically because it may indicate the presence of a tumor. However, it is possible that slight abnormalities in prolactin level without a dangerous medical cause may trigger amenorrhea in some women. The herb
Other commonly proposed natural treatments for amenorrhea include the supplements
For reasons that are not entirely clear, women with amenorrhea often have an accelerated rate of bone loss, potentially leading to
Herbs and Supplements to Avoid
Substances called lignans
Finally, certain herbs and supplements may interact with oral contraceptive drugs used to treat amenorrhea. For more information, see the
1. Shangold MM, Tomai TP, Cook JD, et al. Factors associated with withdrawal bleeding after administration of oral micronized progesterone in women with secondary amenorrhea. Fertil Steril. 1991;56:1040–1047.
2. Milewicz A, Gejdel E, Sworen H, et al. Vitex agnuscastus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia. Results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study [translated from German]. Arzneimittelforschung. 1993;43:752–756.
3. Jarry H, Leonhardt S, Gorkow C, et al. In vitro prolactin but not LH and FSH release is inhibited by compounds in extracts of Agnus castus : direct evidence for a dopaminergic principle by the dopamine receptor assay. Exp Clin Endocrinol. 1994;102:448–454.
6. Sourgens H, Winterhoff H, Gumbinger HG, et al. Antihormonal effects of plant extracts. TSH- and prolactin-suppressing properties of Lithospermum officinale and other plants. Planta Med. 1982;45:78–86.
7. Baer JT, Taper LJ, Gwazdauskas FG, et al. Diet, hormonal, and metabolic factors affecting bone mineral density in adolescent amenorrheic and eumenorrheic female runners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1992;32:51–58.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2007 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.