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Can Stress Cause Hormonal Imbalance?

22 November, 2022

While some stress in life is expected, if stress becomes a constant feature of your life it can lead to a number of problems. The issue we’re facing today is how chronic stress can cause hormonal imbalance. 

Women and stress

75%–90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress. Statistically, women suffer from more stress than men, and an APA survey showed that almost half of women said their stress had increased in the past 5 years. Only 33% of women felt they got enough sleep, only 35% felt they were successful in their efforts to manage stress and only 36% felt they ate healthily. 

These patterns of undersleeping, eating the wrong things and not finding the time to manage stress can result in burnout — a recognised condition by the World Health Organization

It’s no coincidence that we compare our lives to a rat race. Hans Selye did an experiment where he stressed rats and watched their adrenal glands produce more stress hormones to cope with that stress. If the rat had a break and a rest, then it would recover — but if the rat was stressed without a break or a rest, it would suddenly collapse and die. 

Effects of stress on the body

Stress makes your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol to help your body fight or flee. If the stress turns chronic, it can wreak havoc on your body. 

  • Stress depletes the body of vitamins: Vitamins like B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids amongst other micronutrients. 

  • Stress disrupts digestion: Gut motility is a parasympathetic function, meaning that we need to be relaxed to digest properly. If we are stressed we may find that rather than digesting the food we start fermenting it, resulting in lots of bloating and unpleasant wind, not to mention all the sequelae of not getting the nutrients we need from eating.

  • Stress disrupts blood sugars: You may find that you feel jittery if you don’t eat every few hours, or suffer from a blood sugar rollercoaster, craving sweet things every few hours. 

  • Stress affects the gut: It can interfere with the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut and worse still, a colony of bacteria called the estrobolome which helps process and eliminate excess hormones from the body. When the elimination process does not work properly, your hormones will get out of balance.

  • Stress lowers progesterone: Your body steals from progesterone to make cortisol. The more stress you experience, the more progesterone your body will ‘steal’ to make cortisol. This affects periods — you might find the length of the cycle changes or that the nature of the period changes with more brown spotting before your period kicks in. Moreover, you might experience a host of symptoms of progesterone deficiency such as anxiety, irritability, brain fog, poor sleep, sugar cravings and fluid retention in the lead-up to your period. 

  • Stress delays ovulation: Raised cortisol levels can prevent the surge in luteinising hormone, which is necessary for your body to ovulate. 

  • Stress can stop your periods: You may get anovulatory cycles, months when you don’t ovulate at all, or just get a small bit of ‘breakthrough’ bleeding (which isn’t a real period, but rather your uterus still needing to shed its lining). You may have no periods. If you start missing periods, this could have negative impacts on the womb lining or bone health. 

Tips on how to maintain a good hormonal balance

Unfortunately most of the time we wait to think about our hormones until things get bad. 

Maintaining a good hormonal balance takes constant and continuous work, especially if you tend to be sensitive to stress, but here are some tips.

Hormone imbalance diet: stabilise your blood sugars

One of the biggest things that we have to get right if we want to have healthy hormones is balancing our blood sugar. If we’re constantly reaching for the sugar, we’re going to get excess insulin production, which can do several things. 

Excess insulin causes problems with thyroid hormone production and activity which results in slowed metabolism, hair loss, unwanted weight gain especially around midsection, low body temperature and tiredness. 

It can also lead to oestrogen dominance, which means that there’s much more estrogen compared to progesterone. This leads to anovulatory periods because excess insulin can cause your ovaries to make more testosterone. As a result, we may develop irregular ovulation and even PCOS. 

To avoid this happening, have half your plate made up of vegetables, and the other half made up of protein, fats and carbs. Don’t eat just carbs alone — and especially not refined carbs which are low in fibre and cause rapid spikes in blood sugars. Protein keeps you satiated, fat slows down the sugar release, and so does fibre.

How to deal with stress

Managing your stress levels can also help you to maintain a healthy hormone balance.

  • Sleep: Get to bed earlier. If you can be asleep by 10.30 pm, you will reap the benefits. The 90-minute phase before midnight is one of the most powerful phases of sleep. It’s a really important phase for reorganising the brain and it’s very important for bringing adrenaline levels down. While 7–9 hours is the optimal amount of sleep we’d all like to have, even if we don’t achieve that deep sleep before midnight can still nourish us. 

  • Do breathwork, mindfulness and meditation: Take 20 minutes once or twice per day to meditate or just focus on the breath. We’re constantly stressed out, letting the cortisol take over our bodies. When cortisol is high, thyroid and sex hormones are often low, and period problems begin. 

  • Take supplements: B vitamins, vitamin C, omega 3 DHA + EPA and magnesium all replenish the body during periods of stress.

Hormone imbalance treatment

Stress causes hormonal imbalances that can leave us feeling moody, fatigued and foggy with disrupted sleep and appetite regulation. 

If you suspect you may be suffering from a hormonal imbalance, get in touch to see if you could benefit from hormone-balancing treatment.

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