Empower Your Menopause Journey: Early Planning for Success
For a smoother journey through menopause, it’s crucial to address adrenal balance before this natural transition takes place. Menopause marks the point at which your ovaries cease to produce eggs, typically occurring in the late forties or early fifties, although the timing is individualized for each woman. During this phase, your body starts producing less estrogen and progesterone, potentially leading to hot flashes, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, dryness, and irregular or absent periods. Once you’ve gone without a period for a year, you’re considered post-menopausal. Before this, the ovaries primarily handled hormone production, but after menopause, the role shifts to the adrenals. The state of your adrenals at this stage significantly impacts how smoothly this transition occurs.
The endocrine system collaborates to regulate hormone levels, encompassing the ovaries, testes, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary, and hypothalamus. If any of these glands fall out of balance, even slightly, it can disrupt the functioning of the others. These glands produce hormones—chemical messengers traveling through the bloodstream to interact with various body tissues, ensuring proper function. As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, I emphasize the Spokes Chart to illustrate the importance of treating individuals holistically and addressing root causes rather than merely alleviating symptoms. The chart features arrows pointing to and from the central circle, known as the HPA Axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) Dysfunction. When HPA Axis dysfunction, or what we refer to as Metabolic Chaos™, is present, it can impact other functions like Musculoskeletal Health, Detox Capacity, Fat and Protein Metabolism. Dysfunctions along the outer spokes, in turn, contribute to more Metabolic Chaos™. These systems interconnect, underscoring the importance of evaluating all their functions. Often, hormonal imbalances do not stand alone; they can result from issues with the gut, adrenals, thyroid, liver, diet, and lifestyle. Sometimes, addressing upstream factors like hidden stressors can lead to improvements in downstream symptoms such as hot flashes and fatigue, even without direct support. Don’t misunderstand—while we aim to alleviate immediate discomfort, our focus is on delving deeper to uncover the root causes behind these symptoms. Applying a temporary band-aid solution won’t provide lasting relief.
The Spokes Chart
Let’s delve into the fascinating world of adrenal glands. These two small endocrine glands perch atop your kidneys, playing pivotal roles in hormone production. They produce a limited number of sex hormones until post-menopause when they take over as the primary source. In addition to sex hormones, the adrenals churn out aldosterone (a regulator of salt balance, blood volume, and blood pressure), cortisol (released during stress and low blood sugar episodes), DHEA (which counteracts cortisol’s effects), epinephrine (aka adrenaline), and norepinephrine (similar to epinephrine).
You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, a physiological reaction triggered when the body encounters stress. If you were being pursued by a bear, your adrenals would release cortisol and adrenaline, gearing you up to fight or flee. Once the threat subsides, your body returns to its normal state of rest and digest. However, in today’s fast-paced world, many of us find ourselves frequently running from metaphorical bears. We face stress at work, home, financial stress, and even the stress of over-exercising. Other hidden sources of stress include food sensitivities, excessive alcohol, harsh household cleaners, toxic skincare products, and pesticides on our food. Stressors can take many forms, from physical to emotional, internal to external, and real to perceived. How often do we stress over things that haven’t even occurred and may never materialize?
Elevated cortisol levels can bring about a slew of issues, such as immune suppression, delayed wound healing, reduced calcium absorption, increased abdominal fat, and elevated blood pressure, among others. Cortisol does offer numerous benefits, including its anti-inflammatory properties, blood sugar regulation, digestive support, and assistance in metabolizing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The catch is that we don’t want cortisol chronically elevated, as it can eventually plummet, leading to low cortisol levels. Low cortisol can manifest as fatigue, pain, inflammation, allergies, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, brain fog, anxiety, diminished libido—the list is extensive. We aim for cortisol to be just right, similar to Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ porridge—not too high, not too low, but just right.
In an ideal scenario, cortisol follows a diurnal rhythm, peaking in the morning and gradually decreasing throughout the day, reaching its lowest point at bedtime when melatonin, the sleep hormone, takes over. Chronic stress disrupts our ability to adapt, leaving our adrenals ill-prepared to carry out their crucial duties when called upon, resulting in adverse effects on our well-being.
Here are practical steps to help balance your hormones while supporting your adrenal glands:
Don’t Guess, Test: Begin by getting a clear picture of your hormone levels. Consider hormone testing, evaluate food sensitivities, or embark on an elimination diet. Additionally, check for gastrointestinal pathogens and assess the health of your gut barrier.
Dietary Choices: Eliminate foods that trigger sensitivities, cut down on sugar, and steer clear of processed foods. Whenever possible, opt for organic produce or refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. Focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods, and stay well-hydrated.
Prioritize Rest: Ensure you’re getting adequate sleep by aiming for a bedtime around 10 pm and waking up at 6 am. Keep your sleep environment dark and consider implementing an electronic curfew for laptops or other devices at least an hour before bedtime. If this isn’t feasible, invest in Blue Light Blocking glasses to counteract the sleep-disrupting effects of electronic device screens.
Exercise: Regular physical activity is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. Depending on your test results, you may need to adjust your exercise routine. The goal is to engage in some form of physical activity every day, whether it’s dancing to your favorite tunes, taking brisk walks during your lunch break, or attending a calming Yin yoga class.
Stress Management: Recognize that not all stress is detrimental; “eustress” can be positive and motivating, while “distress” can be harmful. Identify external stressors, such as work-related issues or financial concerns, and internal stressors like those affecting your hormones, immune system, digestion, detoxification processes, energy production, and nervous system. FDN practitioners specialize in uncovering these hidden internal stressors and can guide you in managing both internal and external stressors through techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, leisurely walks, Epsom salt baths, and yoga classes.
Supplementation: After thorough testing, identify which supplements can address your specific nutritional deficiencies. You might require supplements like Vitamin D or magnesium, a probiotic or aloe vera to heal your gut, or adaptogenic herbs to support hormonal balance. Each individual’s supplementation needs are unique, and a tailored plan can be created by analyzing your lab results and intake forms.
These steps, guided by your individual needs and circumstances, can pave the way to hormone balance and adrenal support. Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness, and a holistic assessment can help you achieve optimal health.
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