Hormones. Most women think of “hormones” as estrogen, progesterone, and sometimes testosterone. Throughout a woman’s lifetime she will experience fluctuating hormones and attribute mood swings, anxiety, depression, fatigue, joint pain, weight gain, low libido, hot flashes, cravings, mental confusion or memory loss, and insomnia to their imbalance. Frequently, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Our bodies are complex. How we feel and respond involves the interaction and integration of the endocrine, immune, enteric (intestines), and nervous systems.
Neurotransmitters, which carry messages to every organ, muscle, and gland, are affected by poor nutrition, medication, heavy metal toxicity, and over stimulation, which can impair the function of all systems. Thus, balancing our body’s systems is a delicate dance, and one that requires a great deal of experience and information.
Hormone Replacement Therapy May Not be the Answer
Often when a woman experiences premenstrual syndrome (PMS), perimenopause, or menopause, she is prescribed female hormones to relieve the symptoms. When this is not effective or symptoms remain, the hormones are changed or the dose is increased. Prescribing only female hormones often does not result in the best outcome.
In fact, research, including the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a study which was supposed to answer questions about hormone replacement therapy (HT), revealed further study is needed to identify the risks and benefits of HT use in appropriate age groups. Bio-identical hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, are becoming increasingly popular as a more natural replacement which can be given in a variety of forms and individually adjusted. However, large, long-term studies on the risks and benefits of these hormones are lacking.
Successful treatment of women requires looking beyond one hormone system and properly diagnosing and treating adrenal function. When adrenals are stressed, estradiol can be shunted to DHEA, testosterone to DHEA, and progesterone to cortisol. In women, the adrenal glands are the only source of DHEA. In the menopausal female, the adrenals are the only source of testosterone, and they produce estrogen and progesterone. If the adrenals are exhausted and cortisol is low, menopausal and PMS symptoms intensify. Adrenal evaluation and normalization should precede hormone therapy.
Neurotransmitters include the inhibitory serotonin and GABA, and excitatory nor-epinephrine (NE), epinephrine (EPI), glutamate, and dopamine. Neurotransmitter imbalances can cause a wide range of mental, physical, and emotional symptoms. For example, low levels of serotonin can cause anxiety, depression, pain, lack of motivation, insomnia, and carbohydrate cravings. Just as blood sugar is tested before recommending insulin and thyroid levels are checked before thyroid medication is given, the adrenals and neurotransmitters need to be tested before starting any therapy.
Customized individual therapies, including therapeutic lifestyle changes, nutrition, and supplements when indicated, can be tailored to correct the imbalances. B vitamins, especially B12, B5, and B6; vitamin C; zinc; magnesium; vitamin A; folic acid; copper; and iodine often provide basic nutritional support.
Symptoms & Their Causes
The imbalance in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone create the following symptoms in the premenopausal, perimenopausal, and menopausal woman. These symptoms, however, may be related to other hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances.
- Mood swings: Low serotonin, low thyroid, low GABA, high dopamine, low adrenals, low blood sugar.
- Insomnia: Low adrenals, low serotonin, low GABA, high NE, high EPI, low blood sugar, high cortisol, high thyroid.
- Hot flashes: High cortisol, low serotonin.
- Fatigue: Low thyroid, low DHEA, low glutamate, low adrenals (cortisol), low dopamine, low NE, and low EPI.
- Anxiety: Low serotonin, low GABA, high NE, high EPI, high glutamate, high cortisol.
- Depression: Low serotonin, low thyroid, low Vitamin D, low NE, high glutamate.
- Pain: Low serotonin, low vitamin D, low cortisol, high NE.
- Lack of motivation: Low serotonin, low dopamine.
- Carbohydrate cravings: Low serotonin, insulin resistance, low dopamine.
- Weight gain: Low thyroid, high cortisol, insulin resistance.
- Memory loss and loss of focus: Low thyroid, low cortisol, low dopamine, low EPI, low NE, low glutamate.
- Decreased libido: Low thyroid, low DHEA.
- PMS: Low serotonin, low dopamine.
What Makes Them Dance?
The dancing hormones and their interaction are responding not only to each other but are modulated by our lifestyles and significantly impacted by our stress. The complicated interaction of our hormones and our brain chemistry challenges our stress adaptation mechanisms, and fatigue can result. These fluctuating levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid interact with brain neurotransmitters such as calming serotonin and GABA or excitatory dopamine, nor-epinephrine, epinephrine, glutamate, and others that affect our emotional and physical responses to life, to stressors in our environment, to insults, and even to infections.
As neurotransmitters affect hormones and hormones affect neurotransmitters, their imbalances can lead to increased symptoms and chronic illness. Taking preventive, proactive measures can ward off disease and suffering.
Addressing the overall health of the adrenal function, neurotransmitters, and thyroid function is more effective in the long run than the Band-Aid approach of replacing deficient female hormones alone. Measuring and treating only one system is a misguided practice. The communication system is complex and symptoms overlap. Find out the underlying cause of what ails you by choosing a knowledgeable professional who can order the appropriate testing of sex hormones, adrenal hormones, and neurotransmitters. Your treatment using natural approaches, including specifically designed supplements with the building blocks of the hormones and neurotransmitters, can then be tailored to your individual needs.