The Hidden Causes Behind Hormonal Imbalances
By Sherrill Sellman, ND
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 is the conventional cure. For menstruating women, oral contraceptives are most often prescribed.
When resolving hormonal problems, women are led to believe that 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.
The Adrenals and Hormones
The adrenals are involved in manufacturing numerous hormones; blood sugar regulation; the regulation of the body’s minerals; producing and maintaining the body’s energy levels in conjunction with the thyroid; and producing stress-monitoring hormones.
The adrenals, the body’s shock absorbers, are the core of the endocrine stress response system. Two of their most important hormones, 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 adrenal exhaustion.
Since the adrenals contribute to about 35 percent of premenopausal female hormones and almost 50 percent of postmenopausal hormones, compromised adrenal function profoundly affects 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.1 These two imbalances are the primary reasons why adrenal exhaustion leads to estrogen dominance.
Restoring adrenal function is a pre-requisite for 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 also helps rebuild 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 turn 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.2 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’s conversion to the biologically active triiodothyronine. (T3), which has the greatest effect on the body.3
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.4 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.5 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.6 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.7-8 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 and berberine along with undecylenic acid can be used along with an anti-candida diet to help rid the body of this harmful fungus/yeast. Probiotics should also be used to help re-establish the beneficial bacterial in the colon.
Most hormonal imbalances are symptomatic of underlying health issues. Maintaining healthy adrenals, thyroid and colon are fundamental to hormonal well being at any age.
1. John Lee, MD, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause, Warner Wellness (January 1, 1999), p 133
2. Powers MS, Schenkel L, Darley PE, et al. Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of transdermal dosage forms of 17 beta-estradiol: comparison with conventional oral estrogens used for hormone replacement. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1985;152: 1099-106.
3. Department of Zoology University of British Columbia http://www.zoology.ubc.ca/~auld/bio456/lectures/lecture_stress.html.
5. Iwata, K., and Yamamota, Y. Glycoprotein Toxins Produced by Candida Albicans. Proceedings of the Fourth international Conference on the Mycoses. June, 1977, PAHO Scientific Publication #356. and Iwata, K., Recent Advances in Medical and Veterinary Mycology, University of Tokyo Press, 1977.
6. Zhao, X., P. J. Malloy, C. M. Ardies, and D. Feldman. Oestrogen-binding protein in Candida albicans: antibody development and cellular localization by electron immunocytochemistry. Microbiology. 1995; 141:2685-2692.
7. Cheng G, Yeater KM, Hoyer LL. Cellular and Molecular Biology of Candida albicans Estrogen Response. Eukaryotic Cell. January 2006; 5(1) :180-191.
8. Zhang X, Essmann M, Burt ET, Larsen B. Estrogen effects on Candida albicans: a potential virulence-regulating mechanism. J Infect Dis. 2000 Apr;181(4):1441-6. Epub Apr 13, 2000.