In our first article on menopause, we went over what menopause was and the symptoms that many people experience with menopause. In this article, we are going to start discussing various solutions for people experiencing these symptoms and how the adrenals play their part.
Why are Adrenals important during Menopause?
In normal physiology, the ovaries decrease their production of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone as women enter menopause. It is important to note that they do not stop completely, but the overall level is greatly decreased. In order to compensate for this shift, the body uses a second gland to synthesize its needed hormones. While many women (and some doctors) falsely believe estrogen and progesterone are only needed if a person wants to have babies, nothing could be farther from the truth. Here is a short list of the functions of estrogen:
- Breast tissue proliferation
- Vaginal tissue proliferation
- Skin, Nail, Hair proliferation
- Secretion of digestive enzymes in the stomach
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Promotes blood vessel health through nitric oxide
- Antioxidant effects
- Bone building effects
Who thinks it might be important to maintain estrogen’s positive influence on inflammation, digestion, and the health of your blood vessels? Current research in neurology shows us that the frontal lobe of a woman’s brain is rich in estrogen receptors . Considering the frontal lobe is responsible for drive, motivation, and cognitive thinking, I think keeping some estrogen around is a good idea. The same principles hold true for progesterone and testosterone, but for the sake of time and space we won’t go into all the details here. Suffice it so say, even after a woman has become infertile, it is important she still has these hormones to maintain her health! Lucky for us, your body thinks it is important to keep these hormones around too, so it designed an ingenious system of producing these hormones even after your ovaries stop. Your back-up hormone factory is your adrenal gland.
Your adrenal glands are small hormone factories that sit on top of the kidneys. While they are most famous for their ability to produce cortisol, your stress handling and blood sugar regulating hormone, the innermost layer of the adrenal cortex (the zona reticularis) produces DHEA and Androstendione which your body converts to testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen in other tissues. The adrenal glands are 2x as important for a female in menopause as they will help smooth out your hormones as your ovaries decrease their output!
The Dreaded “Adrenal Fatigue”
Unfortunately the majority of American women go into menopause with already poor adrenal function natural practitioners refer to as “adrenal fatigue”. The best way to test how the adrenal glands are interacting with our hormones is through a test called the Dutch Test. This test will show us levels of every hormone plus cortisol levels and how your body is utilizing cortisol. I’ll go into the specifics of adrenal fatigue in another article, but let me briefly say I do not like the term adrenal fatigue. When I say adrenal fatigue, most people think the adrenal gland is tired, but in the majority of cases this is not what is happening! In reality, the adrenal gland function is controlled via the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal hormone regulation system and this system is controlled by the brain! The paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus, the mesencephalon, and the hippocampus are the main areas of the brain involved in regulating the activity of your adrenal gland. This means if you have an adrenal problem you have a brain problem! This means if you have a hormonal imbalance in menopause you have a brain problem! What can cause these brain problems? The two chief causes of brain malfunction are inflammation and neurotransmitter imbalances. We’ll discuss each of these causes in our next two articles!