Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), PMS, and the Stress Connection


By John R. Lee, M.D. and Virginia Hopkins

HIGH CORTISOL MAKES PMS WORSE

You know from the chapter on hormone balance that stress increases your levels of cortisol, a hormone released primarily by the adrenal glands in response to feelings of fear, danger or even a sense of competition. In excess, cortisol can stimulate feelings of irritability, anger and rage. Cortisol is also released when you push yourself to work through tiredness day after day. Think of cortisol as a backup energy system. Like the batteries that back up your electronics when the electrical power goes out, you can't just keep using them to give you full power, or they'll wear out and you'll also lose that source of energy. In the same way, you can't depend on your cortisol and your adrenal glands to keep taking you beyond your physical limits or eventually you will create depleted organs and chronic fatigue.

Since cortisol and progesterone compete for common receptors in the cells, cortisol impairs progesterone activity, setting the stage for estrogen dominance. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can be a direct cause of estrogen dominance, with all the familiar PMS symptoms.

High cortisol levels also affect blood sugar. Cortisol sends glucose (blood sugar) flooding into the cells. The initial rush of glucose into the cells may feel great, but twenty or so minutes later your body will be working overtime to produce more glucose and you'll be searching the cupboards or your desk drawers for candy bars, cookies and potato chips to get your blood sugar and your energy back up. The majority of those empty calories will be converted to fat and if you keep up the pattern long term, you'll be struggling to keep your weight down and your energy up.

Fluctuating blood sugar creates another type of negative feedback cycle, where high levels of sugar in the blood stimulate the release of adrenaline, which in turn stimulates the release of cortisol, which in turn causes a craving for quick calories, and so forth.

This article was excerpted from Dr. Lee's book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause.