Hormone imbalances are beyond the scope of nutrition solutions, but you may need to consider them as part of a holistic plan for dealing with anxiety and stress.
Hormones are complex, and you’ll need to work with a holistic health practitioner to address adrenal dysfunction, thyroid problems, and sex hormone imbalances, so I’ll just address these topics briefly to help you get a sense of whether any of these hormone imbalances could be affecting you.
The adrenal glands are responsible for helping the body deal with stress of any kind—physical, mental, or emotional. They initiate and moderate the fight-or-flight response, which can be triggered simply by perceiving something as a
threat, even if it isn’t actually threatening.
In our modern, faced-paced era, the adrenals are often overworked, particularly among people with anxiety, which can heighten the perception of threat posed by everyday situations.
One of the key stress hormones produced by the adrenals is cortisol. A certain amount of cortisol is essential. When stress isn’t an issue, cortisol is produced in a distinctive pattern, with levels highest in the morning, dropping slightly around lunchtime, dropping a little more around dinnertime, and then at their lowest at bedtime so you can get a good night’s sleep.
Chronic stress leads to chronic overproduction of cortisol, which can cause a variety of problems. You may have elevated levels of cortisol at various times or a disrupted cortisol production pattern. If this goes on too long, the adrenals can become fatigued and produce too little cortisol. Any of these may worsen anxiety or depression. The adrenals have other important functions.
For example, they produce sex hormones, and for women, they become a key source of sex hormones when ovarian production of these hormones diminishes at menopause, so it’s important that the adrenals be in good shape.
There are many signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue, including allergies (food or environmental), carbohydrate sensitivity, low immunity, poor blood sugar control, and feeling constantly drained and exhausted. Symptoms of elevated cortisol include sleep problems and a “wired-tired” feeling.
Saliva tests that measure your cortisol levels at different points in the day are the best assessment tool, as they will indicate your daily production pattern. The Adrenal Stress Index test by Diagnos-Techs is an example.
For adrenal fatigue, addressing stress is crucial. It’s also important to also address physical sources of stress, such as food sensitivities, dysbiosis, and toxins. Specific nutrients and herbs can help heal the adrenals: vitamin C, B complex, extra vitamin B5, licorice, ashwagandha, and holy basil.
Adrenal glandular products (like Isocort) can provide your body with cortisol while your adrenals are recovering and healing. If cortisol levels are elevated, phosphorylated serine and lactium can help lower them.
A well-functioning thyroid gland is important for the metabolic activity of every cell in the body. And because thyroid hormones play such a key role in the functioning of the entire endocrine system, an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, can go hand in hand with adrenal fatigue and sex hormone imbalances.
Common symptoms of low thyroid function include low energy, sensitivity to cold, depression, PMS, memory problems, dry skin, weight gain, and constipation. Often there is a family history of thyroid problems.
Hypothyroidism can diminish the effectiveness of supplemental amino acids for balancing brain chemistry, so if you tried the approaches in chapter 6 and didn’t benefit appreciably, it would be good to have your levels of thyroid hormones checked.
Blood tests for thyroid health should include TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), free T3 (triiodothyronine), free T4 (thyroxine), reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies (antithyroglobulin and antithyroperoxidase).
Elevated levels of thyroid antibodies may indicate an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which can result in fluctuations of thyroid hormones that may sometimes cause a racing heart and other symptoms that feel like anxiety (similar to symptoms of an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism).
If you do have elevated thyroid antibodies, you need to avoid grains that contain gluten (Duntas 2009).
Soy products suppress thyroid function, as do raw cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and many dark, leafy greens.
I suggest avoiding soy and eating the majority of your cruciferous vegetables cooked, as this destroys the compounds that adversely affect the thyroid. Toxins that can impair thyroid function include fluoride, bromide, and chlorine. Some medications can also impair thyroid function, including estrogen, birth control pills, and lithium.
Nutrients that help support the thyroid include tyrosine, selenium, iodine (found in fish and sea vegetables), vitamin A, ashwagandha, and zinc.
Because of the way adrenal function and thyroid function are interrelated, it’s best to address any adrenal problems using the suggestions above and work with a holistic practitioner to find the right combination of thyroid support: nutrients, desiccated thyroid products such as Armour or Nature-Throid, medications, or a combination.
Sex Hormone Imbalances in Women
If your adrenal or thyroid function is impaired, you may also need to have your levels of sex hormones tested. All of the elements of the endocrine system – hormones and the glands that secrete them – are interrelated in a complex
system of checks and balances.
I like to say they all do this merry little dance together. Having one element of the system out of balance can create a cascade of effects that impair other components of the system.
As for specific effects and symptoms of sex hormone imbalances, low progesterone levels are often associated with high levels of copper and low zinc, and therefore increased anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Other signs of low progesterone include irregular menstrual cycles and PMS, insomnia, headaches, irritability, weight gain and cravings, fluid retention, and frequent urination.
Low levels of estrogen lead to low levels of serotonin, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Other signs of low estrogen include hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, low libido, vaginal dryness, and poor mental function.
Diagnos-Techs offers several salivary tests that can assess levels of sex hormones. The specifics of the tests vary, including when samples are collected, which for women depends on whether you’re menstruating regularly, in perimenopause, or menopausal.