Gland Illusion: Stress and Menopause
Can stressed-out adrenals affect your menopause?
the naturopathic view
Before menopause, sex hormones are made primarily in our ovaries. “When your ovaries shut down after menopause or a hysterectomy, your adrenals – two little glands that sit atop of your kidneys – are supposed to kick in to make back-up estrogen and progesterone hormones for you,” says Lorna Vanderhaeghe, author of A Smart Woman’s Guide to Hormones (healthyimmunity.com).
“But when a woman who’s been going like the Type A Energizer Bunny during her 20s, 30s, 40s hits menopause, those poor adrenal glands are so tired, they can’t make hormones for her.”
Like many of her naturopathic medicine colleagues who treat menopausal women, Vanderhaeghe says stressed-out fatigued adrenals are contributing to menopausal symptoms. Yet the mainstream medical community is not convinced and doesn’t recognize the condition of adrenal fatigue.
“What naturopaths are talking about is whether or not there is a decrease in adrenal function with menopause, and that’s very controversial,” says Dr. Vivien Brown, president of the Toronto branch of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada.
Brown agrees chronic stress is not healthy for the body but has a hard time “with the creation of a disease or a syndrome called adrenal fatigue” and stands by conventional cortisol testing methods.
“When you measure cortisol levels, there is fluctuation throughout the day, called diurnal variation. Measurable cortisol deficiency is Addison’s disease; excess production is Cushing’s syndrome, both relatively uncommon considering menopause is a normal transition for all women. While I try to keep an open mind on evolving issues, there is a lot of dispute as to the value of salivary testing multiple times a day.”
Brown agrees that mainstream medicine is evolving, and there are discussions as to whether, with menopause, we’re seeing decreased hormone levels in other organs, but for now, the jury is out on this.