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Do you struggle with energy, wake up in the morning only to drag yourself out of bed even though you tried to get 8 hrs sleep and only woke up a few times?

Do you feel cold all the time, can’t lose weight regardless of eating ‘clean’ and increasing your exercise, your hair is either thinning or falling out, you have dry skin, you seem more anxious than ever before and you forget things easily and your brain is foggy?

Could your hormones be out of balance?

A lot of women we speak with over 40-45 don’t really like to talk about hormones or have an understanding of what lies ahead or how you can prepare yourself for a gentler transition.  Some women choose to ignore any signs and are even reluctant to discuss hormones given there is a social stigma about symptoms that can be experienced with the female cycle of reproduction. 

Some women suspect they may have a hormonal imbalance. Everyone’s experience is very individual and not all symptoms are experienced. 

Hormonal changes are not just about been snappy with your husband and family. Here are some of the underlying ‘symptoms’ and the hormonal imbalances that may be driving them:

  1. Fatigue (low thyroid, high or low cortisol, low estrogen, high insulin)
  2. Flab and cellulite (high estrogen or high insulin)
  3. Poor sleep, frequent waking at night or insomnia (low estrogen and/or progesterone, high or low cortisol)
  4. Weight gain (high or low cortisol, high or low estrogen, low thyroid or high insulin)
  5. Incontinence (low estrogen)
  6. Hair loss, thinning hair (low or high thyroid, high testosterone or high estrogen)
  7. Crying spells (low cortisol)
  8. Belly fat (high testosterone or high insulin)
  9. Hip and thigh fat or cellulite (high estrogen)
  10. High cholesterol (low thyroid hormones)
  11. Foggy brain, poor memory or focus of attention (low thyroid hormones, low estrogen, low cortisol)
  12. Anxiety, depression, feeling “blah” (low thyroid, high/low cortisol)
  13. Facial hair (high testosterone or high estrogen)
  14. Water retention (high estrogen)

Other Symptoms:

  • periods with pain, heavy flow, irregularity (when moving from peri- to menopause)
  • irritability and mood issues
  • low libido and sex drive
  • cravings for sugar or salt
  • being dependent on alcohol or caffeine
  • frequent stress or overwhelm
  • headaches, migraine, breast tenderness (estrogen dominance)

Hormones can be dictating many processes in your body.  By understanding the bodies endocrine system, it is good to know how these may be contributing to your symptoms and what may be the root cause.

Also believe it or not your thyroid, adrenals and estrogen issues are all inter-connected and are also related to these symptoms.

You cannot fix one without fixing them all. These symptoms are due to a complex inter-twining of multiple biochemical systems in the body. 

Thyroid Gland

This butterfly gland in your neck regulates your metabolism. Too little thyroid hormone can lead to fatigue, hair loss, and constipation. It can affect other hormonal levels by keeping too much cortisol and estrogen in circulation. 

The HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis) can give you a good indication of thyroid function or can provide a predisposition to a  thyroid disorder. The Ca/K ratio on the HTMA is known as the thyroid ratio and when its high it indicates a sluggish thyroid. When calcium is high on the HTMA cell permeability is decreased making it difficult for thyroid hormone to get into the cell.  Hormone balance isn’t just about how much of each hormone you have – but also about keeping all your hormone receptors working optimally. Gentle detoxification and optimal detox pathways need attention.

We always suggest you get your full thyroid panel investigated. This involves TSH, T3, T4 and Reverse T3 + antibodies. Additionally, iodine and selenium markers would also give the complete picture in relation to thyroid function.  This may be an additional cost with your pathology lab but extremely worthwhile. If your GP is reluctant to test, a request can be made with your Functional Practitioner.

You may have been told you have ‘hypothyroidism’. This may be your ‘diagnosis’ but the root cause is taking a look at your gut, your stress levels, your diet, your lifestyle, your toxic exposure, your mineral balance and more. Your 5 Pillars!

Hypothalamus/Pituitary Gland- The HPA Axis and messages for the Adrenals

This pair of master glands nestled in the brain tells other endocrine glands what to do. If you are under stress, it could do less signalling. If you don’t clear old hormones, it could respond by not signalling to make more hormones.

The hypothalamus tells the pituitary to tell the adrenals to make stress hormones. When you have adrenal fatigue what’s really happening is your brain has to tell your adrenals to calm down the production of cortisol- your adrenals do not make this decision on their own.

Your brain may do this due to any number of stressors: 

  • mental/emotional “perceived” stress
  • disruption to your circadian rhythm
  • gut infections or other chronic infections (Lyme, EBV)
  • blood sugar imbalances
  • over exercising
  • mould and heavy metals

So adrenals don’t ever get ‘fatigued” (unless you have Addison’s Disease). This situation becomes a HPA axis dysfunction or downregulation. Your HPA axis coordinates glands, hormones, the brain- so again many systems affect overall hormone balance.

The HTMA can give you a good picture of where your adrenals are at however to get an accurate reading for adrenal fatigue we suggest the Dutch Test. Saliva tests only provide Free cortisol representing 1-3% of your cortisol and is not a marker for the total production of cortisol in the body. Metabolised cortisol is indicative of your total cortisol production for the day- sort of like your ‘bucket” telling you how much and if you are making cortisol or not. The Dutch test is the only test that gives the 2 readings to ensure you are getting the right treatment and are getting better.

It’s important to know you can’t fix your thyroid if you don’t fix your adrenals first as cortisol will suppress thyroid hormones.

Ovaries and Ovulation and the decline of sex hormones

The ovaries (or testes in men) produce estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. With estrogen and progesterone are out of whack this can lead to infertility, PMS, spotting, breast lumps, fibroids, insomnia and more.

 In perimenopause these hormones are in a natural state of imbalance. Testosterone is important for both men and women as it affects sex drive, and a feeling of confidence and vitality.

It is these hard working glands that give us energy for everyday life and help us to respond to stress. However, the modern world is super stimulating -producing too much stress hormone or if there is over whelming exhaustion- too little is produced.

Let’s talk about estrogen dominance!

This occurs when you make more estrogen than progesterone for most of your cycle.

We are supposed to be estrogen dominant for the first half of our cycle, but then when we ovulate (the only way we make progesterone) progesterone should become more dominant and should buffer the effect of excess estrogen.

Before sex hormones level out, they fluctuate and often wildly. Fluctuations may mean super high estrogen one month, incredibly low the next.  Estrogen levels surge and plummet for a while before they begin their permanent decline and as you get closer to menopause, this decrease in estrogen speeds up driving some uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia and vaginal dryness. As with progesterone (the feel good hormone) levels can be dependent on a few things.

These fluctuations cause these symptoms for various reasons: 

  • HPA axis dysregulation (adrenal issues) is negatively impacted by stress. This stress response has the potential to increase or decrease hormones. Everyone with hormonal imbalances has underlying HPA axis issue.
  • Hormone levels help produce neurotransmitters. When progesterone drops you also produce less GABA. When estrogen levels drop you also produce less serotonin and dopamine.
  • During child-bearing years your brain gets used to one type of estrogen and in menopause it needs to adjust to another type leaving you moody and brain-fogged.
  • Blood sugar imbalances can increase insulin which has the potential to up regulate some enzymes that convert certain hormones. This can lead to high estrogen or even higher testosterone.
  • Fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) help make compounds called prostaglandins that can modulate hormone receptor sites and our response to hormones. Too much omega 6 can also contribute to inflammation. We need both omega fats to be in balance.
  • With high amounts of hormones needing to be cleared out when used up you need strong functioning organs- firstly your liver, then your gut, kidneys, adrenals and gallbladder. 

When these systems are not strong and not working optimally, hormones can re-circulate and cause more hormonal imbalance.

Toxicity and Hormones

Our environment can expose us to many external toxins that are endocrine disrupting and plays a part in hormonal imbalance.

It’s really important to be aware of how the toxic load is impacting your hormones and whether your liver needs additional support especially as we age and sex hormones decline.

In the world of detoxification, it is best to avoid any additional toxicities and have better clearance- strong detoxification pathways. 

Avoidance means limiting exposure from chemicals, environmental and eating clean by limiting convenience food and produce.

Clearance means supporting your liver function – providing the relative amino acids, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for optimal function. 

Cholesterol and Hormones and the Importance of Zinc

Cholesterol also plays a key role in the production of hormones. Through a series of biochemical reactions, cholesterol gets converted into progesterone, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol.

However, for cholesterol to be efficiently converted into a hormone it requires ZINC.

We see a lot of people deficient in this mineral (on their HTMA) as our soils are depleted from modern farming practices and this vital nutrient is not readily available in a wide variety of foods these days. Foods such as oysters, red meat, eggs, sunflower seeds contain zinc however you would need to consume a lot on a regular basis to give your body the daily recommended intake.

When choosing your zinc supplement, it is best to do your due diligence. Not all zinc is created equal and some forms of zinc are more bioavailable than others. Some formulae are sub optimal. Some clients present in clinic and have been supplementing for years yet still show sub optimal zinc levels.

Again the HTMA is a good indicator of how you are moving your zinc levels in the right direction; along with understanding your Zn: Cu ratios through pathology.

Zinc is required for healthy estrogen metabolism in the body. Zinc inhibits aromatase; the conversion of androgens to estrogens, and therefore can help to stop excess estrogen production in the body. Zinc is also required for healthy methylation (making more estrogen) and also helps reduce period pain, inflammation and can be beneficial to those suffering adenomyosis (missing period) and endometriosis. Zinc also increases progesterone by increasing FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) hence promoting ovulation (and ovulation is the primary way we make progesterone).

With those women who have been long term users of the birth control pill and copper IUD we often see on the HTMA an excess in cooper which exacerbates estrogen dominance because copper raises estrogen and estrogen raises copper. For those who haven’t been able to get on top of their estrogen dominance copper toxicity may well be the underlying issue.

When we see excess copper you’ll see low zinc and these minerals work in balance with each other. They can be synergistic or antagonistic to one another.  Symptoms such as anxiety, depression, acne, infections, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, ruminating thoughts and more start presenting with these clients.

So the importance of optimum zinc for the conversion of cholesterol into hormones needs to be highlighted. 

When women move into menopause sometimes cholesterol levels become elevated. Contrary to your GP telling you to make dietary changes (no more butter? Crazy?) our suggestion would be to ensure you have adequate levels of zinc and support your liver to improve the clearance of toxins and hormones.

Let’s now discuss the 3 phases of menopause, by medical definition:

Perimenopause, begins when the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen. Progesterone production is typically low for most women by this stage, mostly as a result of stress and hectic lifestyles. 

Perimenopause lasts up until menopause when the drop I estrogen levels speeds up. During this time the focus should be on supporting your adrenal health (along with stress reduction techniques as adrenals are driven by the HPA axis). It’s the adrenals that help you maintain optimal levels of progesterone during this time as the ovaries begin to wind down their production of your sex hormones.

Menopause ‘begins’ when you haven’t menstruated fir 12 months. Women tend to experience these unpleasant symptoms. To best support your body during this time, it’s important to embrace of lot of self-care- calming breath-focused exercise, nourishment with real wholefoods, minimise or avoid alcohol and deal with emotions and stress as it arises.

Adrenals are of particular importance as they are the sole source of your progesterone production. Progesterone acts as a powerful anit-anxiety agent, an anti-depressant and a diuretic removing excess fluid for optimal health and wellness. Having optimal levels of progesterone will help you feel more centred, and better able to cope with the pressures of modern life.

Post-menopause is when symptoms tend to finish. As your body begins to adjust to the change in your sex hormone levels, it’s important to support your thyroid gland. Clinically we find women tire more easily so supplying your thyroid with cofactors – selenium and iodine is critical to feeling energised and also supports metabolism fat utilisation capabilities.

It’s really important to have an awareness of these hormonal changes. Preparing for menopause is just as important as supporting yourself through menopause. A focus on your nutritional definitions and making lifestyle changes ahead of time, perimenopause is not too early -can have profound effect of your day-to-day health and set you up for a more comfortable transition into and through menopause. 

We believe women need to feel empowered here and not accept that these symptoms are ‘normal’ or ‘common’. There needs to be an awareness that you do not need to just accept (that you need to suffer) but know there are steps you can take to alleviate these challenges so you are equipped to more through this transition more easily.   

Strategies and Recommendations for Healthy Hormones

In Clinic we suggest you keep on top of the regulation of your hormones by undertaking some key Functional Tests relevant to your profile: –

Your HTMA periodically

 High copper toxicity can be driven by estrogen levels and its antagonist Zn, driving Zinc levels lower. Metabolic and hormonal patterns can be explained as well as highlight any nutrient deficiencies and heavy metal presence. 

The Dutch Test

When fluctuations cause symptoms we use our gold standard in hormone testing.

We love this test as it is;

  • simple to administer – a urine collection in the comfort of your home
  • super accurate (more so than standard hormone blood)
  • shows your stress hormones- important for understanding hormonal issues and mood
  • shows ALL of your hormones: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and their metabolites
  • the daily (diurnal) pattern of free cortisol and melatonin is included. 
  • shows what types of estrogen and which pathways estrogen is taking: the ‘good’ non-proliferative pathways or the ‘bad’ pro-mutagenic pathways. Provides information of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of estrogen metabolism.
  • shows inflammatory markers- inflammation will increase 5 alpha reductase activity which will in turn increase the production of DHT- a very potent androgen that drives hair loss hirsutism and acne. Insulin will also up-regulate 5-alpha reductase, insulin drives inflammation and inflammation drives insulin.
  • used to formulate highly personalised and results orientated diet and lifestyle plans for our clients.

GI Mapping Stool Test

Impaired gut function can mess with hormones in many ways. Infections, imbalances of bacteria and leaky gut can contribute to inflammation. Inflammation can impact the function of part of your brain that help to trigger hormone production. Dsybiosis can also increase an enzyme I your gut that prevents proper hormone detoxification.

High beta glucuronidase (recirculating estrogen) due to imbalanced gut bacteria (dybiosis) can impact hormonal imbalance. You need a healthy gut and optimal bowel function to ‘poop’ your ‘old estrogen’ out. 

By addressing gut microbiome, we can work on correcting hormones.

One way the body eliminates toxins is through a process called conjugation which occurs during phase 2 of liver detoxification. During conjugation, toxins are packaged into water soluble compounds, through this process toxins and hormones are meant to pass through the liver, to the bile, then to the gut where they can be excreted (unless you are constipated?)

High levels of this enzyme beta-glucuronidase can inhibit this process and this enzyme separates toxins from their conjugate bond and allows them to be reabsorbed and reactivated in your body. 

Beta-glucuronidase is important for proper digestion and in particular phase 2 of liver detoxification, so if your levels are out of balance it can affect your ability to detoxify estrogen and other hormones as well as environmental toxins.

We need a healthy functioning gut in order to absorb nutrients that are vital for the health of the thyroid, adrenals and healthy estrogen metabolism and clearance. ‘Leaky gut’, dysbiosis, parasitic infections all can contribute to ‘adrenal fatigue’ as they are stressors on the body. 

The GI Map is one of the most comprehensive and sensitive stool tests available using DNA/PCR assay. PCR amplifies gene targets and can generate thousands to millions of copies of a single target DNA sequence which then increases the sensitivity and specificity of the test.

General strategies for Hormonal Balance 

Food is medicine and diet is where it is at STAT! You really cannot supplement your way out of a bad diet. Studies have shown that microbiota can be altered negatively from a crappy meal in just hours after consuming that meal. 

Without a full consultation to assess your hormonal status we recommend the following lifestyle and dietary choices: –

  • Cruciferous Vegetables- eat lots of Brussel sprouts, broccoli to help support phase 2 liver detoxification
  • Eat animal protein in moderation.
  • Vitamins – help with detoxification, produce energy, and play a role in almost every pathway in the body (B vitamins, vitamin C)
  • Clean up your diet- processed foods provide little to no nutritional value to your body, often containing lots of bad fat or high sugar
  • Check your beauty products- many antiaging creams contain hormones, are synthetic and are absorbed through the skin, affecting hormone status
  • Cut alcohol- alcohol is inflammatory to the body and also estrogenic
  • Eat clean seafood or take a fish oil- Omega 3’s decrease inflammation. Cholesterol is the building block of all sex hormones so having adequate levels of cholesterol is important.
  • Eliminate soy- soy is estrogenic to the body. All soy in Australia is genetically modified (GMO) some more research is needed.
  • Probiotics-when used with clean diet, probiotics can provide digestive benefits, heal the gut and populate the gut with more diverse bacteria.
  • Fibre- psyllium husks, chia seeds, flaxseeds can help to move your bowels more meaning better detoxification and less abdominal discomfort – bloating and constipation.
  • Exercise- pick something that you enjoy 3-4 x/week. Support your adrenals with a low impact option yin yoga or Pilates. Research has correlated exercise with regulating menstrual cycles and decreasing menstrual pain. 

A last word on stress

Even if you have a great diet, take all your supplements – you need to keep your stress in check.

If you have trouble managing stress, reducing stress- you will never be able to heal.

You cannot separate the mind from the body from the spirit.

What you think, or perceive your emotional baggage, and your past traumas (even the smallest ones) will affect your health.

Excessive exercise spikes cortisol so choose your exercise carefully, practice mindfulness and deep heart centred breathing amongst other strategies.

We trust you have found this information empowering enough to make the decision to not just put up with symptoms because you think they are normal. Be proactive when it comes to looking after your hormone health and the transition will be so much easier- without the need for less natural alternatives.

Book a strategy call today to have a chat about your plans moving forward.