Intro: Your Symphony of Hormones
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are likely the three main amigos that come to most people’s mind when thinking of hormones. Although they are first chairs in reproductive health, they have many other vital functions in both sexes. Furthermore, they are just part of a symphony of many underappreciated and amazing players in our hormonal orchestra.
From personal experience, many of us are all too aware of what happens when even one of these main instruments goes out of tune. This is because, like all hormones, they pack a lot of power within the minuscule amounts that circulate within our bodies. Therefore, if even one of the notes is off in the band, it can really throw someone’s body into a high-pitch squeal.
Our hormones are strong, but their delicate milieu can be disturbed by various things. These include inflammation, diet, lifestyle, and, very commonly, stress. Due to the far-reaching effects of hormones, a misalignment in these factors can result in a variety of symptoms. This means that keeping these interruptions of our chemical messengers to a minimal can help us to avoid the mind-body chaos that can cause such misery.
In this article and video, I highlight the following about our hormones:
- How they are the master conductors in our bodies
- How stress can wreak havoc on them, especially in robbing us of the appearance of one of the most popular, progesterone
- Why the stress hormone cortisol isn’t the bad guy, but why we need to keep tabs on it
- How to support our stress levels to better balance our hormonal harmony, including with the use of essential oils
- Optimizing hormonal levels with naturopathic and functional medicine
In a follow up article, I’m going to provide a biography of one of the most famous hormones, progesterone. I will give you all the juicy details on why all genders need to be mindful of its effects on overall wellness, what ideal progesterone ranges are, its production and regulation, and how to enhance its function.
For now, let me give you a background on our whole ensemble of hormones.
How Hormones Lead to Body and Brain Harmony or Disharmony
Hormones control and coordinate many interactions in the body including metabolism, reproduction, growth and development, responses to all forms of stressors, and mood regulation. Their system-wide impact is evidenced by the fact that there are receptors for them located all throughout your body. For example, they are found within your blood vessels, kidneys, pancreas, heart, and brain.
Due to the potency of these tiny chemicals, their production, transport, utilization, and removal from the body is tightly controlled. (R, R) Hormones are also very specific and act as a key that opens the lock to enter the door of their target tissue.
Although robust and precise, they are also easily swayed. Various triggers such as lifestyle, blood sugar, diet, infections, genetics, the microbiome, and chronic levels of stress, can all rob our body of hormonal harmony.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to understand why hormonal imbalances can result in perpetuating, contributing, and/or causing an array of physical, emotional, and/or mental health problems.
Previously, I honed into the details of the impact of hormones on the brain. These included:
- How they affect neurotransmitters and mental function
- How fluctuating levels can cause extreme emotional swings (perimenopause rage) and other unpleasant changes
- How a decrease in their production with aging (menopause) can impact cognitive and brain health
One of the most common triggers of disharmony leading to these disruptions in our hormonal masterpiece is chronic stress.
Therefore, let’s look at how this particular factor impacts our overall level of hormones and how to empower ourselves with regulating it for a more masterful composition.
The Stress-Hormone Attack
With the holidays and recent world events, many of us have found ourselves in a state of constant stress. As mentioned, this can contribute to various physical symptoms and hormonal imbalances.
Over time, long-term, unrelenting stress can cause a rise in cortisol, the major stress hormone, Not only can this lead to downregulation of your immune system and inflammatory response, it can also result in a decrease in our beloved progesterone and estrogen levels.
In the article, “Low on Progesterone? Why Stress Reduction Might Be the Only Way to Hack It,” the author explains this interaction in lay terms (note this scenario is true for all genders):
Progesterone is synthesized fairly early in the hormonal cascade, and its activity is highly influenced by the level of stress–either physical or emotional–a woman is experiencing…
Pregnenolone is the primary “precursor” hormone. It sits at the top of the domino chain and is directed to be used by the body however it sees fit. The primary decision the body makes with pregnenolone is whether it wants to make sex hormones, like progesterone, or stress hormones like cortisol.
If a woman is stressed, her body “steals” the pregnenolone and uses it for stress hormone production instead of progesterone production. This means that other female hormones also take a hit — accounting for why some women have low hormone levels across the board — but progesterone is one of the hardest hit. If a woman has low progesterone in her labs, it’s a pretty good bet that her body is using her resources to produce cortisol rather than progesterone.
For this reason, reducing stress is actually the only clinically well-known way to increase progesterone production.
Now, technically, the later sentence isn’t 100% true. Several other factors can impact progesterone, which I will get to in the next post on progesterone.
For now, let’s look at the stress hormone that is causing such a disruption on our progesterone production.
Cortisol, Public Enemy Number 1 or Guilty by Association?
Cortisol, AKA the stress hormone, has gotten a very bad rap. Recently, it has been deemed “public enemy number 1.” However, it is important to realize that we need cortisol. For instance, it helps to keep inflammation at bay and allows us to utilize the fuel we need to respond to dangerous threats (like demanding bosses, sick kids, and nasty comments on our social media feeds).
The following excerpt from WebMD provides an easy summary regarding why we need some cortisol to maintain balance:
It’s best known for helping fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis, but cortisol plays an important role in a number of things your body does. For example, it:
- Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Keeps inflammation down
- Regulates your blood pressure
- Increases your blood sugar (glucose)
- Controls your sleep/wake cycle
- Boosts energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward
So, it’s not that we need to get rid of cortisol or dwindle its amounts to near zero.
Our body needs a delicate balance of all hormones and even stress to function at its best. Yes, you read that right. Stress does have some positive effects too! It can sharpen our brain and bodies to make them more resilient!
However, when we are bombarded with stress and overwhelm, our body needs to be able to recover from its effect and reinstate rejuvenation. Furthermore, we don’t want too much cortisol or stress to take hostage of our other hormones and/or our sanity.
When life gets to be too much, sometimes a little olfaction fortification for taming down the triggers is in order to keep hormones in sync.
The Cortisol Cool Down and Progesterone Revival with Essential Oils
Previously, I discussed nine ways that certain essential oils have been found to support our bodies during stress pertinent to this topic. These include:
- reducing cortisol, the stress hormone
- modulating brain signals (neurotransmitters)
- shifting our brainwaves
- calming our emotions
- enhancing cognition
- supporting cellular physiology
- working directly on our emotional brain, causing an immediate shift in our perception
- evoking memories and transforming our mood through their aroma
- interacting with odor receptors throughout our whole body, influencing our biochemical pathways and physical state
I then highlighted three single oils that have some small, yet impressive, human clinical data on lowering cortisol. These included lavender, clary sage, and bergamot. I also explored two blends which can also cool down cortisol, the Stress Relief Blend and the Joyful Blend.
Starting at the level of the mind, and balancing the physiological effects of stress, essential oils can be a powerful way to keep cortisol at bay, refresh the mind-body, and to achieve better hormonal balance.
These, along with mind-body techniques, laughter, relaxation, lifestyle practices, and self-care can all favorably influence these epigenetic pathways that can be hijacked from feeling inundated with emotional upheaval.
Summary: Hormonal Harmony with Naturopathic and Functional Medicine
Our hormones exist in a delicate ambiance. Though strong, they are also easily shaken. Many factors can throw them off balance. One of the most universal is stress. Due to hormones’ system-wide impact, this can cause mayhem in the mind and body.
When a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor holistically addresses nervous system overload and emotional health, or focuses in on sex steroid signaling issues, achieving equilibrium with one will also benefit the other. This is because integrative medicine not only addresses symptoms, but also their underlying influencers. Stress literally contributes to all health outcomes. As a result, in tackling it, one ends up with a better functioning mind-body and hormonal composition.
I hope you will apply some of the stress-relieving concepts discussed and use them to help keep your hormones in sync.
In a follow up post, I’m going to turn the spotlight on one of our star hormonal players, progesterone. I will provide you with an overview of why keeping it in balance is critical for health in many ways, not just reproduction and pregnancy. I’ll also provide tips on how to test for progesterone, optimal ranges, and natural ways to support healthy levels.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Mood, Hormonal, and Digestive Support
- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- An Integrative Mental Health and Stress Resource Guide.
- Tools for coping with isolation and separation.
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.