Stress and the Menstrual Cycle
Biologically, when our body is placed under physical or mental stress, it releases key hormones including glucocorticoids (like cortisol) and adrenalin through the adrenal glands. The function of both chemicals is the release of energy reserves and to prepare our body for an upcoming fight or flight situation. While, non-essential body functions slow down, such as our immune system 1. The hypothalamus controls both stress and the functioning of our reproductive system, so it is not surprising to find a link between the two 2. Due to its extremely important function, the hormone controlled reproduction system is one of the most sensitive vital signs that women have.
Stress symptoms and why Daysy can help you to identify stress
The first step to controlling stress is to know the symptoms of stress. Often it is very difficult to interpret the early signs our body is sending us until we are at the breaking point. And this is where Daysy comes in. One very important sign of stress that might not immediately come to mind are the changes that happen to your menstrual cycle. With Daysy you are knowing the signs of your individual menstrual cycle and you can be mindful of any changes! That can help you keep tabs on how your body is being affected by stress. Daysy provides you with all information you need to observe any changes in your menstrual cycle that could be a result of stress. For example, constant stress can cause your ovulation to be significantly postponed. You can follow this phenomenon live with Daysy. For women who do not track their menstrual cycle it is only a delayed menstruation. Stress can affect your cycle with delayed ovulation, no ovulation, longer cycles, a shorter luteal phase, or missed periods. Daysy gives you the opportunity to keep a diary of the most sensitive vital signs over a long period of time.
In a representative survey (2020) of 1200 Daysy users, 75% indicated that they identified stress symptoms based on their cycle curve. Furthermore, 80% of the participants reported that Daysy has helped them improve their quality of life. This can be a first step towards consciously reducing stress.
Stress and your cycle
During phases of high stress where high levels of cortisol are produced by the adrenal glands, more progesterone is also needed as a basis. The adrenal glands will then shunt additional pregnenolone down to the cortisol pathway, massively reducing the amount available for progesterone production by the luteal cells. This is why stress reduction and adrenal support are key for women who have luteal phase or progesterone deficiencies 3.
One study looked at a group of women who had not had a menstrual period for six months. They found that all of the women had increased blood levels of cortisol. Interestingly, women in this sample did not report being stressed 4. In the subsequent trial, half of the women attended a stress reduction program for reducing psychosocial stress and the other half had no treatment. Twenty weeks later they found that 80% of the program attendees started ovulating again, two became pregnant 5.
A study based at Harvard Medical School in 2011 studied 143 women who had been unable to conceive for more than one year. The researchers split the attendees in two groups: one group received a mind/body program while the other group did not. The women in the mind body program had a 55% pregnancy rate compared with 20% in the other group 6.
Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how to handle it. Generally, the best thing you can do to prevent stress overload is to educate yourself and consciously live in line with your body. The Department of Health and Human Services has the following recommendations 7:
Take care of your body:
- Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep helps you recover from the stress of the day. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to feel rested.
- Eat right. Try to fuel up with fruits, beans and whole grains. Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds can provide your body. Don’t be fooled by the jolt you get from caffeine or high-sugar snack foods. Your energy will wear off, and you could wind up feeling more tired than you did before. Vitamin B complex supports stress responses as well 8.
- Get moving. Getting physical activity can not only help relax your tense muscles but improve your mood. Research shows that physical activity can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
1) Schoen, M. & Loberg, K. Your survival instinct is killing you : retrain your brain to conquer fear, make better decisions, and thrive in the 21st century.
2) Rabin, D., Gold, P. W., Margioris, A. N. & Chrousos, G. P. Stress and reproduction: physiologic and pathophysiologic interactions between the stress and reproductive axes. Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 245, 377–87 (1988).
3) Mc Culloch, F. Supporting the Luteal Phase With Integrative Medicine – Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. Fertility, Women’s Health (2012). Available at: http://ndnr.com/womens-health/supporting-the-luteal-phase-with-integrative-medicine/.
4) Brundu, B., Loucks, T. L., Adler, L. J., Cameron, J. L. & Berga, S. L. Increased Cortisol in the Cerebrospinal Fluid of Women with Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 91, 1561–1565 (2006).
5) BERGA, S. L. & LOUCKS, T. L. Use of Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1092, 114–129 (2006).
6) Domar, A. D. et al. Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Fertil. Steril. 95, 2269–2273 (2011).
7) NIMH » Fact Sheet on Stress. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml.
8) Stough, C. et al. The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum. Psychopharmacol. Clin. Exp. 26, 470–476 (2011).