Stress and Reproductive Challenges

Stress and Inflammation

Chronic inflammation falls below the threshold of perceived pain. You don’t think you feel sick, however a fire is quietly smouldering within you, upsetting the delicate balance among all of the major systems: endocrine, central nervous, digestive and cardiovascular/respiratory. In a healthy body, these systems communicate with each other. With chronic inflammation, that communication is distorted.

Inflammation has gained recognition as an underlying contributor to virtually every chronic disease. Inflammation becomes chronic and manifests as disease pathologies when there is a persistent stimulus. The persistent stimulus is STRESS!

Stress comes in a multitude of forms from the known mental, emotional and physical to the unknown hidden internal stressors that we aren’t consciously aware of – and they are of course, all cumulative! How we manage and process stress is of vital importance and unfortunately the issue with stress is that it is too often dismissed and not dealt with as a valid health concern. It needs to be recognised as a deep underlying factor in health and wellness and given the credence it deserves. Stress as a precursor to inflammation is now known.

Stress, the psyche and the neuro – immuno –endocrine system

What goes on in the psyche affects the brain itself, what goes on in the brain determines how you think and perceive the world. How you perceive the world directly affects your immune system and endocrine system. This is referred to as the psycho – neuro – immuno – endocrine system and as you can see they are all interconnected and impact one another. Dwelling on negative or stressful events can raise the levels of inflammation in the human body.

Stress and Reproduction

Stress is one of nature’s contraceptives and has a dramatic effect on healthy reproduction. To ameliorate reproductive and endocrine consequences of stress involves the identification and amelioration of ALL relevant STRESSORS. Kinesiology and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition are well equipped to do this, addressing things from a physiological and psychological point of view.

Stress supresses the reproductive system as various levels;

  • CRH (stress hormone released by the hypothalamus) prevents the release of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) the “master” hormone that signals the release of a cascade of hormones that direct reproduction and sexual behaviour.
  • Cortisol and other related glucocorticoid hormones not only inhibit the release of GnRH, but also the release of luteinizing (LH) which prompts ovulation in females and spermatogenesis in males.
  • Similarly, cortisol and other related glucocorticoid hormones inhibit the testicles and ovaries directly, hindering the production of the male and female sex hormones (testosterone, progesterone and estrogen).

Behaviours that active the stress response, activate the Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This in turn supresses the hypothalamus – pituitary – thyroid (HPT) axis which can then in turn disrupt the hypothalamus – pituitary – gonadal (HPG) axis in women and men.

Common conditions associated with reproductive challenges

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Emotional stress, oxidative stress and inflammation all play a role in the pathogenesis of PCOS. Stress has been linked to aggravate the metabolic abnormalities present in PCOS.

PCOS, characterised by chronic anovulation and hyperandrogenism, has many features of metabolic syndrome and can be considered a metabolic disease. Insulin resistance presents in the vast majority (60-90%) of obese patients and (25-45%) of lean patients. A dietary trigger such as glucose is capable of inciting oxidative stress and inflammatory response in women with PCOS. Increased abdominal fat is also a factor and this inflamed adipose tissue contributes to the inflammatory load in the disorder. Elevated insulin levels contribute to or cause the abnormalities seen in the hypothalamus – pituitary – ovarian axis that lead to PCOS.

In women, small amounts of testosterone are produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. Even a slight increase in testosterone production can disrupt the balance of hormones and cause symptoms such as amenorrhea, infertility, acne and excess facial hair.

It is estimated that 70% of Australian women with PCOS remain undiagnosed. 74% of women with PCOS have no ovulation even though they have regular cycles.


Amenorrhea or the absence of menses is another reproductive challenge seen in clinic. There are three main types of functional amenorrhea – stress related, weight-loss related, and exercise related amenorrhea. Some other factors are;

  • History of eating disorders
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Some medications
  • Cessation of oral contraceptive pill

It is estimated that 30% of cases of impaired fertility are related to weight loss and being underweight. A fall of 10-15% of weight can lead to a decrease in estrogen, LH, and FSH hormones. This may then lead to amenorrhea, anovulatory cycles and short or absent luteal phases.

Obviously this is not the full picture when it comes to reproductive health. Other factors such as endometriosis, fibroids, thyroid and adrenal health, issues with fallopian tubes and cervical mucous can all be contributing factors.

In summary, stress negatively impacts reproductive health in a multitude of ways. Please contact my clinic as there may just be a solution that’s waiting for you.