Recent research suggests that women who experience prolonged or irregular periods may have an increased risk for liver disease.
The study found that women with irregular or long periods were more likely to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, than those with shorter or more consistent menstrual cycles.
NAFLD is a chronic condition caused by fat buildup in the liver. It is not associated with alcohol intake. However, it is closely associated with diet and weight. NAFLD has quickly become the leading cause of liver disease, affecting about 2 percent of U.S. adults.
The condition can progress to chronic liver disease and heavy scarring, which carries a very high risk of death. Diet and exercise are the current standards of care.
This builds on an existing data bank suggesting that menstrual cycle length and regularity can influence women’s health. Studies already exist to show it may impact type-2 diabetes and heart disease risk.
For the study, researchers looked at data from more than 72,000 women younger than 40. They found that 28 percent had long or irregular menstrual cycles, and seven percent had NAFLD. After four years of follow-up, new cases of NAFLD were diagnosed in 9 percent of the women.
So, what can you do? If you have, or had, long or irregular menstrual cycles, attempting to reduce the risk of NAFLD using lifestyle measures is highly recommended. It would involve limiting processed foods and other calorically dense and nutrient-deficient foods.
Opting for more plant-based, unprocessed foods, as well as lean proteins may offer some benefit. Living an active lifestyle with some dedicated exercise time, at least three times per week, may also help keep things in check.