The Stress & Menopause Link

The Stress & Menopause Link

There’s so much information out there about the peri-menopause and menopause, it can become a little overwhelming on where to start, especially if the brain fog has already begun! One important starting point you can do to help yourself through this transition, is to look at ways to manage your stress, because there is a connection.

Firstly, let’s briefly break down the endocrine system, it’s glands and hormones. Your endocrine system is a network of several endocrine glands. These glands are organs that make one or more substances, for example hormones, digestive juices, sweat or tears. Hormones are chemicals that are released directly into your bloodstream, to coordinate different functions in your body by carrying messages through your blood to your organs, skin, muscles and other tissues. These messages or signals, tell your body what to do and when to do it. So clever!

Endocrine Glands

  • Hypothalamus: regulates pituitary, controls variety of processes including temperature, controls how other endorine glands work.
  • Pituitary: development and reproduction. Influences other endocrine glands.
  • Pineal: resposnible for natural sleep-wake rhythms.
  • Thyroid: metabolic function.
  • Parathyroid:  regulates the amount of calcium in your body.
  • Thymus: makes and trains special kind of white blood cells called T-cells.  T-cells help your immune system fight disease and infection.
  • Adrenal: crucial role in controlling  blood pressure, heart rate, and the body’s reaction to stress.
  • Pancreas:  maintains healthy glucose levels.
  • Ovaries and Testes:  make eggs and sperm, but they also have other, non-hormonal functions.

The obvious endocrine glands to understand first, in simple terms, are the ovaries. The major hormones secreted by the ovaries are oestrogen and progesterone, both important hormones in the menstrual cycle. Peri-menopause means ‘around menopause’, and is the natural transition phase to eventually the end of the reproductive years. 

Oestrogen levels can rise and fall unevenly during this time, and as there are oestrogen receptors all over the body, it can lead to varying symptoms such as brain fog, insomnia, weight gain, fatigue, hot flushes, back or joint pain to name a few. Progesterone levels can also plummet during peri-menopause and if oestrogen levels remain high, this imbalance can also lead to issues such as heavy or irregular periods, anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, acne, low libido, weight gain, wrinkles and sagging skin. Once in menopause, there is a sharp decline in both oestrogen and progesterone in the ovaries. Oestrogen continues to be produced in fat tissues as well as small amounts from bone, blood vessels, brain and ovaries. Post menopause, the adrenals take over the production of oestrogen and progestrone.

Your adrenal glands are located on top of your kidneys and are controlled in part by your hypothalamus and pituitary gland. They produce many important hormones, including cortisol, aldosterone, dopamine and adrenaline. The adrenal hormones help regulate several bodily functions including metabolism, blood pressure, immune system and your body’s response to stress. When the ovaries reduce production of oestrogen and progesterone, the adrenal glands take over as back up to provide these hormones from midlife to old age.

If you are struggling with stress, specifically chronic stress, menopausal symptoms will become worse, depriving the body of oestrogen and progesterone. Under stressful conditions, the adrenals release the hormone cortisol, and cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores in the body via the liver. This energy helps with the perceived need for fight or flight state. In the long term, elevated cortisol consistently produces glucose leading to high blood sugar levels.

If you went to bed with high blood glucose, the hormone insulin is released by the pancreas to lower glucose. Every time our blood sugar drops, cortisol is released, in this case, probably around 2am or 3am, so you will wake up and find it difficult to get back to sleep. Cortisol also generates cravings for sugar, refined carbohydrates, coffee or alcohol, and all these can contribute or trigger hot flushes. So you can see how easy it is to get caught in this vicious cycle. Also the rollercoaster of blood sugar levels going up and down can mirror mental health symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, and worry. 

Chronic stress also diverts away from the reproductive system, overloading the adrenals so they are unable to produce oestrogen and progesterone. If the adrenals are not producing enough oestrogen, the body will store food as abdominal fat, because oestrogen is also produced by fat cells. This is why it becomes so hard to shift belly fat, as it is related to hormonal dysfunction, not volume of food.

Menopause symptoms are not the only issue with this cycle. High cortisol due to stress can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue syndrome, an impaired release and regulation of cortisol. Cortisol dominance then creates this never ending cycle of high blood sugar, high insulin, high cortisol that could, if long term, result in becoming insulin resistant. Insulin resistance can lead to heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

So hopefully, you can now see the connection with menopause symptoms and stress, as well as the other benefits of taking care of your adrenals.

What can you do now?  The obvious one is reduce the stress in your life. The second is balance your blood sugars. You can do this by reducing or even cutting out high levels of sugary foods, refined carbohydrates (white bread, biscuits, cakes etc), some spicy foods, MSG (monosodium glutamate), caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.

If you would like further support with any of the above or your hormones in general, feel free to book a free consultation call with me HERE to discuss how I could help you.