I find the Adrenal Glands to be the root cause of most women’s conditions. Because women have so many extra hormones vs men, when we become stressed, we seem to get hit with more symptoms. Women tend to blame sex hormones or thyroid hormones for most of their conditions, but I need to let you know that it could all be stemming from the Adrenal Glands. Today, I will go over what these glands do and how it affects every system of your body, as well as, mention a simple test to determine if this is the culprit for your issue.
What exactly do the Adrenal Glands do?
The Adrenal Glands have been nicknamed the stress glands because, in general, it is affected by stress from the internal environment and external environment. This gland becomes activated when something is chasing us or scares us. By doing this, it activates cortisol for metabolism and the body’s response to stress and aldosterone for regulating our blood pressure. It also produces adrenaline to give us that quick energy to fight. Yet, adrenal glands control so many more processes.
It produces estrogen, as well as, steroid hormones that regulate carbohydrate metabolism, the body’s sodium and potassium levels, and androgenic sex hormones. And all of these hormones require CHOLESTEROL to function properly.
Since our focus is Sex Hormones and Women’s Health, we will talk about how the Adrenals affect our hormones.
The main adrenal androgen sex hormone is DHEA. DHEA is needed to produce testosterone and estrogens. It will affect our hormone CONCENTRATIONS. It is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body.
For optimal Adrenal function, we want a balance between Cortisol (Immune) to DHEA (metabolism, hormone, muscle, nerve). If cortisol is too high and DHEA is too low this is usually chronic stress and here we will see disease processes arise.
How does stress affect them?
When we have stress, our cortisol from our Adrenal glands increases and so does our insulin (sugar hormone). If we are stressed, the increase of cortisol will also destroy our neurons in the brain, leading to learning disabilities and memory loss.
Remember, Adrenal Glands produce these hormones and the pituitary gland tells the adrenals how fast and how much. So, some adrenal gland issues could be due to the pituitary gland (just a thought)! If the pituitary keeps telling the adrenals to work harder, they will until it finally collapses or weakens and can no longer function properly. We just said the adrenals control: metabolism, hormones, nerves, memory, energy, immune, sleep, mood, etc…Yikes, what a full body mess! Can you now see how adrenal glands may be the culprit for your random signs and symptoms?
How does Adrenal fatigue affect: Blood sugar, calcium depletion and thyroid function?
Simply put, if the adrenals have been running for so long, they begin to get tired. To give them a boost, they will trick the brain to supply instant energy through the consumption of carbs and sugar. That is why when most people who are stressed (i.e. college students studying for an exam), begin to eat candy bars, French fries, and chips. Yet, sugar fatigues the adrenals even more. Not only does this high carb diet fatigue the adrenals more, it also starts putting the patient down the road of Insulin Resistance or Metabolic Syndrome.
The body then tries to CALM the adrenals down, and the best mineral for that is Calcium. We need calcium and magnesium for muscles to contract and relax. Because muscles aren’t really necessary for the survival of the body, it will begin to pull out the calcium from your large muscle groups and send it over to the adrenals to calm them down. Therefore, at the beginning of stress or adrenal fatigue people get muscle cramps. My first sign is when patient’s say, I have restless legs or calf cramps in the middle of the night. This is your first warning sign that calcium is being pulled out of the muscles. Also, this is when patients complain of constant muscle tightness and cramping. Be careful, it is not your adrenals.
So, they really are not functioning and they began to ask the thyroid (a energy metabolizer) to help out and pick up some of the job duties. The thyroid is not supposed to be doing the adrenals’ job and it gets tired to the point of Hypothyroidism. This is not the scientific explanation but when I put it in laymen’s terms, most of my patients get it. This is how we become misdiagnosed as thyroid condition. It is not untrue, we are just not treating the root cause of the issue, which is the adrenal glands.
How does this affect my sex hormones?
Cortisol will convert DHEA to estrogen in the fat cells (especially abdominal fat). Therefore, if you are a stressed-out woman who is extremely overweight, this cortisol will begin to convert your fat into estrogen, and now we have estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance leads to breast and uterine cancers. A trick I tell women, if you seem to have accumulated weight below the belly button and around the hips, it is an indicator of estrogen dominance, which could be due to overstressed adrenal glands.
Also, during stress, our sex glands shrink and they cannot do their jobs. Leading to reduced sperm cells, making our cycles irregular and infrequent, even leading to miscarriages and PCOS. It can affect the hormones in the brain for milk production
*Note - Mothers, if you are a new mom and you stop producing milk, look at your stress levels.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Sleep: Do you tend to wake up between 1-3am but then fall back to sleep. The adrenal glands began to reboot during these hours. Typically, if you have chronic adrenal dysfunction, you will wake up during these hours. If you have acute adrenal dysfunction, you can’t go to sleep and your brain never shuts off. Many times with people who are on sleep medications, if we support their adrenal glands, they will sleep like a baby.
Weight gain: Because the adrenals affect sex hormones (estrogen) and insulin, these two hormone have a tendency to accumulate in fat (a place to be stored). This fat distribution seems to accumulate more around the lower waist and hips. It is very difficulty to lose this weight because your body continuously make these hormones, but they are not being utilized and therefore must be stored somewhere. When we control the adrenals and flush out the liver, the fat seems to melt away.
Excess estrogen: If adrenals are overactive, they can rob from progesterone being produced and estrogen being over produced, leading to menstrual irregularities, PMS symptoms and even menopausal symptoms.
Decrease in progesterone: Little do you know that progesterone is produced not only in the ovaries but the adrenal glands. After menopause, it is primarily from the ADRENAL GLANDS. Therefore, ladies, just because you have a hysterectomy or go through menopause, it does not mean you discontinue the production of these hormones. If we do not have enough progesterone it can lead to irregular periods, restlessness, mood issues, lack of libido, and lack of bone density. Cystic breasts are common with deficiencies. Migraines and headache can appear. Water retention and inability to concentrate occur. Could it be our adrenals not functioning, causing our anxiety disorders and unbalanced health?
Pregnenolone steal: Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone for steroids. If we don’t have it, we can’t make our sex hormones. It is necessary for the conversion of DHEA and progesterone. This is a scientific pathway on how hormones are affected:
Cholesterol convert to Pregnenolone which converts to Progesterone and DHEA. If Progesterone is necessary for making cortisol, estrone, and estriol with a few other steps in between. DHEA is necessary to make testosterone and estradiol.
Since cholesterol is necessary for making hormones, statin drugs can halt this production. This affects Pregnenolone. But also, cortisol (from stress) will stop or steal pregnenolone from its hormone making pathway. If we are too stressed and the adrenal glands begin to pump out more cortisol, then the cortisol will take away the pregnenolone. But the pregnenolone is necessary for progesterone and DHEA to be made. How do we continue this process?
If we are not making DHEA then we can’t go through the hormone process to make testosterone and the estrogen hormones. Progesterone usually makes cortisol as well as a sex hormone for the body and immune system and it regulates blood pressure. Progesterone will stop production as well, and we will become more and more sick.
Looking at this process, would it make sense to keep adding artificial hormones? Or maybe should we fix what is stopping them from being produced?
Other signs and symptoms:
- Joint Pain
- Immune suppression
- Mood swings: anxiety, poor focus, depression, brain fog
- High Blood Pressure
- Blood sugar issues and hyperglycemia.
- Decrease in Libido
- Difficult concentration
- Low energy
- Loss of bone density
- Thinning skin
- Weight gain
What test can I do to see if my adrenals are the issue?
I found that blood tests are not the best determinant for adrenal gland issues. I personally like saliva tests. Usually, when we test hormones, there are ways to test Free and Bound hormones. Bound hormones mean hormones that attach to a cell and Free is what is circulating in our body waiting to be used. Blood will usually only test bound, but many times we need to test Free.
I like to begin with an Adrenal Stress Index saliva test. This will determine if the adrenals are overactive or underactive. The amount of cortisol and DHEA that is being used and how progesterone and estrogen are affected by the adrenals.
I also like the DUTCH test which test urine and saliva.
If the adrenal test seems to be normal, we would then test other hormones by using a different saliva test.
What can we do?
There is so much we can do for you after testing to see if it is the Adrenal glands. As usual, I am pro dietary change. I want you to learn it is not just a “fix it” diet, but a lifestyle change and learn to love new and different foods that support our glands and body. Second, there are several supplementation and herbs we recommend. I love Licorice root, Rhemannia, and Drenamin from standard process. We need to provide the nutrients and healing agents to rebuild our Adrenal glands. Lastly, what has caused our adrenal glands to become so broken? Is it from the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, diet, or stress?
Visit our website www.cahc.biz or drcheriejohnson.com to learn more. We can have a simple consultation to discuss your concern and see if you do have an adrenal issue.
What about Bio-identical hormones or Hormone Replacement?
If you read the whole blog, you will understand that most hormone deficiencies are do to something other than the hormones themselves or the organs. It can be due to enzyme deficiencies, food issues, or glands weakened from stress. I find hormones have a delicate process and if you tweak it too much or too little it will have a cascading effect.
Here is a simple analogy on bio-identical hormones:
You are making a pie and use the same ingredients all the time to make this perfect pie, yet this time you are missing an ingredient. Let’s say you are missing milk. You decide to replace that pies ingredients with goat milk instead of cow’s milk. Now the pie looks the same, smells the same, has the same texture. Yet, as your palate begins to dissect the ingredients you can immediately taste the goats milk and the body begins to reject it by either spitting it up or having to dilute the flavor with water. Bio-identical or replacement hormones are trying to look, smell, taste like the hormone, but it is not quite the same, and after a while the body will reject it in some form or fashion. Therefore I personally believe in supporting the glands and the enzymes to help the body produce its own natural hormones.
Hormones can be a very difficult topic, but I wanted to try to break it down as simple as I could with some detail. What I don’t want people to do, is to think I only have to take this hormone and all will be fixed. That is not how it works. There are so many pathways, processes, enzymes, minerals/vitamins, and glands that are involved in this process. It is almost as if you think all you need is gas in the car to keep it running but forget about the oil and other parts that help the car move It is my job as a Functional Medicine Practitioner to help guide you through this process of optimizing your hormone health. Please come in for a consultation and see if we can help you!
Listen to this week's Podcast on the Adrenals to find out if that's what's making you sick...
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