According to an article published on the American Psychological Association (APA) website, stress plays a crucial role in 4 areas specific to women’s health: Menstruation, Pregnancy, PMS, and Menopause. We can throw in one more that affects both men and women, and that is Sexual Desire. Below we take a closer look at why stress has this impact. Stress’s effect on the endocrine system is associated with most hormonal issues.[i]
Chronic stress can cause the body to produce too much cortisol, which makes the body less sensitive to luteinizing hormone and will lead to lower testosterone and impact estrogen and progesterone levels.[ii] [iii]
High-stress levels may be associated with absent or irregular menstrual cycles, more painful periods, and changes in the length of cycles. [iv]
Stress can negatively impact a woman’s ability to conceive, the health of her pregnancy, and her postpartum adjustment.[v] Various components of the HPA axis inhibit the reproductive system at all levels. For example, the corticotropin-releasing hormone directly and indirectly suppresses the gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons directly and indirectly, impacting reproduction. In addition, specific pro-inflammatory circulating cytokines (e.g., IL-6) can also suppress reproductive function at multiple levels, providing a link between inflammatory stress and reproductive dysfunction.[vi]
According to the APA website, “Stress may make premenstrual symptoms worse or more difficult to cope with, and PMS symptoms may be stressful for many women. These symptoms include cramping, fluid retention, bloating negative mood (feeling irritable and “blue”), and mood swings.”
As hormone levels fluctuate, there are more incidences of anxiety, mood swings, and feelings of distress. In addition, some physical changes associated with menopause, especially hot flashes, can be difficult to cope with and impair sleep, leading to more stress.[vii] This ends up being a cycle challenging to manage. Women who are more anxious may experience more hot flashes and/or more severe or intense hot flashes.
Low physical and emotional satisfaction and low general happiness are linked to three sexual dysfunction categories: low desire, arousal disorder, and sexual pain.[viii]
Arousal issues are higher among women with emotional problems or stress. High levels of chronic stress were related to lower levels of genital sexual arousal. Psychological (distraction) and hormonal (increases in the stress hormone cortisol) factors were related to the lower levels of sexual arousal in women high in chronic stress. Stress can disrupt the production of gonadotropin (one of the sex hormones produced by the testes or ovaries), which decreases the production of testosterone and estradiol, which are essential for female arousal. Chronic stress is also linked to increases in specific nervous system activity, inhibiting blood flow to the genitals and decreasing arousal.[ix]
Simply put, all the other factors can explain why a man or woman may have challenges achieving orgasm.
Adaptogens (Ashwagandha, Bacopa, Holy Basil, etc.)
We usually mention adaptogenic herbs when we look at nutraceuticals that support the adrenals. Adaptogens help the body achieve or maintain an ideal balance when exposed to physical and/or mental stressors. We can see by the outcome of the research with three key adaptogens, Ashwagandha (Sensoril®), Bacopa, and Holy Basil, the impact on reducing most of the long-term effects of stress, i.e., decreasing cortisol levels, lowering blood sugar, improved sex hormones, reduced blood pressure, etc.
Affron® is a patented and clinically substantiated ingredient of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) with proven benefits for stress: Alleviating occasional stress, frustration, and tension in adults[I], helping children (12-16 years of age) maintain a positive mood and alleviate occasional stress, frustration, and tension[ii], Improve psychological symptoms (low mood and occasional stress) in perimenopausal women (32-33% reduction)[iii]
CALMalumaTM has five human clinical studies; two show it reduces stress, frustration, and anxiety. It also increases relaxation and supports the balancing of cortisol (the stress hormone). It has the unique benefit of helping balance neurotransmitters while also impacting the HPA-axis (the critical pathway involved in the body’s stress response).[i] [ii]
CPO Lavender Oil uses a unique technology to convert lavender oil into a compressible powdered lavender. Studies show that oral lavender oil is excellent for stress.[iii] [iv] The CPO technology allows oil to be formulated as a powder to make it easier to use in tableting or even as a powder, gummy, etc.
[i] Kell G, Rao A, Beccaria G, Clayton P, Inarejos-García AM, Prodanov M. affron® a novel saffron extract (Crocus sativus L.) improves mood in healthy adults over four weeks in a double-blind, parallel, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017 Aug;33:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2017.06.001. Epub 2017 Jun 13. PMID: 28735826.
[ii] Lopresti AL, Drummond PD, Inarejos-García AM, Prodanov M. affron®, a standardized extract from saffron (Crocus sativus L.) for the treatment of youth anxiety and depressive symptoms: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Affect Disord. 2018 May;232:349-357. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.02.070. Epub 2018 Feb 26. PMID: 29510352.
[iii] Lopresti AL, Smith SJ. The Effects of a Saffron Extract (affron®) on Menopausal Symptoms in Women during Perimenopause: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. J Menopausal Med. 2021;27:e8. https://doi.org/10.6118/jmm.21002
[i] G. Kell, A. Rao, M. Katsikitis,, A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial on the efficacy of Caralluma Fimbriata supplement for reducing anxiety and stress in healthy adults over eight weeks, Journal of Affective Disorders,
Volume 246, 2019, Pages 619-626, ISSN 0165-0327, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.12.062.
[ii] Rajendran R., et al., 2014. Nootropic activity of Caralluma fimbriata extract in mice. Food and Nutrition sciences, 2014, 5, 147-152.
[iii] Möller HJ, Volz HP, Dienel A, Schläfke S, Kasper S. Efficacy of Silexan in subthreshold anxiety: meta-analysis of randomised, placebo-controlled trials. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2017 November 17. doi: 10.1007/s00406-017-0852-4.
[iv] Yap WS, Dolzhenko AV, Jalal Z, Hadi MA, Khan TM. Efficacy and safety of lavender essential oil (Silexan) capsules among patients suffering from anxiety disorders: A network meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):18042
[i] Tsigos C, Kyrou I, Kassi E, et al. Stress: Endocrine Physiology and Pathophysiology. [Updated 2020 October 17]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278995/
[ii] Afrisham R, Sadegh-Negadi S, SoliemanFar O, et.al., Salivary Testosterone Levels Under Psychological Stress and Its Relationship with Rumination and Five Personality Traits in Medical Students, Psychiatry Investig. 2016;13(6):637-643. Published online November 24, 2016 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2016.13.6.637
[iii] Ranabir S, Reetu K. Stress and hormones. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011;15(1):18-22. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.77573
[iv] Nagma S, Kapoor G, Bharti R, Batra A, Batra A, Aggarwal A, Sablok A. To evaluate the effect of perceived stress on menstrual function. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Mar;9(3):QC01-3. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2015/6906.5611. Epub 2015 March 1. PMID: 25954667; PMCID: PMC4413117.
[vi] Tsigos C, Papanicolaou DA, Kyrou I, Raptis SA, Chrousos GP. Dose-dependent effects of recombinant human interleukin-6 on the pituitary-testicular axis. J Interferon Cytokine Res. 1999;19:1271–1276
[viii] Boston University School of Medicine Sexual Medicine website https://www.bumc.bu.edu/sexualmedicine/physicianinformation/epidemiology-of-fsd/ Epidemiology of FSD, Accessed March 21, 2022
[ix] Hamilton LD, Meston CM. Chronic stress and sexual function in women. J Sex Med. 2013;10(10):2443-2454. doi:10.1111/jsm.12249