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Due to the change in ovarian hormones, the symptoms of adrenal stress can be different between men and women. The good news is that if the symptoms are caused by adrenal stress and not an adrenal disease, simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference – let’s talk more about that today.
Adrenal Stress & Fatigue
A lot has been said about the concept of “adrenal fatigue,” and how perhaps it would be best to rename it something completely different (1). In fact, it is basically a misnomer.
Adrenal fatigue is a term employed to suggest that the adrenal glands are unable to make enough cortisol. This then implies that the adrenal glands are sluggish or worn out.
The only condition we know in which this occurs is known as Addison’s disease, an autoimmune attack on the adrenal gland causing it to produce very low levels of cortisol.
Key Insight: What you need to know is that Addison’s disease is RARE and only affects a few people per million. It is similar to Hashimoto’s disease of the thyroid gland.
The best way to understand what we call “adrenal fatigue” is like this: Your body is not having a tough time producing cortisol. Instead, your body is intentionally slowing down cortisol production. Your adrenals are not fatigued – they are simply fatiguing you!
The HPA Axis
The more correct term is what we might like to call “adrenal stress.” This is where the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is in a state of stress.
What you need to know about the HPA axis is that it is a feedback system which helps to regulate:
- Reactions to stress
The HPA axis can move our body in different ways to prevent and protect us. In certain situations, this is incredibly useful.
Problems arise when we come across major stressors. At that point, the HPA axis prepares our bodies for continual tragedy – like our bodies are constantly being prepared for the worst possible outcome (2).
Bottom Line: The HPA axis is what is affecting most people, leading to this concept of adrenal stress, which in turn affects cortisol-hormone rhythms in the body.
Your Adrenals & Your Ovaries
The cortisol cycle is the regulator of cell membrane permeability towards the sex hormones – this means that the adrenals are the backup source of estrogenic and androgenic female hormones.
Key Insight: Overall, the adrenal gland secretes hormones that are converted in the ovaries to make estrogen, and in the testes to make testosterone.
Another important thing to know is that the outer layer of the adrenal gland, what we call the adrenal cortex, has been found to be a major contributor to aging – especially in women, as it plays a role in sex hormones.
The adrenal gland, thyroid, and ovaries all work closely with one another. Any change in one “hormonal department” can impact others in a variety of ways.
For example, when a woman enters menopause, her ovarian function declines. This leads the adrenal gland to play an even more crucial role, in order to help maintain sex hormones (becoming the only natural source in the body).
During perimenopause (the period before you enter true menopause), the ovaries start to slow down and eventually decline in function. Due to this, there is a reduction of a very important hormone Estradiol, and the adrenal compensates for this by creating another type of estrogen known as Estrone. There are 3 types of Estrogen you should know about: Estriol, Estradiol, and Estrone. Estriol is primarily made when a woman is pregnant, Estradiol is the predominant hormone when a female is in her menstruation years and Estrone is the primary hormone produced in menopause (peri and post).
So, what kind of action steps can you take? First, it is best to get lab work done to identify how these hormones are working together. This can help craft an effective treatment plan to figure out the root cause.
Bottom Line: In some cases, a patient can present a thyroid issue, but the true underlying hormone imbalance could be in the adrenals or the ovaries. It is so important to seek out and uncover root causes.
Adrenal Symptoms In Women
What kind of symptoms should you be mindful of when it comes to adrenal stress? Here are some of the most notable:
- Hot flashes
- Irregular cycles
- Facial hair growth
- Difficult perimenopause/menopause
- Orthostatic hypotension
Understanding Circadian Cues
Something important to note is that symptoms which reveal themselves the same time each day are especially likely to be tied to adrenal health.
Adrenal Recovery Strategies for Women
Thankfully, there is something you can do to get your adrenals in order – so that you can feel better than ever. Beyond doing the necessary lab work to reveal any potential root causes, here are some handy changes you can make to do right by your adrenals.
Circadian Reset & Repairs
Your circadian rhythm is so important to the health of your adrenals. That is why, every now and again, you might need to do a reset and repair of your circadian cycle. This is where you can set a consistent bedtime and wake up schedule. As they say, “early to bed and early to rise wins the prize.”
There are opportunities for your adrenals to heal with the help of herbs. We have profiled Dr. C’s favorite herbal tonics before (3), but it is important to know that there are unique combinations out there to suit your unique needs.
Simple exercises can help your adrenals to no end. Things like walking, stretching, yoga, and even basic breathing exercises.
There are definitely some things you can do to regulate your cortisol. One of them is sunlight: Within an hour of waking, be sure to get 30 minutes of outdoor sunlight to signal your brain that it is morning (and to trigger the proper cortisol rhythms).
When night comes, avoid blue-light sources (such as screens) and get a red bulb as your main light source – these can be easily found online.
Concerned About Your Adrenals?
The first thing that you should know is that you can ask for help. Please feel free to reach out to the doctors at Integrative Health today, who can help uncover what is really going on in your body – and what you can do to get yourself back on the track to good health.
Written by Dr. Linda Khoshaba of Integrative Health. Dr. Linda Khoshaba has been practicing as an Associate Physician at Integrative health for 5 years. She specializes in treating Hashimoto’s and Graves thyroid disease, Adrenal Dysfunction and Hormone imbalance in both men and women.
Learn more about Dr. Khoshaba here.