Ovarian hormone imbalance is epidemic.
How many women do you know who are struggling with PMS, ovarian cysts and PCOS, postpartum depression, low sex drive, miscarriages and infertility, or menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats?
It’s fairly well accepted these are problems associated with imbalances in the ovarian hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. So it makes sense to chase after balancing these hormones to fix these imbalances, right? Yes, partially.
But this is only one part of the picture . . .
The Conventional Approach to Ovarian Hormones
The conventional medical view of these various symptoms and conditions is too simplistic. If the ovarian hormones are out of balance causing symptoms, then you are given synthetic hormones to replace what the body is producing in an imbalanced way.
Doctors suppress your ovaries from producing hormones in their imbalanced way. While this simplistic approach can be successful in the short term if you dose the ratios or hormones correctly. It misses the underlying problem, however.
We need to ask ourselves, why are these ovarian hormones out of whack in the first place?
Replacement hormones are also not without risk and side effects. According to a 2001 study, conventional hormone replacement therapy, largely in the form of oral contraceptive pills or devices, comes with risk of cardiovascular issues, including heart attack, stroke, blood clots, as well as breast and endometrial cancer.
Conventional hormone replacement and oral contraceptive pills have also been shown to contribute to multiple nutrient deficiencies including vitamin B2, B6, folate, zinc, vitamin C and E.
Artificially suppressing a woman’s natural rhythmic production of her hormones is not without risk. Many women suffering from heavy periods, extreme PMS, etc., are given pills that completely suppress a woman’s natural hormone production, and block her period.
While this can provide temporary relief, artificially suppressing or altering a women’s menstrual cycle over time can lead to complications like fertility issues, menstrual abnormalities and post-birth control syndrome.
The use of hormone replacement therapy in menopausal and perimenopause women is also quite common. There is a more natural way to replace hormones that many integrative physicians will employ called bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
This is the use of non-synthetic hormones, or hormones that are “identical,” to what a woman’s body would normally produce at levels that are closer to natural production. Although this approach is far safer; however, it still misses the underlying issue: Why do women’s ovarian hormones get so out of balance in the first place?
Let me pause and say I am absolutely not against using birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy in women. I have concerns about doing it long term without any attention to the potential underlying cause of hormonal imbalance.
How to Treat the Root Issue and Balance Ovarian Hormones
There are a variety of reasons why a woman’s sex hormones are out of balance: an inefficient processing of hormones in the liver; genetic variation in the detoxification of these hormones in the liver; and over-exposure to “xeno-estrogen” environmental toxins and the like.
Xeno-estrogens found in plastic and chemical beauty products are so similar to naturally produced estrogen they bind to receptors and throw off the overall balance. These possible causes should be considered.
If we think about these hormones beyond the ovaries and include the interplay of thyroid, ovarian and adrenal hormones together–the full endocrine system–one fact cannot be ignored.
The stress hormones released from the adrenals directly suppress both ovarian and thyroid hormone production.
They do so at every step possible in the process of producing these hormones. The result shows a suppression of both ovarian hormones, as well as thyroid hormones. This is a major underlying cause of PMS, irregular periods, PCOS, menopausal symptoms and other hormonal imbalance-related issues.
In addition to this, the adrenal glands can also produce a significant portion of a woman’s ovarian hormones. Thus, adrenal hormone balance is integral for normal ovarian hormone production.
The Adrenal-Ovarian Connection Through a Woman’s Life
This connection starts at puberty. Puberty occurs only after the adrenal glands mature and send signals to the ovaries to stimulate hormone production. This is the first major ovarian hormonal shift in a woman’s body.
Many of my female patients with adrenal dysfunction have traced their adrenal dysfunction back to puberty. They’ll say, “Ever since I got my period, I started to have symptoms.” Those symptoms can include everything from anxiety and depression to problematic periods, heavy periods, bad PMS, migraines and more.
The Childbearing Years
The relationship between the adrenals continues during menstruating years. The more balanced the adrenal hormones, the more balanced the ovarian hormones. If the adrenals are out of balance because of a genetic predisposition combined with accumulated stress, then we can start to see problems occur.
Dysfunctional periods are the norm, often heavy with bad PMS. In some women, the period can even be suppressed, and women can miss periods…sometimes for years. This dysfunction can even lead to fertility issues and miscarriages.
Pregnancy can also throw a wrench into this balance. Pregnancy initiates significant effects on both adrenal and ovarian hormones. In pregnant women, there is a shared circulation between mom and the baby, which is how the baby gets nutrition in and waste products out.
Of course, this is normal and natural. If a woman is stressed and her adrenals can’t respond, however, studies have found the mom will borrow stress hormones from the baby.
This needs to happen for the survival of the unit. The challenge here is that during those nine months, the baby’s stress response system and the adrenals are like a pump that gets primed. It becomes overactive.
Once a baby is born, and the mom is not there to take stress hormones away from the baby, the baby will be “stressed” and irritable, colicky, or might not sleep well.
Mom now has a new baby, not a stress-free scenario, of course, and doesn’t have that extra stress hormone to manage it. Mom will often take a dip, and if that dip is bad enough, we label it as postpartum depression.
Perimenopause and Menopause
The ovaries will naturally decline in function at age forty, forty-five, and fifty, which is the normal, natural process. At the same time, the adrenals will gradually increase their production of those same “ovarian” hormones.
This “design” should ease a woman through menopause without a hitch and with no symptoms.
Studies find that when we test a woman’s estrogen, progesterone and testosterone post-menopausally, many of them are coming from her adrenals, not her ovaries.
If the adrenals are weakened over time, however, then they can not support the ovaries adequately enough, and the woman will show symptoms we associate with menopause, like hot flashes, night sweats, low libido and vaginal dryness.
When my patients talk to me about their menopausal symptoms, I immediately consider it an adrenal problem, not an ovarian one.
Could Adrenal Fatigue Be the Cause of Ovarian Hormone Imbalance?
I have seen this in practice numerous times in my clinical work. When we effectively treat the underlying adrenal fatigue (what I would call a stress response system dysfunction), great things happen.
A woman’s menopausal symptoms improve; the menstruating woman’s periods normalize overtime; PMS improves; mood, anxiety, depression and libido improve; and women who were unable to get pregnant are now able to.
Adrenal hormone balance is integral for normal ovarian hormone production.
The challenge in treating adrenal fatigue is that it is very poorly understood. Conventional medicine doesn’t even think it exists. Their stance is that if the adrenals haven’t completely failed, then they’re working just fine. Untrue.
Within the field of alternative medicine, we’ll find practitioners that believe in adrenal fatigue – they may even test for and find it – but I find they’ve grabbed hold of the tail of something bigger than they anticipated; adrenal fatigue goes way beyond a problem with the adrenals.
Adrenal fatigue is a dysfunction in the entire stress response system itself. This dysfunction results in the adrenal stress hormones being out of balance. But there’s more to it.
When we treat the entire stress response system, we can then get ahead of hormonal imbalances and any symptoms that come with them. Once this happens, then we can finally fix the cause of the ovarian hormone issues…at any age.