Could stress be driving your hormones crazy?

Eoin Roe, Chiropractic

Call 087 958 2362

Many women are affected by the rollercoaster ride of fluctuating hormones during menopause and perimenopause. Often we think this is normal because it is so common, but it is not normal, it is a symptom, and one of the main culprits may be the pregnenolone steal due to chronic stress.

The pregnenolone steal is based on the idea that chronic stress robs the body of sex hormones so that it can produce more stress hormone cortisol.

How your body copes with stress: When you experience stress, the adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol, which elevates the ‘fight or flight’ response. Normally this ‘fight or flight’ stage is short-lived and the body returns to a ‘rest and digest’ phase. But for many people in modern society, they  become stuck in a permanent ‘fight or flight’ stage; this is especially so for those who are dealing with chronic inflammatory problems or autoimmune issues.

When people hear the word stress it often conjures up images of emotional upheaval or money worries and whilst these do provoke a stress response, there are other very significant mechanisms that provoke the same stress response, such as unstable blood sugar from a diet high in carbohydrates, skipping meals, or relying on caffeine or high energy drinks to keep going.

There are other serious stressors such as undiagnosed autoimmunity, gastrointestinal problems like IBS, chronic inflammation and chronic pain and insomnia. The bottom line however is that it does not matter where the stress is coming from; your body will respond in the same way and produce more cortisol.

Pregnenolone Steal: Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone, essentially a building block, which is converted into other hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands. These hormones include sex hormones like progesterone and oestrogen but also the stress hormone cortisol. This is particularly important for perimenopausal or menopausal women, as during this stage of life the ovaries stop producing hormones and the adrenal glands become the main producer of hormones in your body.

Pregnenolone steal refers to a situation where there is excessive stress diverting pregnenolone from producing progesterone and oestrogen to producing cortisol. This may set the stage for the hormone imbalances that cause many of the common symptoms of menopause, especially low progesterone.

Symptoms of low progesterone include mood swings, depression and anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, changes in menstruation, brain fog and low libido. Many people look to replacement progesterone as a fix but if stress is actually the issue, removing this normally works better.

Stress comes in many different forms and is specific for each person. Some stressors may be impossible to remove, so it is important to have an honest appraisal of the stressors in your life and remove them or reduce them if possible.

One of the main mechanisms of stress I see in clinic is women not eating enough, skipping meals and ending up with low blood sugar.  If you get ‘hangry’ or feel better with more energy after eating, this is a sign that your blood sugar level is dipping too low – if that is you then you should NOT fast. Instead eat at least three meals a day and maybe snack in between meals too but avoid sugar and high carb foods and excessive amounts of fruit.

In the case of relationships and emotional stress help from a professional like a hypnotherapist or counsellor can be great. If you have unresolved IBS, food sensitivities, chronic pain, insomnia or an autoimmune issue, functional medicine can help you make changes that will improve your symptoms, reduce stress and balance your hormones. 

Eoin Roe is a Chiropractor and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner working at Roe Health in Skibbereen.  If you would like to make contact please see our website or call 087 958 2362.

WCP Staff

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