Some experts are beginning to appreciate the relationship between menopause and adrenal fatigue, and we are grateful for that realization! Even though the changes in sex hormones (e.g., progesterone and estrogen) that begin during perimenopause and continue into menopause and even postmenopause are a primary reason for the symptoms women experience during these years, another factor is adrenal fatigue.
For women who are going through perimenopause and the years beyond, symptoms can include mood changes, lack of sex drive, insomnia, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and memory problems. Invisible factors include a greater risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
What is adrenal fatigue?
Do you feel tired much or all of the time, even though you get seven or more hours of sleep every night? Do you feel generally unwell? Is a cup of coffee what you need to get your going in the morning? Then you may have adrenal fatigue, a syndrome that develops when the adrenal glands fail to function at their best.
Many doctors don’t recognize adrenal fatigue a viable condition, and one reason for their skepticism is that the symptoms can be attributed to dozens of other conditions. However, it’s important to talk with a healthcare provider who is familiar with adrenal fatigue and willing to order the testing that can help identify it.
Some of the symptoms associated with adrenal insufficiency may include low blood pressure, loss of body hair, body aches, skin discoloration, unexplained weight loss, sugar, and salt cravings, brain fog, trouble staying asleep, afternoon “slump,” chronic inflammation, afternoon headaches, thinner nails, weight loss or weight gain challenges, and lightheadedness. As you see, adrenal fatigue and menopause symptoms overlap.
Why is this so? One reason is that both conditions are essentially controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which direct the production of hormones in the adrenal glands and ovaries. When we are overly stressed, the body’s natural stress response can suppress sex hormones and result in a hormone imbalance. Built-up stress also can deplete the adrenal glands and prevent them from boosting sex hormones, which in turn can make menopausal symptoms worse.
Why do I have adrenal fatigue?
During menopause, a woman’s ovaries stop ovulating and they reduce their production of estrogen and progesterone. This is when the body’s adrenal glands step into action to make up for the loss of production. Once they do, the adrenals can secrete progesterone and other hormones, including androstenedione.
During the menopausal transition, the ovaries stop ovulating and decrease their production of progesterone and estrogen. For some women, this decline in hormones can occur abruptly or slowly over time. To make up for this lack of sex hormones, a women’s adrenal glands (also known as the ‘stress’ gland) at this stage in life, are designed to pick up the slack for the ovaries.
More specifically, the adrenals (like the ovaries) are also able to secrete progesterone as well as other hormones such as androstenedione (a precursor hormone for estrogen and testosterone). Until menopause, the adrenal’s role to produce female sex hormones is minimal.
We strongly encourage taking a natural approach to treating adrenal fatigue. According to John Lee, MD, who authored What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, a woman’s estrogen level typically drops by 40 to 50 percent at menopause, and progesterone levels drop to nearly zero. Therefore, although an estrogen deficiency plays a significant role in menopausal adrenal fatigue and other symptoms, other issues are involved as well.
So what can you do to treat adrenal fatigue naturally?
- First of all, you should consider getting your adrenal function evaluated. A simple way involves a saliva test: you give saliva samples several times throughout the day, and an analysis can provide your doctor with information about your brain-adrenal function.
- Reset your hormones with diet. For some of you, this may be a big change, so do it gradually but steadily. One approach is a 90-day plan in which you focus on eating lots of vegetables, especially green leafy ones and those that contain sulfur (e.g., onions, garlic, asparagus, cruciferous veggies). The recommended fruits are citrus and berries, and starches should include sweet potatoes and yams. For lean protein and healthy fats, choose wild-caught fish, oysters, organic turkey, avocado, coconut oil, and extra-virgin olive oil. Brazil nuts are super high in selenium, which helps balance hormones. Other nuts are great for snacking as well. Throughout the day, enjoy 3 to 5 cups of herbal tea, such as chamomile or rooibos, both of which have a calming effect.
Try herbal remedies. Several adaptogenic herbs, which help balance the body and stress, are suggested. These include ashwagandha, holy basil, eleuthero ginseng, and Rhodiola Rosea. Take according to package directions or consult with a knowledgeable health professional.
Boost your magnesium intake. We strongly encourage you to eat lots of green leafy veggies, which are great sources of magnesium, as are nuts and seeds, black beans, figs, bananas, and avocados. However, you may also want to take a magnesium supplement to help support the adrenal gland and promote better sleep. One suggested supplement is magnesium threonate. You also can soak in Epsom salt baths.
- Practice stress management. Is it time to start yoga? It can be a great stress reducer. Incorporate stress-reducing activities into your daily life, such as dance, listening to calming music, tai chi, walking in nature, deep breathing, meditation, or visualization.
- Reduce inflammation. Several herbs provide anti-inflammatory properties that can help bring down inflammation in your body. One is curcumin, which is an active compound in turmeric. Use it in cooking and/or as a supplement. Others include ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, and rosemary.
- Get sufficient sleep. At least 7 and preferably 8 hours of sleep every night is highly recommended. This may mean adopting some new bedtime rituals, such as putting away your electronic devices for at least 60 minutes before retiring, taking a warm shower before bed, having a cup of chamomile tea, taking melatonin, or practicing deep breathing or meditation.
- Kick up your vitamin D. Many of us don’t get enough vitamin D. Since this vitamin/hormone is responsible for so many processes in the body, including energy and mood, you should get a simple blood test to help you and your healthcare professional decide if you need a supplement and how much.
when to see a health provider
Many doctors will prescribe treatments that include birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, bioidentical hormones, and hormone-based IUDs. However, these approaches are typically effective for a short time only, don’t address the underlying problem, and can result in more physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma. If your symptoms are persistent and are affecting your quality of life, and you’ve tried various lifestyle changes without much success, talk to a knowledgeable professional who can help you make other natural choices and see if there are any underlying conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.
Menopause and adrenal fatigue share many of the same symptoms. There’s a very good reason for that! These natural solutions we suggested can help you overcome this.