Help, My Body's Acting Crazy! Everything You Need to Know About Hormone Imbalances - Part 1
Imagine this: You are swimming with your kids and a horsefly – or some creepy crawly -- lands on your shoulder. How does your body respond?
Fight or flight response
When your brain senses danger or fear, the section responsible for emotional processing, the amygdala, signals the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system and in turn, the fight or flight response. This process leads to a chemical cascade, releasing the stress hormone, cortisol, and neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and epinephrine.
There are actually two parts to the stress response -- turning it on and turning it off. When danger is no longer perceived, the parasympathetic nervous system initiates the relaxation response and brings the hormonal balance back to normal. Although there are other hormones at play, cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It is vital for our survival and is made from cholesterol in the adrenal glands.
Benefits of cortisol
The benefits of cortisol include:
-Increases your blood sugar from glycogen stores in your liver to fuel your brain and muscles
-Increases your protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism
-Regulates your fluid and electrolytes balance to help you maintain a normal blood pressure
-Helps regulate the effects on and the response to stress of your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and other areas of your brain
-Helps regulate adrenaline production
Negative effects of too much cortisol for too long
Prolonged stress, or high levels of cortisol, lead to many negative health effects. Some include:
-High blood pressure
-High blood sugar
-Increased risk of diabetes
-Increase in abdominal fat
-Increased risk for heart disease (from diabetes and the increase in abdominal fat)
-Hypothyroidism from decreased thyroid function
-Slower wound healing
-Susceptibility to infections
What are neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which translate various functions within the body, such as heart rate. Many neurotransmitters are synthesized from amino acids, which are readily available from our diet.
When not balanced properly, however, negative health conditions can occur. A number of neurotransmitters can also act in the body as hormones. However, they are quite different. Neurotransmitters belong to the nervous system, are produced by neurons, and send signals through the synaptic connections. Hormones, on the other hand, belong to the endocrine system, are produced by endocrine glands, and deliver signals through blood.
Despite their differences, it’s important to note that the levels and balance of hormones are influenced by neurotransmitters. For this discussion, we are focused on the following neurotransmitters:
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters that also serve as hormones. Their hormone function stimulates the central nervous system. Epinephrine communicates with receptors in the heart, lungs, and arteries, while norepinephrine can only communicate with arterial receptors. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, and norepinephrine, both influence the body by:
-increasing blood sugar levels
-increasing heart rate
-increasing contractility (how hard the heart squeezes)
Additionally, epinephrine allows relaxation of smooth muscle in the airways to improve breathing, while norepinephrine can cause these blood vessels to narrow, which increases blood pressure. Chronic stress can result in levels being either deficient or too high of either of these neurotransmitters- both of which are negative for overall health.
Deficiency can contribute to:
-restless leg syndrome
Excess levels can contribute to:
-high blood pressure
Dopamine and serotonin
Dopamine and serotonin are powerful neurotransmitters that influence both mood regulation and concentration. Whether levels are low or high, the effects can be detrimental to one’s health. Dopamine is responsible for pleasure and satisfaction. Lack of dopamine is associated with lack of motivation, low energy, and poor digestion. When triggered by the stress response, however, dopamine can help you:
-perceive and process the threat
-figure out the appropriate response
-avoid an unpleasant situation
-learn and remember to avoid the particular stress event
-redirect blood flow by dilating blood vessels in certain tissues by inhibiting noradrenaline release in those tissues
Unlike the dopamine, serotonin does not have the stimulatory effects in the brain, instead it’s responsible for calming and evoking positive moods. Serotonin helps regulate appetite, sleep cycle, and suppresses pain. It makes sense that deficiency is most closely linked to depression. The body responds to stress, dependent on the type and amount presented, by releasing the appropriate amount of stress-fighting chemicals. Stress can be physiological, physical, or psychological. The origin may be internal or external. And its manifestations can be either mild, severe, or anything in between.
How stress hormones can adversely affect your health
Stress hormones are protective during stress as they act to maintain vital systems by increasing blood, oxygen, and sugar, to best prepare and cope with impending stress. However, adverse reactions can occur when a stress triggers a high level of response. This is seen most during times of chronic stress when the hormones don’t have time to properly rebalance, leading to disease. The degree of hormonal response and amount stress hormone release depends on the following:
-The type, degree, and duration of the stress
-How you perceive the stress
-Your life experiences with stress
-Your age and gender
-How frequently stress occurs
-Previous experience with the stress
-The context/environment of the stress
The primary sex hormones include:
Cortisol blocks the secretion of the body's main fertility hormone, GnRH, which is responsible for releasing sex hormones. While this is okay during periods of acute stress, chronic stress can result in lasting effects.
Both women and men may experience low libido and decreased fertility. It is clear this can be an issue if persistent. Sex hormones control some of the most influential processes in the body including pregnancy, puberty, regulating monthly cycles, menopause, hair growth, skin complexion, muscle density, and fat storage.
These hormones can complement each other or function as opposites which is why it’s so important they are present in the right ratio. During chronic stress your body may think it needs more cortisol. In order to make more, the body steals from your sex hormone system using progesterone to create cortisol. This can quickly become a difficult cycle.
Estrogen is needed in higher amounts for women. Its primary function is growth and development, but affects nearly all body systems.
Estrogen deficiency can cause:
Excess estrogen can cause:
-Increased premenstrual symptoms
-Increased Triglyceride Levels
In short, estrogen is one of the most important hormones for women in terms of health. Any imbalance, whether it be deficiency or excess, can cause a host of issues. It’s important to know how your body gets rid of the excess. I perform a test called the Dutch test. It’s the most accurate way to check your hormones.
Testosterone is the predominant hormone in men, responsible for healthy muscle mass, stamina, energy, bone density, memory, and strength. Too much testosterone can cause aggression, depression, impotence, and excessive libido. Deficiency, however, affects more than just sexual functional. Both women and men are faced with complications without adequate supply of this hormone.
Testosterone deficiency is associated with:
-Decreased sex drive
-Increased depression and anxiety
-Inability to concentrate
-Decline in memory and cognitive skills
-Decreased muscle mass and strength
-Loss of body hair
-Decreased bone mass that may lead to osteoporosis
-Increase of abdominal and pectoral fat
Causes of hormonal imbalances
Hormonal imbalances can be a result of many different factors. Some of the most well-studied include:
Many fad diets don’t take into account hormone balance. Also, in general frequent weight loss and weight regain is a huge factor in hormonal imbalances.
-Eating the Wrong Food For Your Body
Many foods negatively impact hormone imbalance when eaten in wrong proportions.
I’ve already demonstrated how much stress can impact hormone activity. In short, chronic stress is responsible for transforming hormones and creating significant imbalances.
Toxins enter the body through our diets, environmental pollution, and many of the household products we use daily. Too many toxins overburden the liver which detracts from breaking down excess hormones. This, of course, leads to higher levels of hormones and a disruption to hormonal balance.
-High Body Fat Percentage
Too much body fat results in a low-testosterone-high-estrogen ratio due to an increased enzyme in fat tissue which converts testosterone into estrogen. This is negative to both men and women, regardless of age.
Progesterone decreases faster than estrogen as women age, leading to estrogen dominance. As men age, testosterone levels decline, however estrogen declines at a slower pace leading to an imbalance of testosterone and estrogen.
When hormones are out of balance
Two types of problems tend to occur when hormones are out of balance:
- Uncomfortable symptoms that change how you think, feel and act.
- An increased risk of illness, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and certain cancers. Both outcomes can negatively affect quality of life to varying degrees.
Common hormone-imbalance signs include:
-Infertility and irregular periods
-Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
-Depression and anxiety
-Changes in appetite
-Hair loss or thinning
-And much, much more!
The role of diet and hormones
Our diets are filled with foods known to impact hormone balance. Common mistakes negatively impacting hormone balance including:
-Too few fatty acids
-Too little fiber
-Too many carbohydrates
-Too much soy
-Too much alcohol
-Too many unhealthy fats
-Too much sugar
-Too many processed foods
So what should I eat?
As a way to combat these common diet mishaps, include more of following foods into your diet:
A compound found in flax can bind to our estrogen receptors and help excrete excess estrogen from the body.
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts contain important nutrients that prevent estrogen-related cancers and help eliminate excess estrogen due to their high fiber content.
Lentils provide a great source of protein and fiber, resulting in reduced estrogen levels in addition to containing zinc, which raises testosterone.
These tubers are high in Vitamin B6 which helps with liver detoxification and frees up the liver for breaking down excess hormones.
These are only a fraction of the yummy foods that work in your favor for hormone balance. Next week, I’ll explain more about what constitutes a hormone-balancing diet.
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I hope my column speaks to you and you can wake up each morning with a purpose. What I do every day is a calling, and I give God the glory for allowing His gifts to work through me. I do believe in miracles, because I get to see them every day! For more information you can go to www.nomoremedsmovement.com and sign up for my closed Facebook group #NoMoreMeds-Community for more healthy tips.
Dr. Corinne Weaver
Dr. Corinne Weaver is a compassionate upper cervical chiropractor, educator, motivational speaker, mother of three, and internationally bestselling author. In 2004, she founded the Upper Cervical Wellness Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the last 13 years, she has helped thousands of clients restore their brain to-body function. When she was 10 years old, she lost her own health as the result of a bike accident that led to having asthma and allergy issues that she thought she would always have to endure. Then, after her first upper cervical adjustment at age 21, her health began to improve thanks to upper cervical care and natural herbal remedies. This enabled her to create a drug-free wellness lifestyle for herself and her family, and she also enthusiastically discovered her calling to help children heal naturally.
Dr. Weaver was recently named one of Charlotte Magazine's "Top Doctors" in 2016 and is now a number-one internationally bestselling author to two books: Learning How to Breathe and No More Meds.
Upper Cervical Wellness Center is known for finding the root cause of health concerns through lifestyle changes, diagnostic testing, nutraceutical supplementation, and correction of subluxation (as opposed to just medicating the symptoms). The practice offers cutting-edge technological care at its state-of-the-art facility, including laser-aligned upper cervical X-rays, bioimpedance analysis (measures body composition), digital thermography (locates thermal abnormalities characterized by skin inflammation), and complete nutritional blood analysis, which is focused on disease prevention.