Reduce Stress & Balance Hormones Naturally By Elena Sokolova, M.D., N.D.
“We put drugs, of which we know little, into our bodies, of which we know less, to cure diseases of which we know nothing at all”. Voltaire
Clarice, a beautiful, enthusiastic 23-year-old, came to see me because she was suffering from severe dysmenorrhea, a condition characterized by very painful periods, so severe that her GYN thought she had endometriosis. Fortunately, an ultrasound of her uterus disproved that theory. It was clear that Clarice’s condition was exacerbated by her high stress level, as she had a very demanding new job.
Women experiencing chronic stress produce higher than normal levels of stress-related hormones that may affect the production of female sex hormones. Pregnenolone, an essential building block for the production of both sex hormones and stress-related hormones, is diverted from its normal sex-hormone pathway when you are stressed.
Another little-known fact is that stress- related hormones require vitamins, minerals and amino acids for their metabolism. When you divert your supply of these, the hormones then become unavailable for their normal uses in a wide variety of your body’s important functions.
During my 25 years of practice I have seen many women with female health concerns triggered by or affected by stress. Among the conditions that may be affected by female hormonal imbalances are: allergies, autoimmune conditions, endometriosis, cervical dysplasia, endometrial dysplasia, depression, fibroids, fibrocystic breasts, infertility, hypothyroidism, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovaries, and so on.
Such imbalances may cause a variety of symptoms, including: mood swings, anxiety, depression, breast tenderness, enlargement of breasts, breast lumpiness, heavy bleeding, bloating, water retention, cramping, weight gain, abdominal fat gain, acne, fatigue, hot flashes, irregular periods, low sex drive and menopausal complaints.
These symptoms are frequently treated with hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) or with bio-identical hormones. Although these can temporarily help to eliminate some of these complaints, they do not address the underlying cause of the hormonal imbalance – chronic stress. It is necessary to assess both the levels of stress-related hormones and sex hormones before a woman starts hormonal balancing therapy. In my practice I commonly use a laboratory test that measures the levels of estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol(x4), epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, providing me with valuable information.
I can tell a lot by looking at whether your stress-related hormone levels are lower or higher than normal. A high level of stress-related hormones usually corresponds to the initial stage of stress, when your body still has the resources to produce a variety of hormones. A low level of stress-related hormones usually correlates with an advanced stage of stress. This stage is characterized by a depletion of your body’s resources and always needs nutritional support. With this in mind, my treatment plan for Clarice, who was under a lot of stress and suffered painful periods, included specific dietary recommendations and targeted supplements.
You may think that a therapy using only bio-identical hormones is the ultimate treatment plan for correcting your hormonal imbalance but without addressing the underlying cause of your condition, it is not. Consider the following example.
Margaret, a graceful 56-year-old lady, had been taking bio-identical hormones for several years to address her menopausal symptoms, and had been treated with both oral bio-identical hormones and patches. In addition to experiencing a variety of menopausal symptoms, she experienced long-time emotional stress in regard to her relationship with her ex-husband. During a follow-up visit with her medical doctor eight months ago, Margaret was told that she had an endometrial abnormality of the uterus. A further biopsy showed signs of an endometrial dysplasia, which was indicative of an early neoplastic process. She immediately was scheduled for a surgical removal of her uterus.
Margaret decided to see me for a second opinion about the suggested radical treatment for her condition. She asked me how this could have happened, given that she had been taking bio-identical hormones that were supposed to prevent the development of endometrial cancer. I explained that hormonal therapy by itself does not address the underlying cause of her condition, but simply works on the symptoms of her hormonal imbalance, such as hot flashes and insomnia.
Test results revealed that Margaret had very low levels of stress-related hormones and low levels of important neurotransmitters. I suggested that she continue taking bio-identical hormones. Meanwhile, I incorporated alternative approaches for the dysplasia into her treatment plan. I also gave her supplements that helped to normalize her levels of cortisol, epinephrine and serotonin. In addition to adding some oriental formulas to her regimen, I recommended that she come in to see me for weekly acupuncture and abdominal manual therapy (AMT) sessions.
Margaret followed this alternative treatment plan for four months. She then repeated her uterine biopsy, which now revealed no signs of endometrial dysplasia.
Clarice, the young woman who suffered from dysmenorrhea, continued her recommended treatment plan of targeted supplementation and dietary changes to help balance her estrogens and progesterone. I also encouraged her to include in her regimen stress-releasing techniques like yoga or Qi Gong. Two months after starting the treatment plan, she had her first absolutely painless period.
If you feel that stress may be affecting your health, ask your doctor to check your levels of female hormones, stress-related hormones, and neurotransmitters. I think it is a good idea for healthy young women to have these tests as well, because the results provide a baseline reading which, in later years, will allow your doctor to better balance your hormones.
Elena Sokolova, MD, ND is a graduate of the prestigious First Medical Institute in St. Petersburg, and of the University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine. Currently licensed and practicing exclusively as a Naturopathic Physician, she spent eighteen years as a practicing physician in the former Soviet Union and Russia, as a primary care physician in the St. Petersburg Hospital and Chief Medical Consultant in holistic medicine for Enrich-International. She may be reached at Whole-Body Medicine, located in Fairfield, Connecticut. Call 203.371.8258 or visit WholeBodyMed.com.