Not long ago a husband brought his wife into my office and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He said, “If you can ‘cure’ my wife’s PMS from Hell, I’ll recommend you for sainthood.”
Well as luck would have it, she no longer has her PMS but I’m still without sainthood.
But the incident reminded me again, of the relationship that our sex hormones have to our adrenal/stress hormones. They are in fact intimately related.
Stress is that 800 pound gorilla in the room that produces a flight-fight response in our bodies. This response is a series of chemical events designed to ensure our survival in case of an attack by a Woolly Mammoth. But unfortunately our stress events are not incidental; they are chronic. And the Woolly Mammoths of today are IRS agents, marriage problems, job pressures, problem children, scary movies, and the list goes on and on but also includes low blood sugar, chronic pain and chronic infection.
The adrenal gland bares the brunt of our 24/7 stress events and the excessive and prolonged output of these stress hormones, like cortisol and DHEA. The end result is some really serious health conditions.
It has some role in nearly all injuries, illness and death. The stress response in a critical situation could make the difference between living or dying, but our bodies were not designed to live under the assault of long-term stress.
Under chronic stress the adrenal gland enlarges and cortisol increases. Excessive cortisol output can cause insulin resistance, encourage diabetes, metabolic syndrome (leading to several degenerative diseases) and weight gain1.
But that is just the beginning. As cortisol demand increases in response to stress, our body’s immune response is down-regulated, its growth and repair functions falter and inflammation, that monster behind all chronic degenerative diseases, is turned on.
Now here is where the “undersexed” part comes in. As stress continues the ability of the adrenals to cope diminishes. And so to make more stress hormones (think cortisol) the body will begin to surreptitiously use the sex hormones, progesterone and testosterone, to make more stress hormones2(And I have seen this in my patients way too many times to count.) And of course they both eventually get depleted with the result that we become overstressed and undersexed.
Now here’s the thing, the body has it right, using sex hormones to make stress hormones. In an emergency it can save your life. Why protect reproduction of the species for tomorrow if the species dies today.
Survival has a distinctly higher priority than reproduction. But doing this chronically, day in and day out, is like using your tiny spare donut tire on your car all the time. It was not designed to be used that way – it is for emergencies only.
The effect of this is substantially lower levels of progesterone and testosterone and thus, in either case, estrogen dominance.
In females this can encourage PMS, depression and anxiety. Chronic estrogen dominance is a culprit behind menstrual irregularities, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and is a participant in and encourager of excessive growth in the breast with breast cancer3 and in the prostate with prostate enlargement and prostate cancer in males. And as you can see this is not just a female problem, it affects males as well.
Low testosterone is a factor in middle-age depression4, heart disease, the stark increase in the not-so-cute-looking “man boobs”, and has obviously provided a big boon to the pharmaceutical sales of Viagra®, Cilais® and the like. As testosterone falls, erectile dysfunction is much more common.
If you suspect that overstressed and undersexed could be behind your health issues, get a salivary hormone test by a holistically oriented practitioner. I describe this test on my website. It is a great way to determine your levels of sex and adrenal hormones. You can find info on it here.
Make sure the adrenal test evaluates your hormones at least 6 times over a 24 hour period, including a 4 AM level. Estrogen dominance is a very common finding, and in males I routinely find low or low normal levels of testosterone. References 1. Nutrition Science News, April 2001, Vol. 6, No.4, p. 134 2. Borkin, M., Alternative Medicine, September 2000, p 67 3. Lee, J. Hanley, J., What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About PREmenopause, Warner Books, 2004 4. Archives of Psychiatry, Vol. 6, No. 3, March 2008
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