How Stress Affects Female Hormones

stress

Steroid Symphony

Did you know that you have a symphony of steroid hormones? You have oestrogen and progesterone from your ovaries, AND you have cortisol, testosterone, and DHEA from your adrenal glands. These steroids form an interchangeable pool of hormones, which are converted one to the other as the body needs them. Consider that, and then consider the fact that there is only a limited amount of steroid hormone to go around. Now you know why stress affects our reproductive hormones SO MUCH.

How stress affects hormones

When conditions are right, the body allocates its precious steroid hormones to high-end luxury hormones such as DHEA and progesterone. These hormones promote longer-term investments, such as immune balance, cancer prevention, and reproduction. When conditions are stressful, the body allocates the same steroid building blocks to cortisol. Cortisol is the "survive now- deal with things later" hormone. It is a very short term investment that literally steals from the other hormones.

De-stress for regular periods

Regular periods require a surge of female hormones in the right place and the right time. If stress is high, then oestrogen and progesterone cannot be there at the right time. They are depleted because the body needs cortisol instead. The result is irregular or difficult periods.

Cortisol affects periods in other ways. Excess cortisol suppresses thyroid hormone, which causes cycle irregularity, and excess cortisol makes the body resistant to insulin, which in turn causes failure to ovulate.

De-stress for an easier menopause

Menopause is not the end of hormones. In a healthy woman, the post-menopause hormone output by the ovaries drops to just 30% of their pre-menopause levels. This is enough to stay happy, especially if the adrenal glands increase their hormone output to pick up the slack.

Healthy adrenal glands produce DHEA, which will convert to oestrogen and progesterone. Consider the adrenal glands as an internal source of HRT. Read Lara's article on DHEA.

Why the Pill and conventional HRT are not the answer

The artificial steroids in the Pill or HRT do not contribute to the flexible, interchangeable pool of steroids. In fact, they have been shown to suppress DHEA levels (1).

Herbs to support adrenal axis

    Adaptogen herbs. Plants such as licorice or ginseng contain plant steroid molecules (triterpenoid saponins) that have a regulating effect on human hormones. The plant steroids cause the body to conserve cortisol and DHEA, and therefore help the entire hormonal system to "adapt" to stress.  

Reference:

Greco, T at al. The effects of oral contraceptives on androgen levels and their relevance to premenstrual mood and sexual interest: a comparison of two triphasic formulations containing norgestimate and either 35 or 25 μg of ethinyl estradiol. Contraception. 76(1): 8-17

 

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