Aren’t the 40s exhausting enough? High stress careers. Teenagers (or younger children) in the house. Elderly parents. …and now hormones.
Really, hormones? You couldn’t have waited until my retirement to get all wacky?
I read an interesting article today called “Puberty for the Middle Aged”. It was all about how big of a change menopause really is…but how rarely we talk about it.
So, it’s time to change that. As a fellow 40-something, I say - Women in our 40s unite! (and 50s…since this can go on for over a decade). This is a particularly exhausting time of life and we need all the support we can get!
AND this is a common time to be feeling symptoms of adrenal fatigue or chronic exhaustion. And the trouble is, adrenal fatigue can make the hormonal rollercoaster much more rollercoasty. More symptoms and more exhaustion.
Hormones and Your Adrenals
Have you ever spoken to your grandmother or great-grandmother about perimenopause?
Probably not…and that could be because she didn’t really have any symptoms. She may have just breezed through this change with barely anything to notice. Perimenopause is such a new term that my spell-check keeps telling me it’s not a word.
Perimenopause is a term to describe the symptoms we feel 8 – 10 years before we go into menopause. These symptoms are relatively new, and for that, we can “blame” our adrenal glands.
Our adrenal glands are in charge of our stress response and secrete adrenaline and cortisol when needed. They also have an extra job, they produce some secondary sex hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA.
When our ovaries move into retirement, our adrenal glands (should) kick in and give us a little bit more estrogen and progesterone so we can sail through this transition without really noticing. This is what your great-grandmother’s adrenal glands did.
Yours may not be so helpful.
Our go go go lifestyle is stressing out our adrenal glands and they’re just WAY too tired to even think about doing this extra job. Just like you, they’re barely getting by.
Not enough estrogen and progesterone is one of the causes of our hot flashes, weight shifts (hello belly-fat), and insomnia.
High Cortisol and Your Hormones
Cortisol is an important part of our life. It’s what wakes us up in the morning and gives us the energy and mental clarity to get through our day. It also kicks in and gives us an extra boost of energy when we’re under stress.
But, cortisol can become a problem when it sits too high for too long.
Your adrenal glands have an important decision to make each day – do I make cortisol? Or, do I make progesterone? They both use the same hormonal precursor and it’s our adrenals that get to decide which hormone is made.
If you’re under high stress all day, then you need more cortisol (and therefore, you make less progesterone). If you’re feeling fantastic and relaxed then you get more progesterone.
Low progesterone is becoming more and more common and is linked to PMS symptoms, perimenopause symptoms, infertility, migraines, and irregular periods.
Cortisol and DHEA are also connected. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is produced by the adrenals and is a precursor to testosterone. It’s an immune system modulator and is considered an anti-aging hormone. Plus, it helps to make testosterone, so it can also affect our libido.
Ever feel like you’ve aged a lot in a short time due to stress? It was probably DHEA that’s to blame.
DHEA and cortisol have an inverse relationship. If cortisol is high, DHEA is low and vice versa. Low DHEA can lower our immune system, which could be why we tend to get sick so easily when we’re stressed out.
But What Can We Do???
I’ve got a hard truth for you – if you walk into perimenopause with low adrenals, it’s harder to get both sets of symptoms under control :(.
BUT! You CAN feel better, you don’t need to wait it out. Just be extra patient.
AND – if you’re reading this and haven’t started feeling any hormonal changes then it’s time to really focus on healing your adrenals NOW. It’s MUCH easier before you get on the hormonal rollercoaster.
Rest, Relax, and More Rest –
The best thing you can do right now is to get as much rest as you can. Ask/beg your family to let you sleep in on a Saturday or Sunday morning (you need it, no guilt please). Take a nap, take an Epsom salt bath, try meditating, and/or go to bed by 10pm.
Every single moment you’re resting is a HUGE win. Take 1 min, 5 mins, or a glorious hour any time you can.