Stress is a very common occurrence in our hectic lifestyles, and is a typical symptom of perimenopause. Its effect on our health can be detrimental, and often underestimated. Learning how to manage stress in your life can have a changed effect on your hormone balance, and so have a positive effect on perimenopausal and menopausal women.
Cortisol, oestrogen and stress
When our stress levels rise, so do our levels of cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys and are regulated by the hypothalamus: a portion of the brain that controls the nervous system, and activity of the pituitary. During perimenopause, oestrogen and progesterone are often out of balance, which causes many of the stress symptoms women experience. Meanwhile, the hypothalamus and adrenal and pituitary glands are also releasing hormones which may become out of balance, too. This imbalance of hormone levels may only exacerbate feelings of stress.
In turn, stress during perimenopause often becomes self-perpetuating, especially when hormone imbalance is concerned, too. This causes a never ending cycle of physical, emotional and psychological stress, which in turn feeds the hormonal imbalance within our bodies, making day to day stressors seem worse than they are.
How vitamin E can help
Vitamin E has been suggested as a supplement which may help ease stress during both perimenopause and menopause. Stress can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity and depression, and studies have found that a higher intake of vitamin E may reduce the risk of some of these diseases. Vitamin E is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
There is little scientific research specifically around vitamin E and stress for perimenopausal women, however, there is research around vitamin E and stress. It is thought that vitamin E reduces the feeling of stress through its antioxidant properties. A study using mice found that when they were subjected to stress, their levels of oxidative stress (a disturbance in the balance of the production of free radicals and antioxidant defences) increased along with antioxidant depletion.
Another study looked at whether vitamin E had a role to play in depression, a common side effect of stress. The study found that those subjects with low serum vitamin E concentrations were much more likely to suffer with depression than those with higher concentrations.
A study by Kashif et al. found that vitamin E had the most positive effect on reducing the levels of certain stress markers in rats. The study found that levels of glutathione (GSH), which is an antioxidant, were reduced when a supplement of vitamin E was used. The study looked at the effects of vitamins A, C and E in isolation, and also the effect of combining vitamin C and E to identify which was most effective. It was found that vitamin E in isolation was most effective at reducing oxidative stress.
Whilst all of the research has currently only been carried out on animals, it is encouraging to see positive results from using vitamin E to help reduce the effect of stress.
Increasing your vitamin E intake
Perimenopausal women can increase their intakes of vitamin E through supplementation and also through dietary sources. A quality vitamin product will have more readily absorbable vitamin E. Natural sources of vitamin E include:
- Nuts - specifically almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts
- Sunflower seeds
Vitamin E is only found in natural, whole foods which will offer additional health benefits to the body, especially during particularly stressful times. By maintaining a healthy, balanced diet rich in natural rather than processed foods, the body is put under less additional stress. It’s important to remember that food can place stress on the body and in times of emotional and psychological pressure, many of us turn to food for comfort which may increase the feeling of being stressed.
For more advice and information about the menopause, please visit our Menopause Advice Centre.
From Hannah Bailey
Hannah Bailey set up Wise Choice Nutrition was set up in 2010 and is South Yorkshire’s only real food nutritionist. Hannah studied Public Health Nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University before setting up the business.