Stress, what an annoying little fellow….. I think we all know that stress is no good for our health, but WHY?? We hear it linked to heart disease, mental health, hormones, energy, digestive function to name just a few.
Stress has such a far reaching affect on the body and how we feel because of a handful of pesky hormones called cortisol, epinephrine and adrenalin amongst some other hormones produced in the pituitary and adrenal glands respectively. ‘Stress’ in any way shape or form sets off a cascade of hormonal dominoes, of which, today, I am focussing on the female reproductive hormones. If we are stressed or anxious either acutely in the moment, or chronically over a longer period of time, your body produces cortisol mainly, as we have discussed in the previous ‘adrenal fatigue’ editorial, which I’m sure you all recall in great detail (!). The body produces cortisol to ‘fight the stress’ and in doing so releases blood glucose to give you energy to ‘fight’ and increase alertness to focus on the ‘stress’. Which is all well and good. However, what also happens in this game of hormonal dominoes, is a knock on affect which also stimulates the release of certain immune cells (NK, T and TNF) which can ultimately affect embryo implantation in the uterus. Over longer periods of time, it can drastically affect the immune system either by suppressing it leading to low immune system, or conversely turning it against itself, auto immunity. There isn’t necessarily rhyme or reasoning to this process.
In addition to affecting the immune response, more detrimental to the reproductive system, is the detrimental flow on affect to reproductive hormones. Stress sets off reaction from an adrenal perspective, but also increases hormone signalling to the pituitary, the master of the endocrine system, located in the brain. When the pituitary gland is disrupted, this can lead to dysregulation of lutenizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone, which have critical roles in the regulation of the menstrual cycle, stimulating ovulation and follicle development and ultimately,fertility.
Stress can also affect one’s diet, lifestyle and behaviour, therefore, can indirectly affect fertility and a woman’s cycle by making poor food choices, binging, drinking, smoking and not exercising. None of these behaviours a favourable for fertility outcomes.
I am all too aware that ‘going on a holiday’ is not the cure all, nor is 1 session of yoga. However, as is the theme to my recommendations, making regular, concious health contributions are the best way to manage the impact that stress is having on your body. Prioritise diet and exercise, PRIORITISE activities that RELAX you, MAKE time for fun and down time, it is MORE IMPORTANT than any pill or supplement. Food and calm are nourishment for the mind, body and soul. If you need to, talk to someone, off load your stress and nut out a plan to manage your stress. And you have my permission to slap anyone who says ‘just relax’, go on a holiday!!! Relaxation is not a passive occurrence, make it happen and make it a priority.