The modern way of living is having a profound negative impact on our hormonal health.
Balanced hormones are essential for fertility, healthy menstruation, and a trouble-free menopause journey, but unfortunately these are times in our life where almost every woman has some kind of negative experience with. What if I told you it didn't have to be that way?
It's also important to note here, that these female hormones are also critical for many other things outside of the reproductive system; did you know your "reproductive hormones" are CRITICAL for brain function and preventing degeneration, assisting gut health by enhancing the gut barrier, and the motility of the GI tract, improving cardiovascular health and enhancing bone health to name a few.
The key issue I see in practice, is stress and infertility, irregular or troublesome menstrual cycles, and menopause that greatly impacts a woman's quality of life....
So, how is it connected?
The amygdala in our brain perceives stress, which then signals the HPA axis, on the left which sends hormones from the hypothalamus, to the pituitary to the adrenal cortex to release cortisol. When under chronic stress (even if it's mild stress of simply "being busy") we are constantly triggering this response to happen, and cortisol gets higher, and higher.
Our hormones all work on a feedback loop, which is basically like a seesaw, if our body reads an adequate amount of hormone in the body, the feedback loop kicks in to drop the seesaw back to balance, but when we have an excessively high amount of hormone, the feedback loop can over compensate and flip the seesaw completely the other way. Now our cortisol drops super low (hello adrenal fatigue and exhaustion )
Now, at the same time as the stress response, the HPG axis is being triggered (on the right side of the diagram), and the chronic stress is now affecting the levels of reproductive hormones, and in many cases is actually stopping ovulation (no ovulation = no conception!). It is thought that this is a protective mechanism from the body, as when your body is feeling/perceiving "stress", we are essentially telling our body that the world is not safe / or that life is in danger, therefore the last thing the body would want to do is to get pregnant/bring another life into the world as that would put your own life or survival in danger (think animal instinct – pregnancy makes you vulnerable).
So now hormonal imbalance occurs, and hormonal and fertility issues arise.
Now again, it's important to remember these reproductive hormones are necessary for so much more than just reproduction! So body systems body wide also start to down regulate.
This is even more critical in menopause, as when the ovaries stop making the sex hormones, the adrenals are now responsible for the remaining amount we need to support bone/heart/brain/gut health.... but if the adrenals are too occupied with creating this cortisol all of a sudden we are deficient in progesterone, and sometimes estrogen, and long story short you are essentially ageing quicker and feeling EXHAUSTED while doing so.
The good news is, all of this can be rebalanced once again, and a lot of it is via simple lifestyle techniques, and the true foundations of health.
So to help you make a start:
These are the key pillars to restoring adrenal and hormonal health, the more complex changes only come after, and only make a difference after, these foundations have been covered. There's no fancy supplement or "perfect" diet ON.THE.PLANET that can outdo the damage of a depleting lifestyle.
So as women we need to find the ever illusive "balance" between giving out and putting back in, tear off that percieved badge of honour we wear for doing it all, feel ok about saying "no", or "not right now", stop feeling guilty about a cat nap on the couch when our washing pile is over flowing, and know in your heart of hearts your body loves us back, when we love it first.
By April Butt
April Butt is a passionate Health Practitioner and Nutritionist. Her approach to health, as well as food, is practical and sustainable. Within this blog she shares pearls of wisdom to make living a healthy lifestyle achievable for everyone.