Written by my Spring 2017 apprentice, Caroline Ashurst, this post discusses the natural tools for stress relief and hormonal regulation so you can get pregnant!
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “Stress can prevent you from getting pregnant.”
It can be frustrating to hear that, right? You’re probably feeling a little (or a lot) stressed already trying to get pregnant and this platitude is only creating even more…stress. Or maybe you don’t feel you are “stressed”. We’ll talk more about that in a few minutes.
As an acupuncturist, I’ve traditionally seen this challenge through a Chinese Medicine veil: Generally speaking, stress tends to have an effect on the Kidneys and the Liver (from a Chinese medicine perspective, the organs have different physiology than in the Western context, so please don’t think you’ll need an organ transplant if you’re super stressed!)
Put simply, the Kidneys act as our battery and the Liver helps the Qi (or life force energy) move through the body and not get stuck. When we’re stressed, our emotions become stagnant and tend to get lodged somewhere in the body. Stress also burns all of our energy resources out (emotions can be so exhausting!). All of this leaves us depleted on many levels.
Stress also can create an environment in the body we acupuncturists call “Yin Deficiency”. You have probably heard about the concept of yin and yang, and to simplify, Yin Deficiency (in this case) means that by and large, we are “overactive” in our lives in some way.
Our minds, our bodies, and/or our emotions have too much stirring of energy and there isn’t enough quiet, peaceful, reflective, meditative space in our lives to balance that “yang” activity of overwork, not enough time, and pressure. Even if you don’t feel you are “stressed” per se, stress can also just be the feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough hours in the day, or that a lot of your life consists of a pressurized to do list that keeps you on your toes with not enough downtime to get your brain to slow down naturally.
From a Western physiological standpoint, stress affects the endocrine system’s functioning.
Sitting on top of the Kidneys are the adrenal glands, which are the big endocrine stress responders. They produce adrenaline and cortisol to help our body deal with stress in the way it did prehistorically- to help us escape imminent danger (also known as the “Fight or Flight” response). The thing is- even everyday stressors in modern life trigger this response. Unfortunately, the stress response of cortisol and adrenaline isn’t beneficial to fertility.
Logically, one of the main reasons why stress biologically prevents pregnancy is so that we are protected: it isn’t safe to get pregnant while living in imminent danger!
How does it do that? Cortisol. Cortisol is made up of the same precursor as progesterone: pregnenolone. High cortisol levels from stress steal the pregnenolone so there isn’t enough to be made into progesterone. Since our body thinks it’s in a life or death situation (unfortunately, any stress response is seen as that according to our body), it prioritizes cortisol production over all other hormones. Another sneaky thing cortisol does is block progesterone receptors on the ovaries, making them less responsive.
One of the most important hormones in fertility is progesterone. Progesterone builds up the walls of the uterus to support a growing fetus once conception occurs. Implantation won’t occur unless it is nice and cozy in there.
In addition to the cortisol-progesterone conundrum, there is a special feedback loop system in the endocrine system called the “HPA Axis” or the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Put simply, this system regulates hormone production and is essential for the proper release of reproductive hormones including luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, estrogen, and androgens. Stress can cause insufficient release of these hormones from the pituitary gland, which would cause the ovaries to operate inadequately.
But all is not lost!!! Take a big deeeeeep breath. Ahhhh. Ok.
I work a lot with women struggling with fertility in my acupuncture practice, and I KNOW how much this kind of information can make a woman feel. Especially when she’s already stressed (if that does indeed happen to be you). How does someone feel any better knowing that their stress is making things worse? How do you even move forward from there? I know, it’s like adding fuel to a fire.
Here is how to start feeling better…
First, give yourself some empathy. If you really resonate with this article, there are many valid reasons why you may have gotten into this stress mess in the first place. Loving ourselves through our judgment is one of the most powerful tools to help move qi, lighten our emotional load, and create space in our bodies…and start to cultivate the kind of energy that gives our adrenals a break. De-stressing is a work in progress and sometimes it takes time to unravel the patterns that got us where we are.
The tools below are fantastic natural solutions for stress relief and hormonal regulation and I believe they can help regulate adrenal dysfunction:
If you don’t have a meditation practice, it’s never too late to start. The learning curve can seem steep to many people, so I always recommend starting with one 10-minute guided meditation a day. I love the Insight Timer app. Meditation is magic at bringing more Yin energy into the body-mind-spirit.
Acupuncture really shifts the energy in the body and if there is one thing it does best, it’s help get people completely out of their head and relaxed. We in the biz call that afterglow our clients feel “Acu High” for a reason. It has helped me personally with my own hormonal challenges in my 20s (read: emotional rollercoaster), and I know it will definitely support your stress levels and finding calm in your life along with helping to harmonize your adrenal functioning.
Fish Oil Supplementation:
A high quality fish oil supplement high in DHA and EPA (I recommend Nordic Naturals PrOmega, but please consult with a physician before self-administering) has been shown to decrease cortisol levels in the body and counterbalances inflammation (which is at the root of many diseases) in the body by balancing Omega 3s and 6s.
And last but not least:
If you feel fierce and really want to make a big impact, consider drastically reducing your alcohol and sugar consumption or even ceasing use altogether. I know, crazy suggestion…but I’ll finish with the last bit of science that could convince you: alcohol and sugar intake spikes insulin, which in turn increases cortisol levels (and we know what cortisol does when it’s high!).
Whatever you choose, know that you are already on the right track if you’re reading this. Believe in your body’s innate ability to heal itself and know that it IS capable, no matter how overwhelming the situation seems. If you are patient and kind to your body you will be amazed at the magic it can make.
Caroline Grace Ashurst, M.Ac., Dipl.Ac., founder of Restorative Harmony Acupuncture, is an Acupuncturist + Holistic Fertility Maven. She is dedicated to your health, helping to facilitate support, empowerment, and transformation. Her personalized attention, presence, and deep compassion make her treatments unique.
Caroline is passionate about women’s health + fertility, and in addition to her private acupuncture practice in Philadelphia, she offers placenta encapsulation services for local mamas-to-be and is expanding her work to include holistic coaching for women’s hormonal health. You can find more information on her website.