If you’ve read my previous posts on adrenal fatigue, you’re probably starting to understand how much of an impact stress can have on your health. Menstrual cycles and PMS are no exception.
There is a widespread notion that PMS is something that just happens to those of us who are unlucky. In reality, stress hormones have a way of wreaking havoc on sexual hormones. PMS and other issues like PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility can be connected to adrenal fatigue.
In this context, PMS refers to the the wide range of unpleasant symptoms that happen in connection with menstrual cycles. They include symptoms like cramps, mood swings, breast tenderness, acne, bloating, headaches, and many more.
How a normal menstrual cycle works
You probably don’t want a detailed anatomy lesson so I’m going to water this down. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. It begins on the first day of your period.
For the first 14 days of the cycle, estrogen levels rise. This helps the endometrium (one of the layers of the uterus walls) fill with blood to prepare for possible fertilization. Estrogen levels are at their highest on day 14, when ovulation begins.
After day 14, estrogen levels begin to drop and progesterone levels increase. As those levels go up, the body sends nutrients to the uterus in case an embryo implants. About a week before a period begins, progesterone starts to decline again. It reaches its lowest point on day 28, and a new period begins.
What is estrogen dominance?
Hormones in the body work together to keep each other in balance. Ideally, estrogen and progesterone should work against each other to keep each other in balance. People who deal with PMS tend to have what is called “estrogen dominance”.
There are two ways that estrogen dominance can happen in the body. The first type of estrogen dominance is the result of high estrogen levels in the body. This can happen for a large number of reasons. Sometimes, the body struggles to take estrogen out of circulation, so as more estrogen gets dropped into the blood, its levels accumulate.
The second type of estrogen dominance is the result of not enough progesterone to balance out estrogen levels. This is like a teeter totter. It doesn’t take an extremely heavy person to keep one side low to the ground, just a person who is significantly heavier than the other. It doesn’t take very high levels of estrogen to create an estrogen dominance if progesterone levels are low.
The connection between adrenal fatigue and PMS
In my first post about adrenal fatigue, I mentioned that sexual function is the first function to decline when the body needs resources. When the body lacks what it needs, it shuts down the systems not needed for immediate survival.
Cortisol and progesterone compete with each other. They are received by cells in the body in a similar way. Cortisol is in charge of making you run for your life, or stay and fight when faced with a bear (or any danger). Since progesterone, a pregnancy and menstruation hormone, isn’t needed at that exact moment, it takes a back seat when cortisol levels are high.
But here’s the kicker. Your cortisol levels are high when your stress levels are high. It doesn’t matter if your stress is a result of a real life threat, or if you have too much on your plate at work. For as long as cortisol is high, progesterone takes a hit.
This means that for as long as you’re stressed, estrogen levels get to stay high. As I mentioned earlier, PMS symptoms are often related to good ol’ estro dominance.