Trauma’s Effect on Our Hormones

As women, our hormones are sensitive to the most subtle changes. This can be from food, environments and much more. When we experience emotional shock, such as a trauma, then it can directly make stressful changes in our hormonal system. Many of my clients have reported a longer cycle or other changes in their cycle due to the stress of working towards work deadlines. That one stressful week can cause physical changes in their cycle. Working with clients, I've seen shifts in hormonal imbalances once they start healing deeper childhood traumas. Healing from stress and trauma can have you flow better in life and with your menstrual cycle.  Research is currently finding that if we experience a traumatic situation during our luteal phases (the two weeks before you bleed) verses our follicular phase (two weeks after you bleed) can have a very different affect in our psychobiological response.

The levels of our hormones are cyclical throughout our monthly menstrual cycle. When estrogen levels are raised, they can have the ability to protect a woman from a mood disorder, while a lower level of estrogen can make a woman more susceptible to trauma. Research is suggesting that women are most at risk for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when their estrogen is low  during the menstrual cycle.

Men may be less susceptible to mood disorders since testosterone is regularly converted into estrogen in the male brain, resulting in a more steady flow of estrogen. Overall, research is showing women show less fear to neutral stimulus when their estrogen levels are high rather than low. This might be a reason women’s PTSD symptoms last on average four times as long in women as in men after trauma.

Recent research has shown a solid correlation between endometriosis and childhood trauma. This study in the Journal of Human Reproduction, funded by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development among other organizations, is the largest of its kind. Researchers found that among the 60,595 premenopausal women with endometriosis, 31 percent reported they had experienced some form of physical abuse as children. Another 12 percent reported being sexually violated, while 21 percent disclosed both types of abuse. These numbers are far too high and bring awareness to the link of needing psychological support with endometriosis. My psychotherapeutic work is highlighted in my work, but I know hormones are rarely discussed in therapeutic sessions. It’s time for change!

Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus instead grows outside, sometimes causing pelvic pain and in some cases, infertility. Researchers already knew the association between chronic pelvic pain and abuse, but this research finding gives more insight into women’s hormonal health care; however, there needs to be more research to understand the biological connection between trauma and physiological symptoms. What does happen is there is a stress response to the trauma that activates these systems and causes women to be more sensitive to pain. in this study, researchers found that women that have had chronic or severe abuse can have a 79 percent increase risk of being diagnosed with endometriosis compared to women who hadn’t been abused. This does not mean that women who were abused have a 79 percent chance of developing endometriosis or that all women with endometriosis experienced abuse.

These new research findings are so vital for women’s health-care. People are afraid to look into the influences of sex hormones because it’s such a complex system. Females add more variance so scientists tended to avoid studying them. Studies of human brain (and endocrinology research) tend to combine men and women, assuming that neurological gender differences were minimal. But this attitude is changing. Freud was beginning to find concrete evidence that women were not ‘hysteria’ but the complex variables made him step away from understanding the women’s psyche. It was decades later when, my professor, Carol Gilligan, questioned the psychologist used male model of human development. She started researching women’s voice and development incorporating psychoanalysis. She changed the language of psychology and feminism.  

Too many women live with unexplained hormonal, emotional and physical symptoms. We are left feeling silenced and shamed, leading us to not trust our body and core knowingness. Most of the time, the answer we receive is “it’s all in our head.” This is because physicians are not trained to see the psychological, food and lifestyle connections. Our health care system compartmentalizes each body part while hormonal health is dependent on the health of our gut, liver, thyroid and more. And, research has only begun to research women’s hormones and psychology.

It is now time to start listening to the innate cyclical nature of our body and take responsible by educating ourselves on our body and hormonal system.  I think the feminist movement of truth to power has to include taking responsibility for our own health and educating ourselves rather than depending on the system.