Many couples struggling with infertility hear the common but often frustrating advice to “just relax” during their fertility journey. While the physical and emotional challenges of infertility can make this advice seem trite or relaxation seem out of reach, it is necessary to acknowledge the hormonal implications of stress and how the chemical stress response can actually play an important role in hormonal imbalances. Women in particular, with delicately balanced hormones at play, can be even more susceptible to the impacts of stress and if you are a woman who is battling PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome), stress responses are even more of a concern.
Dr. Fiona McCulloch BSc ND, shares her thoughts on the interaction between stress hormones and female sex hormones (especially in relation to a PCOS diagnosis) in an article for PCOS Diva:
“As I’m sure you already know, stress is bad for humans, period. That said, for women with PCOS, stress can seriously imbalance the delicate interplay between hormones and can even interrupt the progress you are making as you put in the hard work to change your diet, exercise and balance your hormones with supplements or medications. Firstly, I just want to go through a little bit of anatomy and physiology with you. The adrenal glands are two small, triangular glands that sit right on top of your kidneys. These glands have a very special job to do: they secrete crucial hormones in response to stress. The outer part of the adrenal gland is called the cortex, and it secretes cortisol and male hormones (androgens) like DHEA. It’s really important to know that the adrenal cortex is controlled by the pituitary gland, which is a small, pea-sized structure within the brain. The pituitary is actually considered the “master gland”, as it controls most of the hormone function in the body, and the connection from the brain to the adrenals is called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis).” | Read More on PCOS Diva
Dr. McCulloch goes on to explain that these pieces of the hormonal puzzle are more intricately connected than we often realize and can create quite the domino effect if one gets out of balance. She explains what makes women with PCOS so susceptible to imbalances due to stress:
1. Women with PCOS have low progesterone, a hormone which is “stolen” by the adrenals to be converted into cortisol in stressful situations, causing progesterone levels to sink even lower.
2. Women with PCOS actually make more cortisol than women without PCOS.
3. Women with PCOS have higher statistical rates of anxiety, depression, and other emotional disorders.
4. A primary component in PCOS is insulin resistance, another disruption in hormone interplay.
5. High cortisol levels interferes with how other hormones are utilized by the body rendering them less effective.