Have you ever been so tired that you just can’t wait to get into your bed? But there you are, all comfy in your bed… you find yourself too wired to get to sleep. Or even worse, you are laying there with your eyes open, struggling to sleep AND the hot flashes kick in! As the clock ticks, you start to worry about your sleep and how tired you will be tomorrow, and the cycle will start all over again. These are all signs of adrenal fatigue and/or adrenal stress.
The source of this “wired and tired” insomnia starts with your adrenal glands- where your stress hormones are made. Chronically high levels of stress hormones not only affect your sleep, it will affect how you transition through peri-menopause and menopause.
Your adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and secrete important hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, aldosterone, progesterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). These hormones help you to buffer stress response and adapt to the everyday demands and stressors of life- real or imagined!
Under normal stress, healthy adrenals increase their output of cortisol and DHEA to enable you to stay emotionally stable, sleep well, keep your hormones and immune system balanced.
If stress becomes chronic, the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demand for more cortisol and other stress hormones. Chronic high cortisol causes DHEA levels to fall- which is the start of adrenal dysregulation. This sets in motion a cascade of events that affect the production of our sex hormones and, of course, cause disruption in other body systems as well!
Many chronically stressed women complain of insomnia, fatigue, depression, irritability, weight gain, night sweats, hot flashes and digestive difficulties.
Around the age of 35-40, the ovaries start gradually decreasing the amount of progesterone they produce. At midlife, with the innate wisdom of your body, the adrenal gland takes over as an important source of progesterone during peri-menopause and beyond. If the adrenals are too busy producing cortisol, adequate amounts of progesterone and DHEA cannot be made. Basically, your hormonal transition, peri-menopause, will not be as smooth as it would be for a women who has a healthier adrenal system.
High levels of cortisol can cause:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Low production of progesterone
- Weight gain
- Night sweats/hot flashes
- High blood pressure
- Low energy
- Brain fog
- Sugar cravings
- Elevated cholesterol/triglycerides
As stress becomes a way of life for some women, high cortisol levels from prolonged stress then become depleted and can drop to very low levels.
Low Cortisol Levels can cause:
- Allergies or decreased immune system
- Panic attacks/anxiety/depression
- Poor concentration
- Low or unstable blood sugar
- Restless sleep
- Low DHEA
- Low libido
- Achy joints and muscles
- Water retention
- Low blood pressure/dizzy
- Crave salty foods
How do you test for high or low cortisol levels?
It’s important to test for adrenal fatigue, or dysregulation, by looking at the circadian rhythm of cortisol throughout the day. We can then assess the stage of progression in order to know what treatment plan is best.
Testing is best done by a Adrenal Stress Profile, a saliva test done at home with 4 samples of the patient’s saliva collected at intervals throughout the day for example: 8am, noon, 4pm and 10pm. The patient sends the home test kit to the lab and the results and treatment plan will be discussed by her functional medicine practitioner. The test will show what pattern is occurring – high cortisol, low cortisol, combination pattern or backwards pattern.
Saliva testing is best because you can see the unique rhythm throughout the day as opposed to a blood test that is only a morning snapshot. It will also tell us how stress is affecting the DHEA levels so we know how the body is adapting to stress- and how our hormones are being affected in relation to cortisol levels.
How can we restore our adrenal glands for better hormone balance?
- Diet: no refined sugars, caffeine, moderate alcohol and should include several small, low glycemic (low sugar) meals containing protein, healthy fats and fresh fruits/vegetables
- Eliminate allergic foods – elimination diet or food allergy testing
- Eliminate Toxins– use natural personal products, filter water, organic produce and eliminate toxic relationships as well!
- Support adrenal glands with Licorice and Chinese herbal formulas
- Adaptagenic herbs to balance stress response: Ashwaganda, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, Panax Ginseng, Eleuthro
- Vitamin C – 1,000-2,000mg a day
- Get enough sleep – start by turning off all screens an hour or two before bed, have a small snack of nuts/or a protien to help keep blood sugar stable & stay asleep
- Use stress-management techniques– consistent acupuncture, meditation,prayer, Tai Chi, yoga, walking in nature, enjoying the company of a good friend or family member/pet
- Deal with deep-seated emotions as needed with laughter, breathing, and/or maybe professional help.
- Engage in low to moderate exercise and listen to your body– yoga, walking, Tai Chi
- Get daily outdoor sunshine in the morning- stimulates melatonin for better sleep cycles.
- Find meaningful connections to your friends and family as well as your work.
Our bodies are an intricate web of feedback loops that communicate between the brain and the endocrine system -Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis. When healthy, The HPA axis is the source of hormonal health and balance in fertility, perimenopause and menopause. If our adrenal glands are out of whack with either adrenal fatigue or stress, it throws off this communication. In addition, if you have thyroid disease or digestive problems, all the symptoms we call “menopause”, are more intense.
I want all women to enter into menopause with healthy adrenals to ensure a smooth transition. Menopause is not a disease to be treated, rather, I see it as a time of transition into the second half our lives as women. Which is going to be amazing with renewed energy and vitality!