Caffeine, Stress and PCOS

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If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), then I’m sure you’re already aware of the importance of dietary changes to stabilize blood sugar for hormone balance. But what are you doing to reduce cortisol levels?

Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It helps regulate metabolism, acts as an anti inflammatory, increases heart rate, respiration, and muscle tension, and influences blood pressure. It is an important and necessary hormone but can be overproduced during times of chronic stress. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can cause anxiety and depression, weight gain, and irregular menstrual cycles.

During times of elevated sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight mode due to elevated stress levels), your body actually temporarily turns of the digestive system and reproductive system, especially problematic when trying to conceive. Cortisol also raises blood sugar levels, further perpetuating the insulin resistance and androgen excess cycle common in PCOS. High cortisol levels have also been shown to have a negative effect on IVF.

So what does caffeine have to do with it? Studies show that caffeine raises cortisol levels when at rest at the same amount as an episode of acute stress. Also, caffeine consumption during pregnancy increases risk of miscarriage. Women with PCOS already have dysregulated levels of cortisol due to the already present hormonal imbalance, so it’s important to address the other factors that may contribute to elevated cortisol.

So how do you limit the negative effects of cortisol on your PCOS symptoms? Decreasing or eliminating caffeine consumption is a great first step. I typically say one small cup of coffee (without dairy and sugar of course!) a few times per week is tolerable by most people. Regulating stress levels is also incredibly important. Meditating or other mindfulness practices are a wonderful way to get your body out of the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system into the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture is another way to help reduce cortisol levels (with the added benefits of reduced inflammation, improved hormone balance, and improved rates of ovulation!).

Need help developing a plan to reduce your cortisol levels or manage symptoms of PCOS? Give Acubalance a call to set up a free 15 minute phone consultation.

In health,

Allison Locke, R.Ac, R.TCM.P

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