The pandemic has brought many changes over the past months. One shift many people have noticed is a change in their menstrual cycle patterns, such as fluctuations in cycle length, PMS symptoms, pain levels, and blood flow.
The menstrual cycle is regulated by different hormones in the body that are released by the brain and ovaries. The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis involves a cascade of hormone secretions from 2 different brain regions and the ovaries, which altogether influence reproductive function. This axis can be influenced by other hormones, such as cortisol, which is released during stress.
The Impact of Stress on Female Hormones
The pandemic has undoubtedly increased baseline stress levels in many individuals. Upon perception of stress, the body increases the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. During the high stress “fight or flight” mode, systems in the body that are not essential to immediate survival, such digestion and reproduction, are not operating at their best function since they are not an urgent priority.
Elevated cortisol levels negatively feedback on the brain regions involved in ovulation and menstrual cycle control, which leads to downstream effects on estrogen and progesterone production in the ovaries. Alterations in these various hormones impact the nature of the menstrual cycle and symptoms associated with it.
Apart from stress, changes in nutrition and weight may also contribute to hormone fluctuations that affect the menstrual cycle. Many people have experienced dietary changes during the pandemic, and hormone production in the body is directly impacted by key nutrients obtained through food.
Nutrition and stress can also influence changes in weight. Adipose tissue synthesizes estrogen in addition to the ovaries. Therefore, a significant increase or decrease in weight can affect female hormones and menstrual cycle patterns.
Regulating Menstrual Cycles
With stress being a primary factor in hormonal fluctuations, increasing stress management strategies such as meditation and deep breathing is incredibly important. Eating a healthy diet with the necessary nutrients required for hormone production is also highly beneficial.
If your period has changed or become irregular during the pandemic, please schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss natural treatment options for hormone balance and menstrual cycle regulation.