The relationship between stress and hormones cannot be ignored. A hormone imbalance for both men and women is made worse by constant high levels of stress.
Adrenal Stress and Hormone Havoc
Consider hormones as being like text messages from the brain, thyroid, ovaries, pancreas or adrenal glands that travel via the bloodstream to every cell in the body, providing instructions on what to do next: how and what to think; move; digest; react; remember; excrete; literally everything! And because these hormones like to stay in balance, if continual stress is experienced, there is only so much your adrenal glands can put up with. Simply put, the more ‘adrenally’ challenged a woman is, the more ‘hormonally’ challenged she will be.
Stress and hormones
Your stress hormones are cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Cortisol is a ‘catabolic’ hormone, meaning ‘breaking down’, whereas DHEA is ‘anabolic’ meaning ‘building up’. DHEA is the hormone for vitality, youth and longevity, i.e. anti-ageing.
Along with oestrogen and testosterone (a male hormone or ‘androgen’ which women also produce in small amounts), DHEA is important for your libido (sex drive).
Under stress, cortisol soars and DHEA production is dampened down. This imbalance is a key as to why some people store more body fat under stress and have difficulty losing it.
Excess cortisol is also inflammatory-provoking, potentially worsening any underlying pain or inflammation you may already experience.
Stress and perimenopause/menopause
Many women amidst the perimenopause years (typically their 40’s) endure significant hormone challenges and, if this is you, you may find you don’t cope with stress as well as you used to. Women are three times more likely to suffer anxiety, depression, and insomnia during the five years leading up to menopause.
In addition to this ‘hormone cocktail’, you may also be tired, irritable, gaining weight, experiencing the occasional hot flush, joint stiffness, vaginal dryness, increased facial hair and low libido.
These years are called perimenopause and it’s a vulnerable time. Not just because women are busier than ever with career and family, but also because your progesterone levels are declining, which used to calm and stabilise your stress response system.
The sames goes for the menopausal years. The more ‘adrenally challenged’ you are, the worse the symptoms of menopause may be for you.
But there is hope and help! Naturopathic medicine offers effective solutions for helping women experience hormone balance once more!
Stress and weight gain
A common consequence of a stressful lifestyle is chronically elevated cortisol. Cortisol causes your body to deposit more fat, especially around the abdomen, and stimulates the breakdown of muscle. This has a very negative effect on your body shape.
It is almost impossible to lose weight if you are under tremendous stress, as your stress hormones are fighting against you.
Stress and PCOS
A classic example of the relationship between stress and hormones is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). As the name implies, you may just think this condition is associated only with ovaries. But in fact, often what initiates PCOS is adrenal stress. But other glands can be affected too – your thyroid gland and pancreas. PCOS is a poly-glandular condition. A holistic approach is necessary to overcome PCOS naturally.
Stress and Hypothalamic Amenorrhoea
Unfortunately for some women, extreme stress can shut down your hypothalamus (master endocrine/hormone gland) and your pituitary gland from working properly. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinisng hormone (LH) are often suppressed, causing ovulation to stop. Women with hypothalamic amenorrhoea therefore sadly struggle with infertility.
Of course, other causes of hypothalamic amenorrhoea include eating disorders and/or excessive exercise causing body fat to drop too low for oestrogen to circulate.
This is one of the most challenging gynaecological conditions to treat. But the good news is with naturopathic medicine, it is possible to assist in the management of this condition.