Female Hormone Imbalance Symptoms, Inflammation, and Adrenal Fatigue – Part 1

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

How do female hormone imbalance symptoms effect your body?No matter her age, a woman’s hormones must work in harmony in order for her to have good health. If one hormone is out of balance, the harmony quickly goes awry. Female hormone imbalance symptoms will then make themselves known. The symptoms that come with this kind of imbalance can be very similar to those seen in adrenal fatigue.

It’s common for women’s hormones to fluctuate throughout their monthly cycle. Normally, this cycle will complete itself and hormone levels will return to normal. However, at other times female hormone imbalance symptoms may appear for a variety of reasons.

One of the most typical reasons for this kind of imbalance is menopause. Usually, women begin enduring menopause symptoms in their late 40s or early 50s. The most frequent kind of treatment for these symptoms is providing synthetic hormone replacement therapy to control the symptoms. Some women as young as 18 may need some kind of medical intervention to deal with female hormone imbalance symptoms.

Prescribing oral synthetic estrogen and progestin is the usual approach to treating these symptoms. However, there are alternative medicine interventions that can be used and are better for the women in the long run.

Why not continue the traditional treatment with oral synthetic estrogen and progestin? Research has shown oral estrogen will often lead to increased inflammation and progestin often brings on atherosclerosis. So as well as relieving women of female hormone imbalance symptoms, these two hormones that are frequently prescribed together as treatment for hormonal imbalance can bring on unwanted results.

The increased inflammation brought on by the oral estrogen often used in traditional hormone replacement therapy can become a major problem. Chronic inflammation is seen more and more often in our stress-filled world already. This source of continuing stress leads to activation of the body’s natural stress responses, resulting in more stimulation of the body’s immune system. In addition, this prompts activation of the adrenal glands to secrete more cortisol to fight the stress effects.

Continuing stress can lead to the immune system getting out of control. Inflammation results again.

Inflammation, the Foundation of Chronic Disease

The specific connections between female hormone imbalance symptoms and related conditions aren’t clearly known. What is known is that the levels of chronic inflammation typically rise during and after menopause – when these changing levels are most frequent.

These hormonal changes that lead up to symptoms of menopause also add to the kind of weight gain that comes around the middle of the body. These kinds of fat cells create extra cytokines and C-reactive protein that increases inflammation.

This chronic inflammation also is affected by, and in turn affects the neuroendocrine system and oxidative stress. Chronic inflammation is a female hormone imbalance symptomsLikewise, metabolic dysregulation seems to be one result of the stress we experience on a daily basis. This leads to increased inability to resolve inflammation, which leads to more aging. Aging then increases the risk of hormone imbalance. As inflammation becomes chronic, it activates the immune response – which then has a negative effect on tissue.

This chronic inflammation, an insidious symptom of imbalanced female hormones, may be the basis of all chronic illnesses. Autoimmune diseases fall into the category of chronic illnesses.

Living longer gives rise to an increase in autoimmune diseases. People are living longer – as shown by a 60 percent decrease in the death rate in the U.S. from 1935 to 2010. Currently, the National Institutes of Health report 23 million people living with these diseases. Other sources place the number at up to 50 million.

Many of these autoimmune diseases we don’t even have names for, but all of them begin with inflammation. The same inflammation that comes with imbalanced levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Increasing longevity means more years of living with the female hormone imbalance symptoms, and therefore increasing symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Inflammation, Hormones, and Adrenal Fatigue

Over and over again, the conditions and symptoms described when female hormone imbalance symptoms are reported closely resembled the symptoms of AFS. These symptoms become another source of stress. When the body is under stress, which is a chronic condition in our world today, it responds with the natural activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

In this process of activation, numerous hormones are secreted as the body prepares to fight against or flee from the stressor. Cortisol is one of the main hormones secreted by the adrenals to fight the effects of stress on the body. As stress continues, the adrenal glands reach the point of exhaustion. They can no longer secrete cortisol to fight stress.

Once the point of adrenal gland fatigue is reached, their ability to produce and keep in balance other hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone is significantly reduced. When these female hormone imbalance symptoms occur (and, yes, testosterone is found in females too), these are signals from the body that needed support is missing.

When women begin experiencing symptoms like abnormal weight gain around the middle of the body, fluctuations in blood pressure, cravings for certain foods, feeling tired and wired, not being able to sleep well or at all, fuzzy thinking, and low libido, AFS may be a reason. These symptoms will worsen with time if stress continues. Ultimately, physical breakdown on a system-wide basis will occur.

Female Hormone Imbalance Symptoms and the Gut

Food cravings seen in AFS and in women suffering from imbalanced hormones can lead to women eating the wrong foods. Ingesting the kinds of foods (sweets or salty foods for example) that often are craved can lead to detrimental effects on the gut microbiome.

Testosterone is a possible female hormone imbalance symptomsAlthough understanding the importance of the gut system in the United States is relatively new, the concept of gut health, the microbiome, and their importance have been known for centuries. To show the extent of this importance, keep in mind the gut has ten times more microbes than there are cells in the human body. Also, there are one hundred times more genes in the microbiome than in the human genome. This makes the microbiome in our gut possibly the largest organ system in the body.

The gut microbiome plays an important role in keeping hormones in balance. An essential enzyme that helps metabolize estrogen is produced there. The complete set of bacterial genes that produce this enzyme is called the estrobolome. These gut flora can make you likely to have more than enough estrogen or likely to have too little. This makes the gut essential in keeping hormones balanced.

Since the kinds of foods we eat affect the gut system, when there is an increase in sugar consumption due to cravings seen in AFS and in female hormone imbalance symptoms, our gut system is among the first to feel it. Without good nutrients, the gut (along with the rest of the body) begins breaking down. With up to 80 percent of our immune response tied to our gut, impaired intestinal functioning leads to many chronic illnesses.

Hormones and the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response

With all of the information we have regarding female hormone imbalance symptoms and AFS, we know that the entire body system must be considered when confronted with these conditions. Most conventionally trained physicians become specialists and divide up a patient’s body, treating only what lies within their specialty area. However, our bodies’ systems work in communication with each other, affecting each other’s functioning and being affected by every other system in our bodies.

According to research and numerous conferences held recently, it appears that conventional medicine may be going in the direction of the interrelationship of systems in the body. This is the viewpoint of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) approach to stress response. All systems of the body work in interaction with all other body systems to respond to changes in any given system. What affects one, affects the others.

When the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated by stress, the hormone response to stress is also activated. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenals, thyroid hormones are released or not released, and fatigue often results. This decreases the desire for sex.

Symptoms develop in situations of adrenal fatigue that are much the same as seen in female hormone imbalance symptoms. Increased PMS symptoms, low libido, breast diseases, irregular menses, loss of sleep, and others.

With continuing stress, the thyroid function slows down, leading the body to conserve energy by reducing metabolic rate. This leads to warning signs of metabolic dysregulation such as craving for sugar, gaining weight around the abdomen, and, ultimately, development of type 2 diabetes. Along with these symptoms can come insomnia, anxiety, depression, and more foggy cognitions.

Cravings is due to the female hormone imbalance symptomsThis is an indication of the triggering of the neuro-affective response as part of the NEM model. Also with symptoms of a dysfunctional metabolic system comes a triggering of the inflammatory response. The gut microbiome begins working ineffectively and more inflammation results.

Over and over again, the effects of inflammation are being studied and reported. Chronic inflammation brought on by stress, sleep disruption, foods we eat, metabolic irregularities, and problems in the gut microbiome appears to be involved in a myriad of significant physical complications. This emphasis on inflammation goes hand-in-hand with the AFS and NEM models for stress response.

Read Part 2 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Female hormone imbalance symptoms