Weight gain, depression/anxiety, headaches, low energy and disrupted sleep are just some of things that come to mind when we think about the affects of chronic stress, however for women it can also mean low libido, PMS, heavy or irregular menstrual cycles and infertility.
When we are in ‘fight or flight’ (SNS – sympathetic nervous system) we release cortisol and this is responsible for controlling metabolism, which affects insulin sensitivity, your immune system and even controlling blood flow (to name a few). So when we are ‘running from a tiger’ (fight or flight mode/SNS dominance), less essential functions are inhibited including some processes in the immune system, the skin, kidney function, digestion, reproductive functions, protein synthesis, bone formation and much more. Why? Because the point of being in that ‘fight or flight’ is to protect ourselves from that ‘trigger’ (the tiger) and then quickly come back into parasympathetic (PNS) nervous system – ‘rest, digest & procreate’. The problem is, nowadays we tend to live more in SNS dominance, than in PNS. Our phones constantly sending us alerts, longer hours at our jobs, driving & traffic, deadlines, eating on the run & poor quality food, excessive high-intensity exercise…we are always doing and rarely give ourselves the time out we need.
How does stress affect your hormones?
Cortisol inhibits various hormonal cascades and therefore plays a major role in the production of your reproductive hormones. It reduces the production of FSH and LH by the pituitary gland. It suppresses ovary function, reducing estrogen and progesterone secretion. So, if you’re chronically stressed (running away from a tiger) then reproduction is never going to be a priority. When the body is stressed and it starts using up progesterone to make cortisol, it needs more progesterone, so it starts using more pregnenolone to make it; It is literally stealing the precursor for testosterone and estrogen. What’s more? It’s using up all that progesterone to make cortisol. It’s a never ending loop that is doing you so much harm.
So, in summary, chronic stress messes up your sex hormones!
What can you do?
- Reduce your stress! Start saying “no” more often & take help when it’s offered.
- Sleep 8 hours a day – bed before 10pm
- Get active, but avoid strenuous activities more than 3 x a week. Mix it up with walking, yoga, pilates, swimming etc are great ways to move your body without being too stressful on the body.
- Have fun doing things you enjoy, spend quality time with family & friends, spend time in nature, meditate, find a hobby that you enjoy, spend time on your own.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol (No more than 1-2 cups/glasses per day).
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet that includes organic meats, seafood, plenty of vegetables and whole fruits, raw nuts and seeds and cut the sugar, processed carbs and anything with an ingredients list!
If you have any questions, or would like to see a practitioner to find out how we can help you, contact us on 07 5531 6461 or you can book online here.
Written by Amanda Flower, Naturopath © 2020