Millions of women each year seek relief for hormonal issues, including hot flashes, night sweats, hormonal migraines, PMS, ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, weight gain, foggy thinking, and heavy bleeding. These symptoms are lumped together into the hormonal imbalance pigeonhole. In the case of menopause, HRT or Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy is the conventional cure. For menstruating women, oral contraceptives are most often prescribed.
When resolving hormonal problems, women are led to believe all that is required is tweaking their hormonal levels or, in the case of oral contraceptives, a complete shutting down of ovarian function. However, hormonal imbalances, rather than merely aberrations of a wayward reproductive system, are, in fact, symptoms of deeper root cause issues. For long term hormonal balance and optimal health, understanding and addressing these deep problems is a critical piece of the hormone puzzle!
The Adrenals and Hormones
The adrenals are involved in manufacturing numerous hormones; blood sugar regulation; the regulation of the body's minerals; modulating the immune system; producing and maintaining the body's energy levels in conjunction with the thyroid; and producing stress-monitoring hormones. The adrenals, considered to be the body's shock absorbers, are the core of the endocrine stress response system. Two of the most important hormones produced by the adrenals, adrenaline and cortisol, are responsible for the fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline deals primarily with short-term stress while cortisol is produced as a result of both acute and long-term stress.
Prolonged stress, whether as a result of emotional, environmental or physical causes, is disastrous for the adrenals. Initially, it results in chronically elevated cortisol levels, resulting in weight gain (especially around the midsection), blood sugar imbalances, thinning skin, muscle wasting, memory loss, high blood pressure, dizziness, hot flashes, night sweats, excessive facial hair, and other masculinizing tendencies.
Overworked adrenals eventually crash, leading to adrenal exhaustion, where the body is unable to maintain adequate adrenal hormone production. Symptoms of overtaxed adrenals include extreme fatigue (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), irritability, inability to concentrate, frustration, insomnia, addictions to either sweet or salty foods, allergies, nervousness, depression, anxiety, PMS, sensitivity to cold, diabetes and headaches. Chronic low blood pressure can be a key symptom of seriously exhausted adrenal glands.
Since the adrenals produce about 35 percent of premenopausal female hormones and almost 50 percent of postmenopausal hormones, compromised adrenal function directly impacts hormonal balance.
Progesterone is the primary raw material for producing cortisol. When the glands are in overdrive, the body will divert progesterone to the adrenals to support cortisol production. With reduced progesterone, the body may experience estrogen dominance, i.e., PMS, hot flashes, night sweats, migraines, fibroids, heavy bleeding, breast tenderness, weight gain, etc. Excessive cortisol also blocks progesterone receptors, further contributing to low progesterone. These two imbalances are the primary reasons why adrenal exhaustion leads to estrogen dominance.
Restoring adrenal function is a pre-requisite for restoring and maintaining hormonal balance. Nutrients that have special importance to the adrenals are the B vitamins (especially B5), vitamin C, proteins, magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium, plant enzymes, adaptagenic herbs, adrenal extracts and the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine. Rest is essential to rejuvenate the adrenals. Individuals who suspect adrenal exhaustion can determine whether the body is producing healthy levels of adrenal hormones through proper testing. Cortisol levels can be measured with a saliva test that collects at least four samples over 24 hours.
The Thyroid and Hormones
Overtaxed adrenals can lead to hypothyroidism, which has a direct effect on women's hormonal health. By age 50, one in every twelve women has a significant degree of hypothyroidism. By age 60, it is one woman out of every six.
The thyroid, which regulates metabolism, may tune down its hormonal activity in an attempt to reverse adrenal overdrive. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, heavy bleeding, fibrocystic breast disease, depression, PMS, migraines, lack of concentration, cold hands and feet, menopausal symptoms, miscarriage and infertility.
Birth control pills and estrogen increase thyroid-binding proteins in the bloodstream. This means that thyroid blood test results may be unreliable. Even though they may show normal thyroid hormone levels in the blood, there may be insufficient thyroid hormone in the tissues.
Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis activation due to stress causes decreased production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), and blocks inactive thyroxin conversion to the biologically active triiodothyronine (T3), which has the greatest effect on the body.
Effective natural approaches help in regulating the thyroid. Natural progesterone balances the thyroid-inhibiting effect of estrogen dominance, as does supplementation with thyroid glandular extracts, enzyme therapy, minerals (Iodoral, selenium and magnesium), vitamins and herbals.
The Candida-Hormone Connection
A serious digestive concern is the yeast-fungal infection known as candidiasis. Approximately 75 percent of women suffer from at least one yeast infection during their lives. This toxic yeast overgrowth is caused by eating large amounts of sugar and/or prolonged or repeated use of antibiotics, birth control pills, estrogen therapy, and cortisone.
Candida produces 79 different toxins known to wreak havoc with the immune system. A long list of potential symptoms associated with Candida overgrowth include depression, anxiety attacks, mood swings, lack of concentration, drowsiness, poor memory, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, bloating, constipation, bladder infections, menstrual cramps, vaginal itching, muscle and joint swelling, pain, hypothyroidism, and skin problems.
However, it is rarely understood that Candida also contributes to hormonal problems. A Candida waste product produces a false estrogen, which tricks the body into thinking it has produced adequate levels, signaling a reduction of its own estrogen. Similar messages can also be sent to the thyroid, reducing thyroxin production and initiating or worsening a hypothyroid problem.
Elevated estrogen levels also increase vaginal candidiasis incidence. Estrogen will literally feed Candida growth, which is why birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy put women at a greater risk of developing Candida. The botanicals pau d'arco, oregano oil and olive leaf extract can be used along with a sugar-free and low carb diet to reduce the effect of this harmful yeast overgrowth. Probiotics are another key player to re-establish the beneficial bacterial in the colon.
Get Hormonally Balanced by Getting Healthy It is commonly believed that conditions of hormonal imbalance somehow just happen to us. For some reason, our culture has taught us that when diagnosed with a hormonal issue such as PMS, endometriosis, fibroids, hot flashes or night sweats, the answer lies in a pharmaceutical intervention such as some form of contraceptives or some variation of hormone supplementation with HRT or Bioidentical Hormone Replacement.
If we really want to regain hormonal harmony, it is vitally important that we understand that all hormonal problems are symptomatic of underlying dysfunctions occurring in our body. Learning to understand the message our body is trying to give us, will direct us to the real source of the problem so permanent healing can occur.
All hormonal imbalances are a message that our body is out of balance. A big piece for resolving hormonal issues requires understanding the significant role of ensuring the health of our adrenals, thyroid and colon. Getting healthy is the key to getting our hormones back on track!
Sherrill Sellman, ND
Dr. Sellman is an international author, psychotherapist, women’s health advocate and seminar presenter. Through her books, Hormone Heresy?—?What Women Must Know About Their Hormones and Mothers Prevent Your Daughters from Getting Breast Cancer, lectures and seminars, she has empowered women all over the world to make more educated and informed choices about their health.