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#4 – Decrease Stress Levels and Support Your Adrenal Glands

Posted on: November 23rd, 2012 by Lara Armstrong 1 Comment

The Top 5 Ways to Build Healthy Hormones and Prepare for Menopause

By Dr. Lara Armstrong, ND

Most people can understand the impact of stress on emotional health but many do not realize the impact it has on our physical health.  Stress can come in the form of physical trauma on the body or the emotional trauma of environmental factors that impact our everyday life.  For some, this could be sitting in rush hour traffic on a day to day basis, issues with family/home life or stressors in the work place.  How we manage this stress is the key to how it will manifest itself.  I always make a point of asking women if there is anything they notice that makes their menopausal symptoms worse.  Many women recognize that stress makes their symptoms worse or can induce them.  Those that don’t make the connection tend to admit to it once I have discussed this correlation.

Your body manages stress through glands that sit on top of the kidneys called the adrenal glands.  These glands produce hormones that correspond to the stress response in the body.  The adrenal medulla (a region within the gland) produces epinephrine, the hormone that is released during the fight or flight response.  This is a primitive response that allows us to get away from immediate danger.  Although most of us are not exposed to extremely dangerous situations on a daily basis, the daily stressors mentioned above can still invoke this response.  Cortisol and DHEA are two very important hormones that are produced from the adrenal cortex and play a key role in the stress response.  When the body is under stress or blood glucocorticoid levels are low, high amounts of cortisol are released.

Cortisol is a hormone that is involved in regulating glucose metabolism, increasing blood sugar levels through gluconeogenesis, suppressing the immune system, and aiding in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism in the body.  Cortisol is therefore imperative for life and vitality.  Stress will negatively impact the adrenal glands and eventually inadequate amounts of cortisol will be produced.   If a person has poor adrenal function and does not produce adequate amounts of cortisol they will feel run down and tired all the time, developing a condition that is commonly referred to by naturopaths as adrenal fatigue.  Beyond feeling tired all the time, adrenal fatigue will effect female hormones, worsening the symptoms associated with PMS and menopause.  This is due to the relationship between cortisol and progesterone.  Progesterone and cortisol are made from another hormone called pregnenolone.  If the body is becoming depleted of cortisol, pregnenolone will be shunted towards producing cortisol and progesterone levels will decline.  The body will always choose survival over reproduction, thus cortisol production will reign supreme over progesterone production.  If there is a decrease in progesterone then this will create an imbalance with estrogen and estrogen dominance will occur, worsening issues surrounding PMS in menstruating women and worsening the symptoms that take place in perimenopausal/menopausal women.

In addition to low cortisol levels, stress can also impact DHEA.  DHEA is the anti-stress/anti-aging hormone in the body and acts as a “mother” hormone, as it can be converted into other sex hormones; estrogen and testosterone.  Once the ovaries shut down, this is another way that your body can produce estrogen.  I notice in practice that menopausal women who have good levels of DHEA, tend to have fewer symptoms associated with menopause, due to the fact that their body has another way to produce the sex hormones.  If your body is under stress, this will result in low DHEA levels and again this can lead to complications surrounding hormone imbalance.  When I am working with women in menopause the key to aiding in balancing their hormones is addressing adrenal function.  If adrenal function can be restored, then all the hormones will become more balanced and the symptoms of perimenopause/menopause will begin to improve.

There are many ways that you can help to improve your adrenal function.  It starts by addressing the stressors in your life and how you manage that stress.  Diet can also play a key role in reducing stress levels in the body and additionally there are many vitamins, minerals and botanical medicines that can aid in reducing stress levels in the body, supporting healthy levels of cortisol and DHEA.  My next blog will address some of the things that you can do to decrease stress levels in the body.

Image: David Castillo Dominici /

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Lara Armstrong, is a licensed naturopathic doctor who currently practices in Ancaster and Hamilton, ON. She received her training in Naturopathic Medicine from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), graduating in 2004, and started her private practice, Armstrong health in 2005, where she runs a general family practice. In 2007 she started the menopause clinic at Monarch Laser and Wellness in Hamilton. This clinic offers naturopathic treatment for menopause and issues surrounding hormonal imbalance and is run in conjunction with a medical doctor, bringing a very unique and refreshing approach to health care. Dr. Armstrong is very passionate about helping women going through menopause, providing them with education and has been involved in several speaking engagements discussing this topic. Dr. Armstrong has been the recipient of the Diamond Award for “Best Naturopath” in the Hamilton’s Readers Choice for the last 5years. In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Armstrong, is part of a mentoring program with the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and will have medical students shadowing appointments from time to time. Outside of clinical practice, Lara enjoys the practice of yoga and the health benefits that this provides. She is the mother of 3yr old Jasmine and loves spending time with her and continuing to learn from her. Lara is a member of the OAND, CAND and APND.

One Response

  1. Susan Schmidt

    15 May 2012

    Dear Lara, I’m from Hamilton and working overseas. Ironically I was looking up the above subject and there you were, right in Hamilton! How cool is that? 🙂 I’d like to come see you when I return. our family physician team is in Niagara on the Lake through OHIP. If I came to you, it would have to be privately, or I may lose that family physician. Is there a way to see you so that this doesn’t happen?
    In any case, I would appreciate hearing from you and hopefully a way can work out to have a consultation. Have a great day…

    Sincerely, Susan Schmidt M.A.

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