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Common Hormonal Complications

How frequently have you said “it must be my hormones!” because I hear this pretty often from clients, friends and family. We talk about our hormones like they’re some separate entity ticking away inside of us with a mind of their own, completely outside our control. In fact, hormones are actually taking most of their direction from our senses and feedback signals from our environment. A single thought experienced by you can initiate a cascade of hormones. Here is a guide to understanding hormone health and an overview of some common complications that can occur.

Quick Guide To Hormones

Hormones are part of our endocrine system, a collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into our circulatory system to their target organs. I liken hormones to the email system of the body, communicating instructions and information between different departments (our glands and organs) to make processes happen. Their task list each day is huge. Hormones are responsible for digestion, energy production, blood sugar regulation, fat storage, fat mobilisation, reproductive processes and the list goes on.

Two Modes Of Life

The nervous system in the body also works with our endocrine system to facilitate communication. Throughout life our body operates in two different nervous system modes, technically referred to as sympathetic and parasympathetic. It’s easier to remember them as “Fight or Flight” and “Rest & Digest“.

Hormone BreakdownThe body will kick into fight or flight mode when we perceive a threat or danger and it needs energy, fast! As a result the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are produced, blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases and functions like digestion and reproduction are shut down in favour of survival mode.

When we’re chilling on the sofa or sunbathing in the garden the opposite occurs. Our senses feedback a calm, safe situation, our pulse rate will slow down and our body is able to direct energy to housekeeping and maintenance duties including digestion, reproduction, repair and our immune system can crack on with a little spring clean.

One of the biggest issues today is the levels of stress we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Although we’re not faced with large predators or life threatening experiences that our ancestors may have tackled, our bodies are transmitting stress signals chronically which are frequently creating critical imbalances in our hormone health and impacting upon our wellbeing. This includes anything from work stress, suffering a crowded commute each day, financial worries and excess exercise.

In my experience the following are common drivers of a chronic stress response:

1) Work/career stress, coupled with feeling undervalued and suffering from a lack of vision and purpose to what you do.

2) Negative perception of your body and low self-esteem.

3) “Headless chicken” syndrome where you dash around just doing too much all day.

4) Relationships: notably putting others first and trying to please everyone before checking you are happy.

5) Over exercising: too many people think more is better when what they need is more meditation, yoga and sleep.

The Hormone Hierarchy

Our hormones operate via a hierarchy with the big boss in the brain (hypothalamus) making decisions about what hormones should be produced, what we need less of and what pysiological processes ought to be favoured based upon feedback from the body. This hierarchy is referred to as the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) as it includes the following glands:

1) Hypothalamus (located in the brain)

2) Pituitary gland (located below the hypothalamus)

3) Adrenal glands (located on top of the kidneys).

Hormone InteractionThe interactions that take place between these three endocrine glands have a significant impact upon our entire endocrine system by governing our response to stress. The signals they send will regulate numerous bodily functions including digestion, the menstrual cycle, body temperature, sex drive and blood sugar regulation. It is also referred to as hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal–gonadotropic axis. This is because it will influence the reproductive glands or “gonads” as they are scientifically referred to (I chuckled at this too).

The male gonad is of course the testicle and the female gonad is the ovary. So it’s easy to see how stress plays such a fundamental role on our libido and fertility.

Common Hormonal Complications

1. Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen levels are too high in comparison to other reproductive hormones, most notably progesterone. This can also be a result of progesterone deficiency (often a result of prolonged stress and over exercising). Estrogen dominance can occur at any stage in a woman’s life, including post menopause.

Symptoms

  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Premenstrual symptoms e.g. cramps, bloating, breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Low libido
  • Water retention
  • Insomnia

Health Conditions Associated With Estrogen Dominance

Fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, PMS, depression, hypothyroidism, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervival cancer.

What You Can do Today

  • Eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, broccoli sprouts)
  • Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir
  • Limit alcohol to 2 small servings MAX a day and increase alcohol FREE days
  • Reduce coffee to 1 small cup daily
  • Drink 2-3 cups green tea daily
  • Increase fibre intake – flax, chia, vegetables, berries and cold white potatoes (more on this here)
  • Take 2-3 raw egg yolks to support liver health (whack them in a smoothie, dressing or soup)
  • Eat omega 3 rich fish 3-4 times a week (Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring)

Advanced Steps *Ideally Worked Through With a Nutritional Therapist*

  • Reduce exposure to external xenoestrogens (use a water filter and change personal care products)
  • Follow a structured supplement programme including DIM, Calcium D-Glucerate, Zinc, Magnesium and B vitamins
  • Follow a ‘5 R’ gut healing programme with probiotics, antimicrobials, glutamine and digestive support
  • Have hormones tested via a full 28 Day Female Hormone Profile (I use Genova Diagnostics)
  • Have your estrogen metabolism assessed (I use Genova Diagnostics )
  • If taking external hormones for contraception explore natural alternatives like Persona or the rhythm method
  • If taking HRT work with a qualified nutritional therapist who will help support estrogen metabolism and endocrine balance

2. Adrenal Dysfunction

Hormone Test ResultsAdrenal fatigue is actually more of a collection of symptoms that indicate the adrenal glands are not functioning optimally. The cause is generally long periods of chronic stress, it can also occur after a severe infection, surgery, bereavement and pregnancy. A helpful description is:

Fatigue not relieved by sleep, a sense of unwellness and over reliance on stimulants like caffeine and sugar to function.

The adrenal glands kickstart your body for a stress response, sending out hormones that initiate energy production, suppress immune function, increase heart rate and allow your body to adapt to the stress. If we continue to make this demand on our adrenal glands eventually their hormone output begins to diminish and the glands themselves can atropy (waste away).

Peri-Menopause And Menopause And Adrenal Health
This is hugely significant to women who are in peri-menopause and as they enter the menopause, this is because the ovaries will stop producing sex hormones and the adrenal glands take over this role. If you have spent the last 20-30 years overusing and exhausting your adrenal glands they simply won’t be up for the task, leading to severe adrenal fatigue and hormonal imabalances, many side effects of menopause are associated with adrenal hypofunction.

Symptoms

  • Tired for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty getting up after 8 hours of rested sleep
  • Poor recovery from exercise
  • Slow wound healing
  • Constant colds and illness (suppressed immunity)
  • Slow recovery from infections and illness
  • Inability to cope with stress and feeling overwhelmed
  • Salt cravings
  • Sugar cravings
  • Wired and alert after 6pm

What You Can Do Today

  • Eat within 30 minutes of waking + include 30-40g of protein at breakfast
  • Take a good B vitamin complex (e.g Solgar, Nutri, Advanced, Biocare or Designs For Health)
  • Take 1000-3000mg buffered vitamin C daily
  • Eat every 3-4 hours, a healthy balance of carbs, fat and protein
  • Swap any intense exercise for yoga, walking and meditation
  • Have Epsom salts baths 3 times a week
  • Swap coffee for green tea, caffeine elevates cortisol, green tea contains calming l-theanine
  • Have a switch off from the world by 7-8pm

Advanced Steps *Ideally Worked Through With a Nutritional Therapist*

  • Get a 24 hour Adrenal Stress Index Test (I use Genova diagnostics)
  • Use adaptogenic herbs including Siberian ginseng, rhodiola and Ashwaganda to modulate stress hormone production
  • Use adrenal glandulars to nourish and rebuild adrenal function
  • Get professional support for emotional issues and stress management (we cover this here)
  • Follow a ‘5 R’ gut healing programme with probiotics, antimicrobials, glutamine and digestive support

3. Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)

Cases of hypothyroidism seem to be increasing, the British Thyroid Association and British Thyroid Foundation state the prevalence is approximately 2 in every 100 people, however, many GP’s suspect the rate is much higher than this.

Thyroid hormone issues can be incredibly complex and often involve extensive investigation to determine how and why the hormones are not functioning correctly. Some possible mechanisms include:

  • Hashimoto’s disease – an autoimmune disease where antibodies from our immune system may attack the thyroid gland
  • Pituitary or hypothalamic failure may cause secondary hypothyroidism
  • Genetic hypothyroidism – the thyroid can be dysfunctional at birth
  • Environmental influence –  chemicals in our environment, food and drinks can cause issues by competing with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland
  • Thyroid surgery
  • Iodine or selenium deficiency
  • Low calorie diets increase the brakes on thyroid hormones reversing their functionality
  • Low carbohydrate diets may inhibit the conversion of T4 into the more active T3

Testing Limitations

Thyroid DiagramOne of the issues here is that GP’s have limited resources to test thyroid hormones and will often test Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) and Free T4, when in fact there are other hormones that should be tested alongside a screening for antibodies to gain a more accurate insight.

Most GP’s will assess TSH because it usually elevates when thyroid function is low.

Below are a few of the common symptoms.

 

 

Symptoms

  • Weight gain
  • Slow movements, thought and speech
  • Pins & needles
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Low libido
  • Dry eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hair loss especially outer third of eyebrows
  • Dry skin
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation

What You Can do Today

  • Go fluoride free (fluoride inhibits iodine uptake)
  • Limit exposure to chlorine by installing a water filter 
  • Eat seafood 4-5 times a week (to increase dietary iodine and selenium)
  • Go gluten free
  • Limit goitrogenic foods that prevent the thyroid from using available iodine: these include cruciferous vegetables, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, sweetcorn, sorghum, millet, soya
  • Avoid low calorie diets, check you are consuming enough for your calorie needs with a tracker like MyfitnessPal
  • Support adrenal health as above
  • Ensure you are consuming at least 100-150g carbohydrates daily

Advanced Steps *Ideally Worked Through With a Nutritional Therapist*

  • Assess iodine status with 24 hour urine test (I recommend Biolabs)
  • Get a private hormone panel to assess all thyroid hormones and antibodies (I use Genova Diagnostics)
  • Work with a practitioner exploring the use of nutritional supplements like iodine and selenium and natural thyroid glandulars
  • Follow a ‘5 R’ gut healing programme with probiotics, antimicrobials, glutamine and digestive support

We have a FREE webinar on Women’s Health Hormones and Happiness that you can download. During this recording we discuss this topics in a wider context, assessing causes and triggers for these hormone imbalances.

Services-121You can also work with me on a 1-2-1 basis across a 12 week period during which I can use functional testing to establish what’s going on behind the scenes and devise a nutritional therapy programme including personalised nutrition, supplements and lifestyle recommendations to help rebalance your body. With ongoing email support and a personal check in every 4 weeks we can adjust and adapt the programme according to your needs and ensure you regain control of your hormone health.

If you would like to book a free help call to discuss options, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.