Stress is a huge topic for women with symptoms of PCOS. That’s because studies have shown that women with PCOS produce higher than normal amounts of stress hormones, and they don’t metabolize them well.
So we make more stress hormones, namely cortisol, and they stick around longer.
In normal circumstances, we would become alarmed at something, our stress hormones, like cortisol, would increase, and then when the threat subsided our cortisol would lower, and our blood levels of stress hormones would lower too.
Not the case with PCOS.
Studies show that women with PCOS tend to have higher than normal cortisol levels. But it’s complicated for many reasons. Here are a few of them:
- High sugar diet: raises insulin (the key that gets sugar into our cells for fuel) which raises cortisol
- Lower progesterone: high cortisol = low progesterone, and progesterone is nature’s Valium. It’s very calming and good for the brain.
- Depression & Anxiety: women with PCOS have higher rates of depression and anxiety. Part of this is due to higher cortisol levels affecting our brain chemicals serotonin and GABA creating lower moods.
- Symptoms of PCOS: symptoms like extra weight, facial hair growth, being told that you’ll never have a child, acne, PMS symptoms and hormone imbalance in general is very stressful.
- Insulin resistance: one of the causes of insulin resistance is high cortisol levels. High insulin can delay ovulation, cause excess male hormones (androgens) to be produced.
- Extra fat storage: insulin resistance caused by high stress hormones causes us to store fat making symptoms of PCOS so much worse.
- Suppresses thyroid function and utilization of other hormones; high stress hormones actually make it harder for your body to make the active form of thyroid hormone, and makes the cells in your body less able to use estrogen, progesterone and thyroid hormones (which you already have less of).
To summarize, stress levels in women with PCOS are higher for so many reasons. But just having an awareness can help you to make some changes that will have a profound affect on your health.
To alleviate stress, the part of our nervous system called “flight or fight”, it’s important to do things that support the other part of our nervous system called “rest and digest.” And that’s where pleasure of every kind becomes very important.