Stress is an important piece to overall optimal hormone balancing. At the command center of the stress response is the adrenal glands and they are foundation to hormone balancing (not only sex hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone but also hormones that dictate blood sugar, blood pressure, and your weight). 

You have two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. Despite their small size they play many important roles. If your adrenals aren’t functioning optimally, then your thyroid might be off as well and your sex hormones will definitely be impacted. 

If you are already in menopause or post menopausal then you need to nurture your adrenal glands even more.

Let’s take a closer look at the hormones that the adrenal glands produce so that we can start to get an idea of why supporting adrenal function is so important. 

First is Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone that gets a bad reputation for contributing to belly fat but it’s not all bad! Cortisol is actually very important in the right amounts, at the right time, and for the right reasons.  Cortisol plays a big role in immune health by modulating inflammation and immune cell function. It is also responsible for regulating blood sugar and blood pressure making a pivotal in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease.  

During times of stress, cortisol increases your blood sugar to give you energy to run away from the perceived threat. Unfortunately, when there is no perceived threat, such as a lion or bear,  and instead the threat comes down to  life stressors like your job, your husband, your kids that are stressing you out,  then you don’t actually need that extra blood sugar to run away from anything (although at times you may feel like you want to).

The problem is, your body cannot tell the difference between a “real” or perceived threat.  This is where the adrenal glands can contribute to anxiety. As the adrenal glands produce cortisol, they also produce epinephrine and norepinephrine which is also known as adrenaline.  When these chemicals hit the brain, your brain tries to assess the threat. If a physical threat like a lion cannot be seen, smelt or touched the brain can basically freaks out. This can sometimes lead to women not only feeling anxious, but also experience hot flashes.

Chronic excess stress also means chronic excess blood sugar which can lead to prediabetes or diabetes. Cortisol is responsible for liberating sugar from your liver.  The liver store sugar in the form of glycogen and when cortisol rises the liver breaks down glycogen into glucose (sugar) and puts it into circulation. 

Next, let’s talk DHEA.

DHEA produced in the adrenal glands and is considered an anti-aging hormone because it diminishes wrinkles, increases energy, and enhances memory. It also reduces body fat and can improve your libido. It has been shown to be beneficial in putting autoimmune disease in remission and it can be converted into estrogen and testosterone which is why we lean on our adrenal glands for hormone support after the ovaries stop producing hormones in menopause. This is very important for women to understand who are perimenopausal or post menopausal. In premenopausal women the adrenal glands are responsible for producing about 5% of your sex hormones but after menopause when your ovaries stop pumping out estrogen and progesterone your adrenal glands takeover. Postmenopausal women see there a adrenal sex hormone production rise from 5% to over 90%. This is why it’s so important for women to take care of their adrenal health especially as they approach perimenopause. 

Lastly to discuss is Pregnenolone.

Pregnenolone is a precursor to both cortisol and your sex hormones.  Pregnenolone is often referred to as the  “mother” hormone because it  gives rise to all of your sex hormones.  When you’re stressed, the brain signals to produce cortisol at the expense of progesterone.  What does this mean?  Your body is choosing survival over baby making. This is a normal protective mechanism which makes sense because if the environment is dangerous then you don’t have the resources available for growing a small human.  It is important to remember that our DNA is still the same as our ancestors’ DNA from thousands of years ago. We are essentially still designed to pump out stress hormones that would help us run from a lion.

Symptoms of hormone imbalances

Symptoms of hormone imbalance in women can present in a variety of ways. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain or inability to lose weight, problems to your digestive system, changes to hair, skin and nails, heavy or painful periods, acne, PMS, hot flashes, inability to sleep, fatigue, and afternoon energy crashes can all be due to imbalances in our hormones.

How to Regulate Hormones

There are several natural ways to balance hormones although everyone will require a different solution based on their unique imbalances. Regardless of which hormone or hormones are out of balance everyone will need a healthy foundation of diet, sleep, and stress management,

To start, you want to nourish your body with a hormone balancing diet full of anti-inflammatory hormone supporting foods. You also may need to exercise or even reduce or stop exercise (I often look to genetic testing to find the type of exercise that works best for each individual).  In addition, taking the right supplements can have a positive effect when it comes to balancing your hormones. 

In terms of quality foods to eat, never sacrifice protein. Consider green tea as it helps lower estrogen levels and is associated with lower risk of estrogen-dependent conditions. Flax seeds are rich in omega fatty acids and provide lignans, which have a weak estrogen effect. Other supportive foods are cruciferous vegetables : broccoli, kale, cauliflower, bokchoy. 

How Can I Get My Hormone Levels Checked?

In my naturopathic medical practice, we use blood (serum) or urinary testing depending on what is being ordered,  insurance, and accessibility. 

Blood (serum) Testing

Many hormone tests can be done via blood and some are best tested this way. Depending on your cycle length and hormone concerns, often specific timing of when you complete blood work in relation to your menstrual cycle is important (speak to your practitioner). The following hormones are can be done via blood:

  • FSH
  • LH
  • Thyroid testing
  • Cortisol
  • Estradiol
  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • Insulin
  • DHEA
  • Vitamin D3
  • SHBG

DUTCH Hormone Testing 

The DUTCH Test® (Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones) from Precision Analytical Inc. is a revolutionary model of hormone testing using four simple, dried urine collections in 24 hours to give a comprehensive assessment of sex and adrenal hormones and their metabolites. It also includes daily, free cortisol patterns, organic acids, melatonin (6-OHMS), and 8-OHdG.

You can order the DUTCH test online depending on your location, but it’s important to have a licensed healthcare professional interpret your results for you. It is also important to speak to a professional prior to testing to ensure the testing is appropriate and provide insight into when to test (for cycling women).

Advocate for Testing

I am a big proponent of the philosophy “test don’t guess”. If you’re getting resistance from a doctor who’s unwilling to order labs or is telling you it’s all in your head, seek out another doctor. It can be daunting and require additional time, energy and financial investment but the current medical paradigm is to treat symptoms and disease, not promote health. 

If you’re looking for how you can support your hormone imbalances (no matter what they are!), I would encourage checking out additional resources on my website, within my book (available on amazon),  follow on instagram, or apply to become a patient , [email protected] or call/text our office line at 519-500-5525