Women produce two major sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. These hormones help to keep in balance the various functions of the nervous systems, and they can have a strong impact on how you respond to stress. For example, estrogen tends to affect the levels of serotonin and acts as a natural mood elevator, whereas progesterone affects the levels of dopamine and has a sedative or calming effect. When these hormones (and subsequently, neurotransmitters) are out of balance in relation to one another, stress symptoms can be aggravated.
Additionally, stress itself can cause or aggravate hormone imbalances. In fact, it can interfere with your ability to ovulate, thereby blocking progesterone production and pushing further into estrogen dominance. This can lead to severe PMS, menstrual cramps, anxiety, fibroids, endometriosis, and infertility.
Studies from journals as varied as Human Stress, Psychosomatics, and Acta Psychiatry of Scandinavian have all shown that women with stressful lives are much more likely to experience PMS symptoms. In fact, a study from the Archives of Family Medicine found that women who suffered from PMS scored four times higher on a stress scale than other women.
Another Scandinavian study looked at baboons living in captivity. Researchers found that those who developed endometriosis had higher stress levels and were less able to react positively to stress as compared to baboons in the wild.
Like their estrogen dominant sisters, estrogen deficient women must also manage stress carefully. Not only can stress reduce estrogen levels, but it can reduce production of all female hormones. This can lead to a worsening of menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, insomnia, depression, and vaginal and tissue dryness, as well as other related issues, such as heart health.
A study from the journal Menopause looked at more than 400 women between the ages of 37 and 47 who were still menstruating. Researchers gave the participants an anxiety test at the start of the study and again six years later. By this time, many of the women were experiencing irregular periods and hot flashes.
The researchers found that those women with the highest anxiety levels had almost five times as many hot flashes as the less anxious women. Women with moderate anxiety had three times as many hot flashes. A second study from the Maternal and Child Health Journal found that vaginal dryness (also a common symptom of estrogen deficiency) was significantly associated with high emotional or psychological stress.
For more information on stress and female hormones, visit Dr. Larks Web site.