When midlife hormone imbalance comes calling, the adrenal glands have much to say about the topic. Relatively unknown to most, these powerful little glands are located right above the kidneys. The adrenal glands have two very distinct areas of function. The outer zone which secretes cortisol, DHEA, aldosterone along with other sex hormones and the inner zone which secretes adrenaline and nor-adrenaline. Cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline are the three main adrenal stress hormones.
The purpose of the adrenal glands is to help the body cope with stresses – both big and small – and survive. The level of adrenal hormones is not constant throughout the day. They are released in a twenty-four hour pattern – the circadian rhythm – with the highest level in the morning (to get the body awake with energy) and the lowest level at night (to provide sleep and regenerate the adrenals). When the adrenal rhythm becomes abnormal women can experience low energy, difficulty getting to sleep and/or staying asleep, muscle and joint fatigue/pain, reduced resistance to infections, allergic reactions, and poor thyroid functioning. Called “adrenal fatigue”, poorly functioning glands affect the entire body!
Women at midlife often struggle with adrenal glands that are not functioning at their best. This is from the cumulative effect of living with much stress, and then adding the changes of perimenopause on top. The adrenals are designed to pick up some of the sex hormone functions (estrogens, progesterone, testosterone) after the ovaries are no longer functional, so hormone imbalance symptoms are stronger when they can’t keep up.
Adrenal fatigue is diagnosed by understanding symptoms and matching with the twenty-four hour cortisol rhythm, typically by saliva testing. Improving adrenal health requires lifestyle changes to minimize the stress response, eliminating energy-robbers in your day, healing underlying chronic infections that trigger the immune response, eating foods that nourish the adrenal glands and nutritional supplements that provide the right vitamins (adrenals love the B’s!) and minerals for proper functioning.
The good news is that with a little intentionality your powerful adrenal glands can function at peak performance. By regulating your cortisol rhythm, overall body balance will be vastly improved – along with sleep, sweet sleep! Here’s to reclaiming your zzzzzzzzzzzzz’s !