Conducting the Hormonic Orchestra

Women | | April 15, 2010 at 7:04 pm
Photo by franganillo.

Photo by franganillo.

Your hormones make deep, meaningful music on a daily basis, each one playing over the other. Together, every 24 hours they cover a number of topics including your metabolism, temperature regulation, growth, cellular repair and regeneration, reproductive organ control, sleep, mood, energy and appetite, to name a few. Your brain and nervous system are the main conductors of this well-orchestrated “hormonic” orchestra (nice, eh?), also known as the endocrine system.

The endocrine system is made up of eight individual glands, including the pineal body, hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, the reproductive organs (ovaries and testes), and the pancreas. All of the glands produce and secrete hormones, which act as chemical messengers on all of the organs in the body. Hormone levels are directly affected by stress, immune system changes, fluid changes and nutrient-content in the blood.

When it comes to women, there are three key players: the adrenals, the thyroid and the ovaries. Here’s how they work: the adrenal glands are responsible for our ‘flight or fight responses’ in situations of stress. They produce cortisol (also known as the stress-hormone) and epinephrine. After menopause, they also produce estrogen and progesterone. Interestingly, cortisol has the capacity to directly affect progesterone levels, so in cases of prolonged stress or increased activity of adrenal glands an estrogen-dominant state occurs. At the same time, progesterone is used to make cortisol so as the need for cortisol arises more often, progesterone levels decrease. Excess amounts of cortisol can suppress your cell’s ability to respond to thyroid, which can compromise the function of the thyroid gland.

Both estrogen and progesterone can directly affect the thyroid gland. Estrogen tends to block thyroid hormone production, while progesterone facilitates it. As high levels of estrogen suppress the thyroid gland, it often results in increased rates of hypothyroidism amongst post-partum and peri-menopausal women. That’s why working on rebalancing the estrogen and the progesterone levels will often restore the normal function of the thyroid. If the female hormones are ignored entirely, the thyroid function will not restore. Similarly, if the thyroid is completely left out in an attempt to balance out the female hormones, both estrogen and progesterone levels will continue to vary in the blood.

Got it? Either way, the orchestra continues to play! It is a finely-tuned system, and when one of its members plays out of tune, everything is thrown off balance. So, to help maintain your hormone-balance:

  • Eat organic foods. You are more likely to avoid hormone-disrupting pesticides
  • Eat more fats. Good fats include olive oil, coconut, avocados, wild-salmon, flax seeds
  • Avoid sugar and sweeteners. They raise blood sugars and insulin levels, contributing to PCOS and diabetes
  • Avoid milk and dairy. This is often a source of high levels of exogenous estrogens
  • Avoid methyl-xanthines. That’s caffeine, theophylline, theobromine found in coffee, black tea, chocolate and cola.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol. That’s pretty self-explanatory.

IgorDr. Igor Schwartzman practices naturopathic medicine with a strong emphasis in women's health, hormone imbalances, and thyroid disorders at Whole Family Wellness Center in Portland, Oregon. He is a co-founder of WellWire.com.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks Dr. Schwartzman! I always find your articles to be very interesting and I appreciate your perspective. And, what a beautiful and finely tuned orchestra our hormones create!

    Thanks!