Track Your Cycle the Natural Way FREE GUIDE

Episode 17

How Stress Messes with 
your Hormones
Menstrual Cycle 

hosted by clinical herbalist & integrative health educator Kay'aleya Hunnybee

How Stress Messes with 
your Hormones & Menstrual Cycle

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Let's start with the stress response. How does it work?



The basics are that you experience a stressor (which can be physical or psychological) and your brain gets that signal.


Your hypothalamus responds immediately, sends a signal through the autonomic nervous system to the adrenal glands where adrenaline is released. This is the acute stress response, fight or flight. 


If the stressors continue over a longer period of time, the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis will continue cycling and instead of adrenaline, cortisol will be secreted. This is the prolonged stress response.


While there are some benefits to cortisol in the short term, over the long term they can have pronounced effects on many hormones and systems in the body. 


This chronic stress situation can lead to issues with digestion, sleep, thyroid function, blood sugar regulation and reproductive or generative function. Our bodies have not evolved to manage endless chronic stress.  


Essentially, this chronic stress keeps us in survival mode. 


Our menstrual cycles can be a key indicator of our stress response. 


Whether you're experiencing irregular cycles, no cycles at all, PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, sore breasts, vaginal dryness, fertility challenges or more, there is a possibility that stress is involved.


Chronic stresses throughout the lifecycle, including in the womb and in childhood, as well as lifelong stresses such as discrimination and general underlying chronic stress have all been shown to increase the risk of all of these conditions and more. 


It's not just diabetes and heart disease as we often hear about. It's also our menstrual cycles and hormones.


So what can we do, then, to modulate our stress response?


Some ideas include:

  • stabilize blood sugar with protein at breakfast and protein rich snacks throughout the day
  • eat nutrient dense foods (and enough of them)
  • eat grounding foods
  • make sure to get healthy fats
  • eat soothing nutritious carbs
  •  breathing exercises (eg deep belly breathing or alternate nostril breathing)
  • movement (30 minutes walking, yoga, some occasional strength training, or dance the stress out!)

  •  time in nature

  • body oiling

  •  baths, books, breaks, what lights you up, what relaxes you
  • take things off your plate, practice the art of saying NO (if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no)
  • prioritize good sleep (7-9 hours per night)
  • adaptogens (especially if in acutely stressful or traumatic time)
  • nervines (milky oats is an amazing choice to restore a frazzled nervous system)


Nerdy References:


Bae, J., Park, S., Kwon, J.W. (2018). Factors associated with menstrual cycle irregularity and menopause. BMC Womens Health, 18(1):36. doi: 10.1186/s12905-018-0528-x. 

Briden, L. (2018). Period repair manual: Natural treatment for better hormones and better periods. Greenpeak Publishing.

Huhmann, K. (2020). Menses requires energy: A review of how disordered eating, excessive exercise, and high stress lead to menstrual irregularities. Clinical Therapeutics, 42(3), 401-407. DOI: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2020.01.016

Jacobs, M.B., Boynton-Jarrett, R.D., Harville, E.W. (2015). Adverse childhood event experiences, fertility difficulties and menstrual cycle characteristics. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol, 36(2), 46-57. doi: 10.3109/0167482X.2015.1026892

Jha, N., Bhadoria, A.S., Bahurupi, Y., Gawande, K., Jain, B., Chaturvedi, J., & Kishore, S. (2020). Psychosocial and stress-related risk factors for abnormal menstrual cycle pattern among adolescent girls: A case-control study. Journal of education and health promotion, 9, 313.

O'Brien, K.M., Meyer, J., Tronick, E., & Moore, C.L. (2017). Hair cortisol and lifetime discrimination: Moderation by subjective social status. Health psychology open, 4(1), 2055102917695176.

Pape, J., Herbison, A.E., Leeners, B. (2021). Recovery of menses after functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea: If, when and why. Hum Reprod Update, 27(1), 130-153. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmaa032. PMID: 33067637.

Romm, A. (2018). Botanical medicine for women’s health (2nd ed). Elsevier: St Louis, MO.

Romm, A. (2021). Hormone intelligence: The complete guide to calming hormone chaos and restoring your body’s natural blueprint for well-being. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, NY.

Valsamakis, G., Chrousos, G., Mastorakos, G. (2019). Stress, female reproduction and pregnancy. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 100, 48-57. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2018.09.031.




DISCLAIMER: This podcast is for educational purposes only, I am not providing any medical advice, I am not a medical practitioner, I’m an herbalist and in the US, there is no path to licensure for herbalists, so my role is as an herbal educator. Please do your own research and consult your healthcare provider for any personal health concerns.


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