Hormonal imbalances can be at the root cause for a lot of symptoms.
Hormones are chemicals released by the pituitary gland and other endocrine tissues throughout the body, namely the thyroid, ovaries, adrenal glands and testes.
We all have hormonal fluctuations on a daily basis; there's a complex interplay between all the hormones, much like a symphony. And when one hormone is out of balance, the whole hormonal symphony will reflect this. Due to the nature of their monthly cycle, women are disproportionally affected by hormonal issues.
Progesterone plays an interesting role in all of this, especially for female athletes.
One of the two main female reproductive hormones, progesterone works in close tandem with estrogen. As I explain this to my female patients in clinic, you can blame all the ‘unpleasantries’ of being a woman on estrogen – painful periods, PMS, cramping, bloating, breast tenderness, mood changes, etc., while progesterone works to balance estrogen out by providing a sense of calm, deep sleep, clear skin and a full head of hair, to name a few.
Many women experience a major hormonal shift sometime in their late 30’s or early 40’s. Chronologically, she’s a good 20+ or so years into her reproductive years (Mother Nature sets it up so women can become pregnant in their early teens), and by the late 30’s/early 40’s progesterone begins it’s long, slow decline into menopause, which occurs on average at age 55.
Coupled with this, excess stressors of life have begun to accumulate and take their toll on her physiology. The pressures of reproduction/child rearing, family, career, training and other life stressors chip away at our adrenal glands, and they work hard to mitigate this by releasing cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) as a buffer.
Cortisol levels aren’t what they used to be either, and as the demand for cortisol intensifies, the body will try to boost production by ‘cannibalizing” progesterone (put simply, many of our hormones are interchangeable so to speak and can be converted into one or other depending on what’s going on).
Our typical female patient in this age range comes into the clinic with increased anxiety, insomnia and inability to handle stress like she used to. She’s noticed her hair is thinning, and she needs more rest than before. Her moods are worse throughout the month, and her periods have become irregular or heavier.
These women are suffering from inadequate levels of progesterone, not to mention some degree of adrenal fatigue.
Fortunately, the fix for this is relatively simple (but not always easy).
However it isn’t always easy to unlearn our stress patterns. After all, the majority of stressors are things that won’t really endanger us (our stress hormones are really meant to keep us alive and out of danger); “stress” is merely a product of how we interpret the outside world.
Things like being late, long to-do lists, arguments, etc. aren’t life-threatening problems, but the constant anxiety and worry over these things are what really erode our hormonal system.
Everyone should have some sort of ongoing stress management system that they regularly engage in, just like exercise.
Note – hormone balancing is just that – a balancing act and it often requires professional help. While anyone can easily measure their own hormone levels at home and incorporate progesterone into their health regimen, you should work with a doctor who’s knowledgeable about the complex interplay of hormones and stress.
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