The PCOS Stress Link: PCOS causes stress… and stress causes PCOS?

The Stress Response

The stress response is a primitive survival tool that mobilizes your body’s resources to fight or flee. Your adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol in response to a real or perceived danger. Designed to be a temporary measure to get you safety through a crisis, modern stressors are rarely of the life-and-death variety, however the same chemical changes occur.


During a sudden stressful event your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol, initiating a cascade of effects such as accelerated breathing and heart rate, increased blood pressure and a surge of energy. You might also feel a knot in your stomach and a sudden urge to use the bathroom. That is cortisol causing increased contractions of the intestinal tract.


Cortisol also exerts its influence in ways that aren’t readily apparent. To funnel all available energy toward the emergency at hand, this stress hormone raises your blood sugar levels and inhibits your immune system. Another way your body conserves energy during stressful intervals is to inhibit reproductive function.  To accomplish this, cortisol blocks a key reproductive hormone known as gonadotropin releasing hormone, or GnRh, which stimulates ovulation (3).



Chronic Stress Equals Physical Pain

In some women, the combination of elevated cortisol and suppressed sex hormones creates the ideal conditions for development of PCOS and its associated pelvic pain. Chronic stress, whether from a stressful job, an overloaded work and family schedule or an unhealthy relationship, prevents cortisol levels from returning to normal, resulting in chronically high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and weight gain. Excess adipose, in turn, induces inflammation which causes generalized pain throughout the body. Your digestive system, which relies on periods of calm in order to break down, absorb and assimilate nutrients, can develop symptoms of indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (1). Suppressed immune function leads to painful yeast and bladder infections (1).



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