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Can stress effect my menstrual cycle?

Sep 8, 2020

By Osteopath, Dr Bridget Pledge.

Stress is a normal physiological and psychological response our body produces when we feel we are under a threat. Back in caveman days stress would have been coming under attack from a wild animal, in modern day 2020 stress can come in many different forms – from work/study, relationships to a global pandemic (thanks COVID), stress is something we experience more often than we realise and isn’t always something we can pinpoint the origin of!
Our body’s main physiological response to stress is determined by the activation of the HPA Axis – the system of our brain (hypothalamus and pituitary glands) and our adrenal system (primarily the adrenal glands sitting on top of your kidneys!) and the hormone release between them. The release of cortisol, one of the main stress hormones, from the adrenal glands & the release of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, creates a feedback loop within the body to activate protection mode – think Fight-Flight response! When the Fight-Flight response is activated our usual body functions are dampened in order to protect us from the “threat”. In a very quick response you would notice your heart start racing, getting a little bit sweatier and a shift in blood flow from your internal organs (primarily digestion) to your larger muscle groups (help prepare you to run or fight!). If this system is activated for a prolonged period of time, we experience an ongoing level of dampened “usual” function. This includes many different aspects of function from reduction in appetite or changes to bowel movements, to weakened immune system and fatigue, and to changes in hormonally driven body responses, like your cycle!
The main hormones involved in the menstrual cycle are Oestrogen, Progesterone, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FHS), and Luteinising Hormone (LH). They are released from the ovaries, the pituitary and
hypothalamus glands. They each play a role in the regulation of the cycle. On the flip side of that we have cortisol and CRF, which are also hormones, that can affect the release and regularity of other hormones in our body too. Cortisol release from the adrenal glands can affect the release of FSH and LH from the brain, as well as decreasing the ovaries ability to produce oestrogen and progesterone. This messy cascade of our body trying to figure out what needs to be working & when can lead to
fatigue, lowered mood and feeling not quite right in our bodies!
Most commonly when we are stressed our cycle suffers, leading to missed periods (amenorrhea) or missed ovulation! During times of high stress our regular PMS symptoms can hit another high, with bigger mood changes, lower energy and motivation, more cravings for comfort food (always chocolate on hand!), headaches, cramping & back pain! Understanding what your stress is, what coping mechanisms work best for you, and being kind to yourself during these times can make a world of difference.
So what does this all mean? During times of uncertainty our body will do what it can to protect us & keep us thriving, although it doesn’t always feel that way. It may not be a lot but if you can remember a few easy tips to support yourself it may just be the difference between feeling like you don’t know what’s happening and supporting your body as best you can!
  • It’s okay to not be coping!
  • You may not feel stressed but the environment you are in can play a big role in how your body i
    s coping & adapting
  • Keep a diary or use an app to keep an eye on your cycle (clue is a great app!)
  • Your mental & physical health are never far from each other – so take care of them both equally
  • Be kind to yourself, AND your body.

After some more tips of leads to help your cycle? Call the centre and chat to our Osteo team today!