One of the biggest challenges facing women's health today is the way stress hormone production is interfering with sex hormone balance. Never before have there been so many women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and its debilitating physical and emotional health consequences.
From painful periods to fluid retention, from anxiety to yelling at the people we love the most in the word and berating ourselves afterwards, it has been a long time since women's health has faced such an intense hormonal challenge. This interference of stress hormones with sex hormones is one of the major biochemical factors of Rushing Woman's Syndrome.
Estrogen and progesterone are two of a woman's sex (steroid) hormones and their ratio to one another has the potential to make us happy or sad, vivacious or anxious, pimply or clear skinned, and our clothes looser or tighter. Big roles for two little hormones!
For the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone, laying down the lining of the uterus. Estrogen wants a menstruating female to get pregnant every month of her life, whether that is on her agenda or not!
For the first half of the cycle, we make a small amount of progesterone from our adrenals glands, walnut sized-glands that sit on top of our kidneys. Progesterone's job reproductively is to hold the lining of the uterus in place, yet it performs a host of other biological functions aside from those involved in reproduction.
Progesterone acts as an anti-anxiety agent, an anti-depressant and a diuretic, allowing us to excrete excess fluid. However, our adrenal glands are also where we make our stress hormones from; namely adrenalin and cortisol. As I discussed in a previous Huffington Post article, adrenalin communicates to every cell in your body that your life is in danger, while cortisol says that food is scarce. As your body links progesterone to fertility, the last thing it wants for a woman is to bring a baby into an environment where it perceives she is not safe and that there is no food. The body, therefore believes that it is doing you a great big favour by shutting down the adrenal production of progesterone.
Park the fertility aspect of what I've just said (that is a post for another day) and consider the additional biological impacts of this: we make too little of a hormone that helps us not feel anxious, not have a depressed mood and allows us to efficiently mobilise fluid. If a woman retains fluid, she usually feels "puffy and swollen" and this discomfort can impact the food choices she makes for the rest of the day, the way she speaks to the people she loves the most in the world and intimacy can fly out the window. That's just the first half of the cycle!
Once ovulation occurs mid-cycle, the majority of a woman's progesterone is made by the corpus luteum, the crater that remains in the surface of the ovary after an egg has been released. On day 21 of the cycle, progesterone is supposed to peak, yet the most common test result I get back from laboratories is "