If you’ve noticed that your hormone imbalance symptoms have gotten much worse in 2020, you’re not alone! Maybe your once-regular cycles are off the rails or you’re losing incredible amounts of hair. Maybe it’s crazy PMS or constant hunger. All of these are signs that something is off with your cortisol….and while your adrenal glands are involved in all things cortisol, it goes deeper than that.
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Let’s Get Back to Basics First
Whether or not you WANT to become pregnant, your body is always scanning the landscape of your life to see whether it’s safe for you to have a normal cycle and get pregnant. That’s what monthly cycles are FOR.
This year, in particular, that scan of the landscape screams “danger, danger.” And your body wants to protect you. Your body senses that it will need the energy to fight the stressors you are encountering (home-schooling, anyone???), so your brain says, “Nope, we’re not getting pregnant,” and things begin to go sideways hormonally.
This is where cortisol comes in. Cortisol’s main job in your body is to regulate blood sugar. It’s also in charge of managing inflammations, keeping you alert, and decreasing your risk for autoimmune diseases.
If you have too much, inflammation and blood sugar increase. This excess sends the message to your ovaries and thyroid that they are out of luck if they need support because your body needs to focus on dealing with getting your cortisol down.
The constant flood of cortisol attacks the brain as well, which slows the signal to the adrenals, produces cortisol down, and ultimately results in lower levels of the hormone.
Here’s Where it Gets MORE Interesting
The first and last steps of cortisol production happen in the mitochondria of the adrenal glands…the little powerhouses in your cells that make ATP for energy. If your mitochondria are unhappy and unhealthy, then you lose some of your ability to make cortisol. This results in low energy, low motivation, fatigue, and just feeling “blah.”
Here’s the bad news. Between the ages of 25 and 40, you lose 40% of your mitochondrial reserve. By 60, another 25% is gone. So we need to keep what we have operating in tip-top shape. There’s no magic supplement to help your mitochondria (or direct testing to see if they are functioning). The secret to optimizing cellular function is in lifestyle and making sure the co-factors needed by the mitochondria to produce energy are present.
Here Are a Few Lifestyle Considerations That Mitochondria Love and Hate:
- They hate chemicals and sugar. Go through all the products you put in your body and on your skin to identify potential toxins. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) has lists of products that are potential toxins.
- They hate blue light and a disrupted circadian rhythm. Try to maintain a consistent schedule and stay away from blue light at night.
- They DO like exercise, especially weight training. 20-30 minutes 3x/wk is enough.
- They like oxygen. A recent study showed that a forward head posture (i.e….looking at your phone constantly) decreased the amount of oxygen in the body by 30%. Oxygen levels are also lower in people who snore or mouth-breathe or who are anemic. Adding in 30 seconds of deep breathing hourly (set a timer) can dramatically improve this.
- They like red light (whether infrared, near-infrared, or sunlight).
- They like grounding and being out in nature. Go take a walk!
Supplements That Support Mitochondria:
While no supplements directly support these little cellular furnaces, having the right co-factors on board will help. These include:
- CoQ10 (I like the ubiquinol form). This is especially important if you are on statin medications for cholesterol. These drugs deplete CoQ10.
- AdenosylB12. There are 3 forms of B12; cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, and adenosylcobalamin. Adenosylcobalamin most directly supports mitochondria.
- ALA (alpha lipoic acid).
- Iron (don’t take this unless you know you’re deficient).
- Copper (don’t take this unless you know you’re deficient).
Testing Mitochondrial Function
There is no direct testing for mitochondrial function, so we must go by symptoms and rely on other markers we can test like cortisol and sex hormone levels. The DUTCH test is my preferred way to really dive in and assess hormones and cortisol. You can learn more about that here: www.drannagarrett.com/connect-the-dots.
This year has been challenging for everyone. If you’re feeling like your body and brain have had enough, consider the role cortisol and your mitochondria are playing. Maybe it’s time to give some love to that body and address what may be at play for you. Let’s talk!
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at www.perimenopausebook.com.
Dr. Anna is available for 1-1 consultations. Find out more at www.drannagarrett.com/lets-