How can cortisol disturb your menstrual cycle and hormones
The stress hormone Cortisol has so many effects on our bodies, including effects on our menstrual cycle. Cortisol affects the menstrual cycle in so many ways, in this post you’ll understand more about the relationship between stress and your hormones. And also I’ll suggest some real-life reasonable solutions that I’ve personally tried and still trying to manage my stress and eliminate its effect on my menstrual cycle.
I tried my best to write this post and make it as simple as possible but still, there will be some scientific terms that you’ll get their meaning easily so let’s start this!
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Quick definitions before we start
what is cortisol:
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It helps to increase blood sugar, increase blood pressure, and speed up the heart rate. It is often referred to as the “stress hormone” because it is released in response to stress. When cortisol is released at high levels, it can cause health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
The menstrual cycle:
The menstrual cycle is the process that your body goes through each month to prepare for a possible pregnancy. The cycle begins on the first day of your period and ends on the day before your next period. During your cycle, your body makes a hormone called estrogen. This hormone causes the lining of your uterus to grow thicker. If you don’t get pregnant, your body makes another hormone called progesterone. This hormone causes the lining of your uterus to thin back down and eventually fall off.
Before talking about the effect of cortisol on your menstrual cycle, let me clear some things up first: Your menstrual cycle is not just your period; it’s:
Is when your body sheds its lining that was built up during the luteal phase in case of pregnancy. This normally happens once a month (after 21 to max 35 days) and lasts for a few days (3 to 6 days).
The follicular phase:
Is the time of your menstrual cycle when the follicle in the ovary matures and releases an egg. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. If it is not fertilized, the egg is lost during menstruation.
The time of ovulation:
Is usually around the 12 to 17th day of the cycle (if the cycle has 28 days).
The luteal phase:
Is the second half of the menstrual cycle. It starts after ovulation and lasts until the next period. The main purpose of the luteal phase is to make sure the embryo has a good place to grow and develop by preparing the walls of the uterus, and this job is handled by a hormone called progesterone. It also plays an important role in the development of the fetus after the pregnancy.
How does cortisol affect your menstrual cycle and your female hormones?
Your cortisol levels can affect your menstrual cycle and your period. When your cortisol levels are high, your period may be late, you may experience cramps, heavy, long or short periods. I know that it could be normal for some women to have long or heavy periods but during your most stressful months, you may notice some changes in your menstrual cycle and especially your period.
Follicular phase: How cortisol affects estrogen
Cortisol can block the production of estrogen which prevent ovulation from happening. I mean you’ll still get your period but it will be an “anovulatory bleeding”.
Luteal phase: How cortisol affects Progesterone
it’s the phase when usually PMS appears right?
well as much as you keep getting PMS it is still not really normal to get them, so let me explain why:
As i already explained in this luteal phase definition, progesterone plays a big role during this phase, so if there isn’t enough progesterone at this phase, even if you succeed at getting pregnant during ovulation, you’ll be at risk of miscarriage since there is not enough progesterone to make sure that your uterus is prepared for the pregnancy or to assist the pregnancy.
So too much stress in your life can lead to a progesterone deficiency, causing estrogen dominance symptoms
Yes I know that I said cortisol can block estrogen production but hear me out, what I’m talking about here is progesterone/estrogen ratio, means that estrogen levels will be higher than progesterone levels even though the amount is very small. And this happens when your body detects the huge sudden drop of estrogen and tries to produce even a little bit of it plus the environmental estrogen (from food and some cosmetics) and this is how we end up with a significant amount of estrogen that is still higher than progesterone levels.
(hope you got this because it’s really confusing).
this elevated estrogen can also cause an increase in cortisol levels which makes it a vicious cycle.
I tried to summarize it in this illustration below:
If you want to learn more about this amazing article by Healthyremedies
High cortisol levels during menstruation can cause period pain:
Stress and high cortisol levels can cause painful period cramps (dysmenorrhoea)
What about menopause:
Cortisol can also affect menopause. It can accelerate the process, making it happen sooner than it would have otherwise. This is because cortisol affects the production of estrogen, which declines as a woman approaches menopause.
Does cortisol increase during periods?
There is some conflicting evidence on whether cortisol levels increase during menstruation. Some studies have found that cortisol levels are higher during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (the second half of the cycle, after ovulation), while other studies have not found a difference in cortisol levels between the two phases. Different women may experience different changes in cortisol levels throughout their menstrual cycle.
There is no clear evidence that the levels of cortisol increase during menstruation. However, some studies indicate that the number of symptoms experienced by women during menstrual cycles may be increased due to the changes in hormone levels.
Normal cortisol levels:
Normal values for a blood sample depend on the time of the day, these values may vary slightly:
- 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.: 10 to 20 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).
- Around 4 p.m.: 3 to 10 mcg/dL.
As you notice, cortisol levels should normally decrease after 4 pm and especially at night, if your cortisol levels remain high at bedtime it may affect your sleep schedule.
ways to reduce cortisol levels
It’s more about managing your stress than anything else, trying to fix your hormones and not addressing the roots of the issue won’t really help you in my opinion. Also trying to decrease your estrogen levels is also necessary since estrogen can increase cortisol in your body.
Now that we understand what’s the real problem here, we can easily find some solutions
There are many things you can do to help reduce cortisol levels throughout your menstrual cycle.
- Getting regular exercise can also help to keep cortisol levels in check. But don’t over exercise because working out too much has the total opposite effect which is increasing cortisol.
- Eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar and processed foods is another way to keep cortisol levels under control. It will also help you keep your estrogen levels maintained sinnce sugar can increase your estrogen a lot, at least that’s what happens to me everytime i eat too much sugar during ovulation or just right before my period, i always notice mood swings and i get some very painful cramps. so try to reduce your processed sugar intake as possible as you can.
- Try to unclude more of B vitamins, Vitamin D and OMEGA 3 in your diet since they’re essential for making your hormones.
- Taking breaks during the day to relax and de-stress can be helpful,
- Soaking in a hot bath or using aromatherapy. A hot bath can do wonders for your body. The heat will loosen up any tight muscles and the steam will help clear your sinuses. Adding aromatherapy to your bath can make it even more relaxing. Essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus have been shown to have calming effects. They can help you relax after a long day or relieve stress and tension headaches.
- Breathing exercises are very helpful! It can activate your parasympathetic nervous system which will help you decrease your stress and anxiety
- Meditation helps a lot with stress, Meditation is a great way to quiet the mind and focus on the present moment. This can help you to take a step back from your thoughts and emotions, which can be helpful in managing stress. Check this post to learn more about how can meditation help you with stress and how to meditate
- Try to fix what’s causing you stress: for example if you have a problem that you’re ignoring or some deadlines that you’ve been procrastinating try to find some solutions to these problems either by yourself or with the help of others, and finish those tasks that you keep procrastinating! You’ll feel a relieve once you finish them so get to work already
- Boost your progesterone natural ways and herbs such as chasteberry, black cohosh, or vitex. These herbs contain compounds that help support the production of progesterone. If you are looking for a natural way to boost your progesterone levels, these are some great options to consider.
- Improve liver function: The liver is responsible for a lot of important processes in the body, including eliminating toxins and hormones such as cortisol. When the liver is not functioning properly, it can lead to a host of health problems. There are several things you can do to improve liver function and help your body eliminate cortisol and other hormones.
- Fix your sleep schedule: I don’t really agree with this tip since sleeping can be very difficult to impossible with high level of cortisol and low progesterone levels, so what I would suggest instead try to avoid taking naps during the day and even if you can’t sleep at night just lay down on your bed and relax
It really botheres me whenever i search for some solutions to reduce cortisol levels and I find “avoid stress” how can you avoid stress?
In my opinion, the best solution in this case is to learn how to manage stress and how to actually deal with it. Avoiding it seems more like avoiding life itself or something
Stress is not the enemy, too much of stress is THE PROBLEM (same as literally anything in life: like for example too much of water can cause damage to your body too).
In conclusion, cortisol and the menstrual cycle are intricately linked. Cortisol levels vary throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, and this impacts the function of her reproductive system. Additionally, cortisol can impact a woman’s mood and overall well-being. Therefore, it is important for women to be aware of how cortisol levels affect them and to take steps to manage their stress levels throughout their menstrual cycle.
How can cortisol affects your menstrual cycle and hormones
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