Trying to conceive(TTC) can be stressful for any woman, so many questions race through her mind; ‘will I get pregnant?’ ‘can I get pregnant?’ ‘what if I can’t conceive?’ ‘what if I miscarry?’ ‘what if something goes wrong?’ ‘I know nothing about looking after a baby’ and queue a mini panic attack.
Though some of these questions and concerns are valid, the stress they induce on your body does not go un-noticed. Infact all stress does not go un-noticed, be it chemical, emotional, physical of digestive. In our bodies we possess two little ‘Zen masters’ that sit on top of our kidneys called Adrenal glands, they help to buffer stress in the body. They form part of your endocrine(hormonal) system and are responsible for your fight or flight response. Your adrenals produce numerous hormones that are necessary for many daily functions in the body. In this article we will focus cortisol, progesterone and pregnenolone.
ADRENAL GLANDS AND FERTILITY, WHATS THE CONNECTION?
In acute stress e.g momentary road rage, food poisoning or anxiety while preparing for a big presentation your adrenal glands produce cortisol hormone. Cortisol helps your body manage stress, and also boosts your immune system, in the short term. But we all know by now that too much of anything is never good. So in chronic stress like long term illness, digestive issues like IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome), depression or chronic use of medication, your Zen masters go into overdrive to produce sufficient cortisol that will mitigate the avalanche of stress your body is taking on . Too much cortisol, however, leads to inflammation, lowered immune system, metabolic issues( belly fat and upper back fat), memory challenges (brain fog, forgetfulness etc) and it also affects your fertility. These are signs and symptoms of Adrenal fatigue or more accurately HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary- Adrenal )Dysregulation. Take this quiz to know if you have symptoms of HPA Dyregulation.
THE HORMONE HEIST
The mechanism of your adrenals releasing cortisol is a necessary and self-preservation act. It’s your bodies way of protecting you and gearing you up to manage or escape harmful situations. The problem comes when the response is not switched off due to chronic stress. We’ve heard the saying ‘you can not pour from an empty cup’; when cortisol reserves are running low your adrenals have to make a plan to boost its depleted levels of stress hormone. Cortisol along with DHEA. Testosterone, Oestrogen, Progesterone and Pregnenolone are steroid hormones which are made from cholesterol in your adrenal glands. Don’t freak out, cholesterol is a good thing, as you now know it makes your hormones and it is also an anti inflammatory when in the in the right amounts.
As you can see cholesterol is the building block of your hormones, pregenenole aka mother hormone is the precursor to all your steroid hormones. When cortisol levels are low, the adrenals in their efforts to keep you safe from what they perceive as imminent danger, carry out a hormone heist. They ‘steal’ pregnenolone from the progesterone making process to make more cortisol. This is how constant or chronic stress negatively impacts fertility because progesterone is needed for ovulation, conception and sustaining a pregnancy. Low levels of progesterone have also been linked to emotional instability, anxiety, depression, infertility, miscarriages, breast and uterine cancers. Too much cortisol also hijacks your libido at the expense of testosterone, thus making it hard for you to ‘get in the mood’ and very much less likely to orgasm.
So how do you know if you have too much cortisol?
COMMON SIGNS OF TOO MUCH CORTISOL
- Stubborn belly fat
- Recurrent infections
- Low libido, especially around ovulation
- Waking up with headaches
- Water- retention
- High blood pressure
- Feeling ‘wired and tired’( physically tired but your mind is racing a million miles a minute!)
- Sugar or caffeine cravings
- Easily irritable or Hangry(hungry and irritable)
- Difficulty staying focused
COMMON SIGNS OF TOO LITTLE progesterone
- Miscarriages- particulary 1st trimester
- Weepiness/ unctrollable crying
- Irregular menstrual cylce
3 WAYS you can lower cortisol, regulate your hormones and improve fertility
I find it absolutely redundant to tell women who are TTC, experiencing emotional or mental distress or have hormonal imbalances of any kind not stress, because then they stress about not trying to stress. Stress is a defining factor of health and thus a stress assessment is a key part of a Wombman Wellness consultation. This gives me a good idea of your stress triggers and adrenal state. A common question is ‘how do I start to de-stress and heal my adrenals’ These are my first 3 steps in any healing protocol where there is major stress and inflammation to help the adrenals and hormones.
- Supplement with an adaptogen. Ashwaghanda is a fantastic adaptogen that supports the HPA axis( Hypothalamus-Pituitary- Adrenal) this is necessary fro stress management. I recommend a wholesome supplement like Wonderful Wombman Vitalty blend which also contains super foods like Maca, Shatavari and cinnamon that help to control blood sugar reduce cravings, balance hormone, restore libido, improve mental function, better sleep and helps your body manage overall stress. Consider also taking B vitamins which are quickly depleted by chronic stress. A diet rich in antioxidants will aid in overcoming free radical damage.
- Ramp up the intake of good quality fats in your diet, by the way fats don’t make you fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates do. A low fat diet is known contribute to missing periods(amenorrhoea) and trouble conceiving. Making sure you diet is rich in healthy fats and essential fatty acids will also reduce Inflammation. So ditch the canola oil, foods with hydrogenated oils, margarine and opt for olive oil, macadamia oil, coconut oil, avocados. Nuts such as almonds, macadamia and seeds chia seeds, pumkin seeds, sunflower and flax seeds. These will help with hormone balancing and great skin too!
- Identify your triggers. In the 90 Day Wellness Programme we spend a lot of time here, identifying various triggers from emotional to physical, chemical to digestive because if for example, we do all the amazing work to heal the gut but you have unresolved emotional distress with feelings of anxiety, your gut may never fully recover. This is the importance of holistic healing. In terms of managing stress, focus more on calming exercises that are not overstimulating to your adrenals; walking, yoga and pilates. Practice meditation, journaling, get massages and find enjoyable coping mechanisms to manage the stress
Take this quick quiz to know if you have symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue. A score of 3 or higher puts you at risk of HPA Dyregulation which is a cause for concern for overall hormonal health and conception.
Everyday I’m helping women understand their bodies, heal themselves, improve their eating habits, renew their thinking habits, lose weight, clear hormonal acne, shrink fibroids, alleviate symptoms of endometriosis, reverse PCOS and conceive by simply equipping them with skills and information that allow them take back control of their lives. Join this league of amazing women and book your consultation now.