How Does Stress Impact My Hormones and My Menstrual Cycle?
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Dr. Shreya Batra, ND
How exactly does stress impact our hormones?
Let’s start with the basics of hormone production. All our steroid hormones (including progesterone, testosterone, cortisol), are all made from cholesterol. Cholesterol is turned into pregnenolone which creates the hormones. In periods of stress, our body chooses to create more cortisol “our stress hormone”, rather than any of our sex hormones. Hence, when we experience stress for an increased period of time, we produce less progesterone and may experience symptoms such as:
Spotting before your period and irregular cycles
PMS, including mood changes like irritability
Sleep changes such as difficultly falling asleep or staying asleep.
If progesterone is low, our estrogen level may be relatively high – which may cause the following symptoms:
Breast tenderness, fibrocystic breasts
Mood swings, anxiety
Bloating, water retention
Managing stress and making some lifestyle changes may help keep your progesterone levels at a healthy level. Some of these lifestyle changes include:
Exercise is the first-line treatment. Moving your body will naturally help lower your cortisol (stress hormone) levels and balance out progesterone and estrogen. Of course, exercise is also boost mood, energy, benefit weight, bone density and support cardiovascular health.
Lower alcohol consumption:
As much as you want to reach for that bottle of wine when you are having your symptoms, it may not be the best idea, especially in high quantities. Generally, in the long term, increased alcohol consumption will worsen mood, and hence, worsen the PMS symptoms. Although some studies do show that complete elimination may be unnecessary, it may be beneficial to reduce consumption.
Avoid exposure to hormone disruptors:
Unfortunately, our environment has many endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These chemicals may alter the way the hormones in the body are metabolized and may alter ovulation and the menstrual cycle. By making an effort to use glass containers instead of plastic, or choosing more natural body products, you can slowly decrease your exposure.
This topic is so broad, and could be a discussion of its own. The basics for hormone balance would include avoiding simple carbohydrates (white breads, white pastas…etc) to balance out blood sugar levels which would ultimately support mood, energy, and cravings associated with PMS. Ensuring that you have enough fiber in your diet is also crucial as it allows for proper elimination of your hormones, so including things such as ground flax seeds, oatmeal, lots of green veggies, are crucial to get an appropriate amount of fiber each day. Including foods rich in zinc and Vitamin B6 would also be beneficial as both are needed for progesterone production and metabolism in the body. An easy way to include zinc in the diet is pumpkin seeds (can be added to salads, smoothies, or enjoyed on its own as a snack). Vitamin B6 is high in; chicken, turkey, fish, soy, chickpeas and more. Furthermore, soy intake may benefit those with increased breast tenderness, cramps, and even headaches associated with PMS.
This is a very specific and individualized area and would require you to speak to your Naturopathic doctor to know what is best for you. However, some things that may be beneficial for balancing out hormones and easing pain include: Chastetree, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, fish oil, vitamin B6…etc. Please discuss these options with your ND to know what dose and what brand is ideal for you.
If you are having symptoms of hormone imbalance, are suffering through PMS or PMDD, contact me and let’s get a treatment plan started that is right for you! Book here.
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