To have a smooth transition through menopause it is important to balance your adrenals before the transition begins. Menopause is a natural transition that occurs when your ovaries stop producing eggs. There is a time frame for this process, the late forties or early fifties, but where you fall is individualized. During this time, your body begins to produce less estrogen and progesterone. You may experience hot flashes, brain fog, fatigue, anxiety, and dryness. Your periods may become irregular or stop altogether. Once you have been period free for one year you are considered post-menopause. Up until this point, it was primarily the ovaries job to make the hormones. Once you go through menopause and your ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone it becomes the job of the adrenals. The more dysfunctional your adrenals are when you hit menopause the more difficult the transition can be.
The entire endocrine system works together to control hormone levels. This includes the ovaries, testes, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary, and hypothalamus. If any of these glands are out of balance, even slightly, it can wreak havoc on the other glands. These glands produce and secrete hormones, chemical messengers which travel in the bloodstream and act on various body tissues to enable them to function correctly. As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, I like to use the Spokes Chart to explain the importance of looking at an individual as a whole while seeking the root cause rather than just treating symptoms. On the chart, you can see the arrows pointing to and from the center circle called the HPA Axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) Dysfunction. If there is HPA Axis dysfunction or what we like to call Metabolic Chaos™, it can affect other functions like Musculoskeletal Health, Detox Capacity, Fat and Protein Metabolism and in turn, dysfunctions on the outer spokes lead back to more Metabolic Chaos™. These systems directly influence one another and that is why it is best to evaluate the functions of all the systems. Often times when the reproductive hormones are out of balance, they are usually not alone. Hormonal imbalances can stem from other issues with the gut, adrenals, thyroid, liver, diet, and lifestyle. Sometimes when you work on the why upstream (HIDDEN stressors) the downstream symptoms (hot flashes, fatigue) will improve without direct support. Don’t get me wrong, if there is a way to make you feel better quickly, we’ll do it but we’ll also be digging deeper to try and find out why the symptoms are happening in the first place. Putting a bandaid on the problem only fixes it temporarily.
The Spokes Chart
Let’s get to know the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two small endocrine glands that sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands produce a small number of sex hormones up until post-menopause and then they are the main source of production. The adrenals also produce aldosterone (regulates salt balance, blood volume, and blood pressure), cortisol (released in response to stress and low blood sugar), DHEA (balances the effects of cortisol), epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (very similar to epinephrine). You may have heard of the saying fight or flight response. It is a physiological reaction that occurs when the body is under stress. If you are being chased by a bear, your adrenals will release cortisol and adrenalin so you can fight or run! The body returns to normal, rest and digest, once the stressful event dissipates. Unfortunately, in today’s world, many people are being chased by hypothetical bears much too often. They are experiencing stress at work or home, financial stress, even over-exercising can be stressful. Food sensitivities are another stress on the body along with excessive alcohol, harsh household cleaners, toxic skin care products (check out my favorite nontoxic skincare – Annmarie Skin Care), and pesticides on our food. Stress can be anything physical or emotional. It can come from internal or external sources and can be real or perceived. How many times do we stress about things that haven’t even happened yet and may never happen? Elevated cortisol can suppress the immune system, slow wound healing, reduce calcium absorption, increased abdominal fat, elevated blood pressure…the list goes on. Cortisol has a lot of good components too. It is a great anti-inflammatory, helps regulate blood sugar, aids in digestion, assists in the metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates and it helps regulate blood pressure. We just don’t want it elevated chronically which eventually will make cortisol crash causing low cortisol. Low cortisol can lead to fatigue, pain, and inflammation, allergies, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, brain fog, anxiety, low libido…this list goes on too! It’s like the porridge in Goldilocks and the Three Bears – we don’t want our cortisol to be too high or too low, we want it just right! When just right, cortisol follows a diurnal rhythm with its peak production in the morning while slowly declining throughout the day to the lowest point at bedtime when it’s opposing sleep hormone melatonin kicks in. When stress is chronic we lose the ability to adapt and our adrenals suffer. When its time for our adrenals to step up to the plate and do their important work, they are not up for the job and we suffer!
Steps to balance your hormones while also supporting your adrenals:
- Don’t guess, test! Test your hormones, test for food sensitivities or do an elimination diet, check for GI pathogens and Leaky Gut.
- Diet: Remove food sensitivities, sugar, and processed foods. Eat organic if you can or use EWG’s Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen list. Focus on real, whole foods and stay hydrated.
- Rest: Are you getting enough sleep? Try to shoot for a 10pm bedtime and wake up at 6am. Keep your sleep space dark. Implement a laptop (electronic) curfew at least one hour before bed. If that is not possible to buy Blue Light Blocking glasses, Amazon has many to choose from. The blue light from electronic devices inhibits melatonin (your sleep hormone) production.
- Exercise: Exercise is a vital part of a healthy life. Depending on your test results, you may need to cut back from a more vigorous exercise routine or, you may need to step it up a bit. The general idea is to get moving every day. This could be cranking up the music and having a dance party (yes, all on your own is okay and fun), walking during your lunch break or heading to the local yoga studio for a Yin yoga class, my personal favorite! Make a list of creative ways you can move each day and then do it.
- Stress Reduction: Not all stress is bad. The good stress is called eustress. Eustress is the kind of stress that gets you going, makes things happen, helps you move forward, grow and develop. Then we have distress which can be destructive leading to malfunction. There are external stressors like traffic jams, financial worries or work stress. There are also internal stressors like HIDDEN stress (Hormone, Immune, Digestion, Detoxification, Energy Production, Nervous Systems). Some people believe that stress is just something we have to live with and can’t be improved. FDN practitioners know this is not true. I am here to help you discover your hidden internal stressors and also brainstorm ideas to help with external stressors like meditation and breathing techniques, walks, Epsom salt baths and yoga classes.
- Supplements: After testing, we will find out what supplements are needed to fill your nutritional voids. You may be low in Vitamin D or magnesium. You might need a probiotic or aloe vera to repair the gut or an adaptogenic herb to promote hormone balance. As with all aspects of health, there is no one size fits all approach to supplementation. With careful analysis of your labs and intake forms, we’ll be able to come up with a plan specific to your needs.
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