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  • Writer's pictureMarie Cherrett

From Midlife Stress to Hormonal Havoc: Decoding Cortisol's Impact on Peri and Menopause Symptoms

Updated: May 9

Introduction:

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As women enter the stage of peri-menopause and menopause, a rollercoaster of hormonal changes can bring about many physical and emotional symptoms. One crucial factor that often goes unnoticed is the role of cortisol, the stress hormone. Understanding the impact of cortisol on hormonal balance is essential for empowering women to manage their symptoms effectively and improve their overall well-being. In this blog, we'll explore how cortisol can disrupt progesterone levels, exacerbating peri-menopause and menopause symptoms, and discover how shifting the nervous system towards the parasympathetic state can promote hormonal harmony and support the body's natural healing processes.


The Cortisol and Progesterone Connection:


Cortisol and progesterone are vital hormones with distinct roles in the human body. Both are classified as steroid hormones due to their origin from cholesterol and similar chemical structures, they nevertheless have opposing effects on various physiological processes, creating a competitive relationship.


The prevalence of chronic stress in our fast-paced modern lives has become all too common, resulting in elevated cortisol levels. Unfortunately, this surge in cortisol can impede the production and utilization of progesterone, which is particularly crucial for women's reproductive health.


Progesterone is pivotal in maintaining a balance with oestrogen and supporting a healthy menstrual cycle. As women approach the age of 35, they experience a gradual decline in both oestrogen and progesterone levels. However, between ages 35 and 50, progesterone tends to decrease significantly by up to 75%, while oestrogen decreases by approximately 35%. This hormonal imbalance can contribute to typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, mood changes, and irregular menstrual cycles.


Furthermore, the presence of high cortisol levels exacerbates the situation. Prolonged elevation of cortisol leads the body to perceive ongoing stress as a survival state. As a result, female hormones, particularly progesterone, are relegated to a secondary role while the body prioritizes cortisol production.


In summary, understanding the intricate interplay between cortisol and progesterone is crucial for comprehending their impact on women's health, especially during periods of chronic stress and menopause. Addressing the hormonal balance and managing stress levels can be essential in promoting overall well-being and reproductive health.


Impact on Peri-Menopause and Menopause Symptoms:


Progesterone imbalance can exacerbate peri-menopause and menopause symptoms, leading to irregular menstrual cycles, mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, and sleep disturbances. Additionally, lower progesterone levels can contribute to oestrogen dominance, which might further intensify specific symptoms and increase the risk of health issues like hot flashes, mood swings, and osteoporosis.


Shifting to the Parasympathetic Nervous System:


The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls our body's involuntary functions, and it's divided into two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is responsible for the "fight or flight" response, triggered during stressful situations, while the PNS activates the "rest and digest" response, promoting relaxation and healing.


Women can benefit from practices that shift the body to the parasympathetic state to counter the adverse effects of high cortisol. Here are some effective strategies:

Mindful Breathing: Deep, diaphragmatic breathing activates the PNS, helping to reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation.


Meditation and Yoga: Regular meditation or yoga practices can help calm the mind, reduce stress, and balance hormone levels.


Adequate Sleep: Prioritize quality sleep to allow the body to repair and rejuvenate, keeping cortisol levels in check.


Nutrition: Focus on a nutrient-dense, balanced diet, avoiding skipping meals or excessive caffeine, refined sugars and 'junk food', which can contribute to cortisol spikes.


Movement and Exercise: Engaging in moderate, enjoyable physical activity can help reduce stress and promote hormonal balance.


Conclusion:


Understanding the intricate relationship between cortisol and hormonal balance during peri-menopause and menopause can be a game-changer for women seeking relief from their symptoms. By adopting practices that shift the nervous system towards the parasympathetic mode, women can effectively manage cortisol levels, support progesterone balance, and pave the way for a smoother transition through this transformative phase of life. Empowered with this knowledge, women can embrace holistic approaches to wellness and embark on a journey of hormonal harmony and overall healing.


References for this post can be viewed via this link.


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