Stress seems to impact everything in our body, so we shouldn’t be surprised that too much stress can affect our menstrual cycle and fertility as well. Stress can have this impact by sending our sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, out of balance. This can manifest in a number of different ways, including the consistency of your cycle, your menstrual symptoms and even your ability to conceive. Typically, ongoing stress leads to longer cycles, additional or more intense menstrual symptoms and traditionally makes it harder to get pregnant and stay pregnant.
There are many ways stress can lead to these hormonal imbalances and all the symptoms that come with it, including:
Your “Fight or Flight” Response is Activated. When we are stressed out and our stress response is turned on, your reproductive system is consequently turned off. During the "flight or fight'' stress response, our body is simply focusing on surviving. All biological processes that aren't needed in that moment to deal with whatever perceived stress or threat you are facing in that moment is considered non-essential and is shut down. Our reproductive system, along with few others, is on that list of non-essential biological processes. We can help to turn on our reproductive response by switching off our flight or fight through:
Incorporating deep breathing into our daily routine.
Committing to a regular gratitude practise.
Using short bursts of cold exposure.
Taking time to laugh, sing or hum.
Your Stress Hormones is Competing with Your Sex Hormones. The other issue with your body making a lot of the stress hormone cortisol, is that our sex hormones are made from the same building blocks. So when your body is constantly producing cortisol, it doesn't have the capability to create adequate levels of your sex hormones.
This is particularly an issue for progesterone, as cortisol and progesterone are made from the same hormonal precursor, pregnenolone. When your body is deciding between making cortisol or progesterone, the body will always choose survival over reproduction. “Pregnenolone steal” where your body prioritizes creating cortisol over progesterone, leading to low levels of progesterone.
Progesterone plays a huge role when it comes to regulating our menstrual cycle, conceiving and sustaining the early stages of pregnancy. If you have low levels of progesterone it can cause issues with the regularity of your cycle and can lead to additional or more intense menstrual symptoms. Because progesterone creates the proper environment for the egg and developing fetus to grow and thrive, low progesterone can also make it challenging to get pregnant and maintain pregnancies. In addition to the impact on our period and fertility, it can also cause you to experience low mood and low libido. You can support your body to produce higher levels of progesterone by:
Eating foods that stimulate progesterone production. This includes spinach, pumpkin, nuts, bean and whole grains.
Supplementing with vitamins and minerals that support progesterone production. This includes vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.
Eating healthy fats that provide the building blocks for hormone production. This includes plant-derived fats like coconut oil, olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, avocado and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring and trout.
Your Body is in a State of Estrogen Dominance. The other issue with no longer being able to make adequate progesterone, is the impact it will have on the ever-so delicate ratio of progesterone and estrogen. These two hormones work ideally when they are in balance with one another. When levels are off with one of these hormones, the ratio between the two hormones will be off, leading to a slew of other issues. When progesterone is too low, it will cause your body to be in a state of estrogen dominance, aka relatively too much estrogen. This can manifest with fatigue, low mood including depression and anxiety issues, irregular and heavy periods, low libido and issues with gaining weight or challenges with losing weight. You can support your body with lowering your estrogen level by:
Eating cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage and bok choy, to help support your liver with metabolizing (getting rid of) additional hormones, specifically estrogen.
Eating more fibre to help your body release unneeded hormones throughout your fecal matter (aka poop). This includes beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts, berries, apples and broccoli.
Try out some of these strategies to help bring your hormones back into balance. Won’t it be incredible to no longer be dealing with intense PMS, all the cramps, the mood swings, the headaches, all gone (or at least more manageable). The unpredictable and heavy periods will also be a thing of the past. It will be so worth these simple changes.
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