Stress is a particularly negative factor for the body. In women, it can cause alterations in processes such as the menstrual cycle. In this post, we will share with you how stress can cause a delay in the menstrual cycle.
The stress is a natural response of the body to factors that make you lose your balance. In the case of women, this agent can trigger reactions in the body such as delaying the menstrual cycle. Next, we explain why.
What is stress?
The term “stress” comes from a Latin word that means “tension“. The study of this phenomenon motivated a French physiologist, named Claude Bernard, to carry out studies related to changes in the person in the face of external factors.
Both Bernard and other scientists understood that when a person is faced with aggressive stimuli, an adaptation mechanism is activated. At present, it is known that these changes involve the activation of a set of behavioral and physiological reactions. In other words, they activate the response of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Precisely, these same mechanisms are directly related to the female cycle. But, what does each of these systems do and how do they intervene in the delay of the menstrual cycle?
The sympathetic nervous system functions as a mediator in the hormonal stress response. This process is carried out through interconnected neurons, both in the peripheral nervous system and in the central nervous system.
The effects of stress on this system are excessive sweating in different parts of the body, the increased frequency of the beating heart, dilated pupils and bronchi. But more importantly, stress stimulates the adrenal glands.
On the other hand, the adrenal glands, in addition to producing cortisol and aldosterone, can produce excessive or insufficient amounts of hormones in case of suffering a disorder. Women need to be aware of the fact that they suffer from a dangerous level of stress, that is, one that interferes with the possibility of living normally for a long time.
This is very important, because the chances of suffering from hormone production disorders are high. In fact, leading a calm life is a key factor in a regular menstrual cycle.
Corticotropic axis, hormones and stress
Also known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis, it is the set of complex interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal or adrenal gland.
This axis is part of the neuroendocrine system that regulates stress and different processes. Among them, the control of reproductive function. Within this complex communication network, relevant hormones are produced in the female cycle, such as estrogens, progesterone and prolactin.
Stress is capable of altering the function of the hypothalamus and, specifically, of the area of the brain that controls female sex hormones. Due to this, ovulation and even menstruation can be stopped in these times of stress for women.
Generally, when these hectic periods pass, the body regulates itself again and the menstrual cycle also returns to its normality, acquiring its constancy and regularity again.
Hormones that cause a delay in the menstrual cycle
High prolactin levels are a common cause of menstrual irregularity and infertility. Prolactin is a hormone that is produced in the pituitary. Generally, it is related to the production of milk during pregnancy.
However, the production of this substance can be elevated and cause hyperprolactinemia. In turn, this condition inhibits the release of hormones produced in the hypothalamus responsible for synthesizing estrogens.
As a result, the absence of female sex hormones reduces the amount of estrogens, produces menstrual disturbances and lack of ovulation. The causes of high prolactin levels are varied, among which we can mention: benign tumor in the pituitary, autoimmune pituitary, hypothalamic diseases, liver or kidney lesions, among others.
However, it should also be borne in mind that one of the causes for rising prolactin levels is physical or psychological stress. For this reason, it is important to learn to manage stress to avoid delaying the menstrual cycle.
Progesterone is a female sex hormone that is made in the ovaries. One of its functions is to adjust the menstrual cycle, as well as to regulate the reproductive function of the woman along with estrogens. If there is any imbalance in the production of these hormones, the menstrual cycle will also be affected.
In situations of prolonged stress, it is very likely that progesterone production will decrease. As a result, there will be periods of oligomenorrhea, that is, infrequent or few menstrual cycles.
Estrogens are female sex hormones that are made in the ovaries and adrenal glands. One of its specific actions is to interact with hypothalamic and pituitary secretions to regulate the menstrual cycle.
All its functions are coordinated and exercised by the central nervous system(CNS). However, when a person is subjected to high levels of stress, the nervous system has the priority to neutralize these effects through the production of hormones such as cortisol.
As a result, high levels of stress reduce the release of estrogens, causing a delay in a woman’s menstrual cycle to protect her from the effects of stress.
What can you do to combat stress?
The American Psychological Association(APA, acronym in English) makes some recommendations in this regard, among which we can mention:
1. Identify the cause
There are different sources of stress. Generally, they have to do with family life, relationships, work or the busyness of daily life. Sometimes it is difficult to break free from such situations; however, activities such as exercise, yoga, and some relaxation techniques can be very helpful.
If the problems are very complex, do not hesitate to request psychological help, as the specialist will help you develop strategies that allow you to live more calmly.
2. Analyze the agenda
Sometimes we believe that we can meet a large number of different kinds of commitments. However, a fast pace of life favors the development of stress. Therefore, it is better to ponder the priorities and discard those activities that are not essential.
3. Take a breath
Ten minutes of quiet can help you disconnect from the problems and demands of daily life. Walking, dancing, listening to music, meditating and turning off the phone are simple actions that will help you return to a state of relaxation, which will take you away from stress.
As mentioned before, stress is a natural response of the body to certain situations in life. However, it is important to learn how to handle it effectively. Doing so will allow us to improve our health in every way.
If you have problems regarding the regularity of your menstrual cycle, it is advisable that you visit a specialist or endocrinologist. In this way, the true cause of the delayed menstrual cycle can be identified and other risks related to oligomenorrhea and amenorrhea can be ruled out.