It’s not always easy being a woman (amiright?!) - the hormonal ups and downs each month through puberty and then menopause can range from mildly irritating to downright debilitating.
Although many, if not most, women suffer from some degree of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the extreme health and mood imbalances associated with PMS, PMDD, and even severe menopause are a sign your system is out of whack, most likely because of… stress. PMS may be common, but it is not healthy.
Hormone balance is VERY sensitive to stressors like inflammation, toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, too little sunlight, and other common factors of modern life. Since our reproductive hormones play an important role in brain health, mood, and brain inflammation, when they’re out of whack, our brain function and mood suffer.
For women, imbalances are typically characterized by excess estrogen, insufficient progesterone, or too much testosterone. Stressors can lead to blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance) are the most common culprits of PMS symptoms and can contribute to a miserable menopause transition.
Some of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:
Low Progesterone + Chronic Stress
One of the more common reasons for hormonal imbalance is low progesterone caused by chronic stress. This is a mechanism called “pregnenolone steal” or “cortisol steal”, which is when chronic stress robs the compounds needed to make progesterone in order to make stress hormones instead. This can contribute to PMS and sets the stage for potentially miserable time through menopause.
When it comes to stress, the brain doesn’t know whether you are angry at traffic, soaring and crashing after snacking on a glazed donut and triple-shot caramel latte, or narrowly escaping an attack on your life. All it knows is that it needs to be on high alert - fight, flight, or freeze - and that our reproductive hormones can wait until things have chilled out. BUT for many sleep-deprived, over-stressed women fueled on caffeine and sugar, settling down rarely truly happens. Sound familiar?
The fix isn’t necessarily in a tub of progesterone cream - by now, you know we need to address the root cause, right? We need to take a good look at the sources of stress. One of the greatest anti-stress weapons, is a diet that stabilizes blood sugar. Women often either eat too infrequently and too sparingly, or they overeat and eat too much sugar. Both are stressful for the body.
Here are some other common causes of chronic stress that lead to miserable PMS and menopause:
Naturally Restoring Hormone Balance
Ideas to halt that “pregnenolone or cortisol steal” include an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, restoring gut health, dampening pain and inflammation, and managing autoimmunity. These are the functional medicine basics. Also, make sure you are eating the right amounts and kinds of essential fatty acids.
Additionally, certain botanicals are effective in supporting female hormone health and the body’s stress handling systems.