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Medical research suggests that the effects of stress on menstruation are twofold. Not only can stress affect the actual blood flow and its onset, in some cases, it can exacerbate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For many sufferers, higher stress levels lead to more severe PMS.
The impact of stress on menstruation is believed to be caused by hormone imbalance. Stress can sometimes result in the overproduction of cortisol, a hormone believed to be responsible for feelings of anxiety and depression. When cortisol levels are elevated, people sometimes feel overwhelming anxiety, and may be more prone to anger. Though other physiological conditions can cause overproduction of cortisol, stress is generally thought to be one of the more common causes.
Stress can frequently cause imbalances in other hormones besides cortisol. Estrogen levels may also be affected by stress. If hormone levels become unbalanced, it can cause menstruation to be irregular, or in severe instances, menstruation could stop completely. In addition, stress may inhibit the production of serotonin, the hormone that is believed to be responsible for feelings of happiness and good mood.
Some experts believe that changes in diet may help some women combat the effects of stress on menstruation. High carbohydrate consumption, especially nearing the time of menstruation, may help keep serotonin levels high. Ideally, this would primarily consist of healthy carbohydrates such as fresh fruit and other complex carbohydrates. Whole grain breads and cereals, along with nuts and high fiber vegetables, are also recommended. Not only are these foods considered healthy, but they tend to keep serotonin levels higher for longer periods of time than do more processed carbohydrates.
Exercise is considered another way to limit the effects of stress on menstruation. Daily exercises consisting of low-impact aerobics are believed to raise serotonin levels. Ideally, the exercise should be performed for a full 20 minutes to obtain maximum hormonal benefits. Swimming, walking, and dancing are all considered good ways to increase serotonin levels.
Some women may require medication to eliminate or reduce the effects of stress on menstruation. Doctors may prescribe low-dose tranquilizers or other anti-anxiety medications. Sometimes this type of drug therapy involves daily dosages, but in many cases they are prescribed on an “as needed” basis, such as when extreme feelings of anxiety are present. Drug therapy for controlling stress is usually a treatment of last resort, because some sedatives can be both physically and psychologically addictive.
Stress makes PMS worse. That's a fact of life. Why do women crave carbs and chocolate? Probably because chocolate aids in the release of endorphins, which helps a woman feel better and happier.
For some women, eliminating sugar, caffeine, etc., all sound like good ideas. I've done it. I've cut the caffeine, the carbs -- all of it. Didn't even make a dent in my PMS. I still had awful cramps, headaches, irritation, you name it. None of the recommended changes made a difference. Some women just have terrible symptoms and the only relief is medication. That's just a fact of life.
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