How Stress Messed Up My Hormones

March 1, 2018

Gosh, it’s taken me some time to right this. Stress really messed up my hormones. Let me give you the low-down.

I was taking hormones. Progesterone to be exact.

I have had a nearly perfect cycle my entire life.  I’m probably a rarity of a woman who has never been on birth control and whose cycle naturally came and went religiously. It was something that I was proud of since I came across so many women who struggled. So when things starting to go off balance, concern and frustration set in.

There are two things that I have learned over my year-long journey in trying to rebalance my hormones: I’ve often felt that my reproductive system is the identity of femininity – it creates our off-spring and it is the source of those mood enhancing hormones that make us feel warm, happy and sexy. When they are out of whack, than what am I?

And, it’s shocking how many women that face this, yet they don’t talk about. Why is that?  Perhaps it’s that identity issue that I have. Do you you share this feeling too?

Earlier this year I shared with you that I was diagnosed with low cortisol. Okay, like many, you were probably thinking, “what the hell is that?”.

It’s burnout.  We all use that term at some point in our lives, especially when we’re working ourselves “to the bone!” and feeling like absolute crap [which I did].

But, it’s actually a term to indicate a health issue. For me, I suffered burnout a few times in my life, and I probably didn’t give myself the proper TLC that my body needed to fully recover. Although my diet has always been relatively good, I could have used a few more supplements to support my adrenals and slowed down a whole lot more. I’ve also realized that a lot of our health is related to mind-set which is something that I’m always working on.

I’ll give you a bit of a science lesson here so that you full understand why “burn-out” happens. Our adrenal glands sit on top of our kidneys and they help to create and regulate several hormones: the stress hormone cortisol, adrenaline, along with the sex hormones estrogen, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, and so on.

The cortisol hormone (along with adrenaline) is what helps us to manage our body’s reaction to stress, namely the flight or fight response. For example, when someone scares you, cortisol helps you to adapt to that scare. It also helps us to adapt to short term stress.

Well, this sounds pretty common for us career-driven women, right?

But, here’s where it gets tricky.  When we put our bodies through large bouts of stress or consistent stress, eventually our cortisol gets tapped out. Our adrenals are put under too much stress and it can no longer produce enough cortisol.  That’s low cortisol or burn-out in a nut shell.

The symptoms for me included feeling like I could never get enough sleep and yet 8-10 hours of sleep didn’t help me feel rested.  I couldn’t get through exercise without feeling fatigued or light-head. Blood sugar imbalance was very common.  I was short tempered and very forgetful. I was also holding weight in my mid-section – during this time, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing a bikini since I was constantly feeling bloated.

What has brought me to writing to you today is the hormonal imbalances that I uncovered. But, at the time, I didn’t even know that my cortisol issues and hormonal imbalances were related.

What I found out through a series of hormone tests was the cortisol issue.  But, when I first went to my naturopath, I was actually originally going to resolve some issues with my monthly cycle.

So what was my main complaint at the time?  There were a few:

My cycle, which was normally, on time, every time, was now either coming early, or was a few days late.

Without going into too many details, the “quality” of my cycle had also changed. I always pay attention to even the subtlest changes. You also begin to notice these thing

And, for years, I had been struggling with getting restful sleep.  I would literally wake up every night around 10:30 pm with essentially a panic attack. It was incredibly frustrating because I couldn’t understand why this was happening.

With any one hormone that is imbalanced the adrenal glands, they can essentially affect the others. So, while my cortisol was an issue, my progesterone levels were also imbalanced.  Because of the low cortisol, other hormones are redirected to help that original issue.  But, then, as you can see, it affects other hormones and in my case, progesterone – a hormone that is essential for fertility and regulating the menstrual cycle.

The adrenal glands manufacturing cortisol and adrenaline. But, they also house the crucial steroid DHEA. DHEA plays several vital roles in health, including the metabolism of cholesterol to make the sex hormones progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. As you get older, levels of DHEA in the body naturally diminish, along with the production of sex hormones.

The relationship between adrenal fatigue and progesterone levels can run in two directions. Adrenal fatigue can affect the amount of DHEA secreted in the adrenals, thereby reducing the body’s ability to metabolize sex hormones and produce adequate progesterone levels. Additionally, reduced progesterone production in the ovaries can diminish the amount of cortisol and adrenaline manufactured in the adrenal glands. It’s a tricky tricky thing right?

My naturopath prescribed 30 mg of progesterone to take at a specific time in my cycle. For someone who never took birth control, it was an adjustment to try and remember to take this teeny tiny supplement under my tongue before bed.

Instantly, two things happened to me:

+ I began to relax pretty quickly before bed. Progesterone does have this calming effect to it.
+ AND….I started to sleep completely uninterrupted. No 10:30pm unnecessary and completely disruptive jarring wake ups. This was life changing for me and critical for my recovery.

I had been taking the progesterone since January 2017. At one point, earlier on I had my period for literally 3 weeks – this had never happened to me before so I could only chalk it up to either the stress that I was feeling at the time OR maybe the progesterone doing it’s thing and helping me to regulate. Thankfully, that only happened once! I was also struggling trying to get my cycle to last longer than 22 days.

I have stopped taking the progesterone in January simply to see if there was any major changes (a bit of a science experiment). It is now March and my cycle now around a 27 day cycle which is amazing! Honestly, I credit this to a few things:

+ I finished nutrition school and I feel a lot less stress. I actually felt that release of finally being done.

+ I’ve also been amping up my self care like nobody’s business!  And, I’ve learned so many new tricks to dealing with stress in a much healthier way.

+  I tweaked my diet and supplement plan to help support my body better.  This is a really key element.

It’s also important to note that at 40 years of age, my progesterone will continue to decline as it does naturally after 40.

I’ll leave that with you for now. If you are interested in hearing more about my journey, I’ll be chronicling my journey over on my instagram page.  

In the meantime, if you are struggling with any imbalances, I do encourage you to meet with a naturopath to get tested and to look at some options. AND, if you share a similar story to mine, please leave me a message so we can work through this shiz together!

Eat Life Balance and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease.
All material on Eat Life Balance is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health related program.