The Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-Thyroid (HPAT) Axis – thanks to Fullscript for this infographic!
I talk a lot about cortisol, but it doesn’t exist as a lonely hormone. If you look closely, you can see that the thyroid (see TSH, T4, T3 and rT3) and adrenal glands (ACTH, cortisol) are tightly connected. The (+) and (-) icons indicate positive and negative feedback throughout this entire axis – how fascinating!
So, for example – you can see that there is negative feedback from cortisol —> the conversion of T4 to T3. T4 is inactive, and T3 is active.
The verdict? Cortisol can directly prevent the conversion of T4 to T3, which works against optimal thyroid function. Note: managing the thyroid also means moderating cortisol.
This HPAT axis can be affected both positively and negatively via numerous factors, some being:
Stress (physical, mental)
Medications and Natural Health Products
Blood sugar imbalance
Hormones (birth control, hormone replacement therapy)
And this is just a TINY piece of the puzzle. If you Google ‘steroid pathways,’ you’ll see for yourself just how complex the hormone puzzle is!
Androgens are often referred to as ‘male sex hormones,’ but they’re present in both men and women. When it comes to women, we hear the most about testosterone, DHEA-S and DHT.
Birth control is NOT the only option for painful (dysmenorrhea) and/or heavy periods (menorrhagia). And before jumping on a medication or supplement your HCP should always look into potential causes of extreme cramping – ie. endometriosis, fibroids, etc.
Prostaglandins are a major factor in menstrual cramps – once a month (when Aunt Flow comes to town) they cause uterine muscles to contract in order to release the uterine lining (endometrium). Prostaglandins aren’t bad (they are important for blood clots, inducing labour, etc.), but if certain prostaglandins are high in your cycle – this can predispose to more painful menstrual cramping.
I have seen great variation in the amount of time it takes for a woman’s period to return and regulate. To start, prolactin is the main hormone responsible for milk production. And when elevated (hence, for breastfeeding) it works to prevent ovulation.
Amenorrhea: the absence of your period.
And then amenorrhea is divided into 2 categories: primary and secondary.
We’re going to talk about secondary amenorrhea, which can be observed as: the absence of a period for 3 months in women who had previously had REGULAR cycles, or the absence of a period for 6 months in women who had already been experiencing IRREGULAR cycles.
So - the liver is responsible for detoxing alcohol. But it’s also important for metabolizing estrogen. In women, more than one alcoholic drink per day has been shown to increase circulation of androgens (ie. testosterone) and estrogens (1, 2) – this predisposes you to symptoms of estrogen dominance.
When you have healthy, restful sleep, cortisol levels are reduced to their lowest levels (typically around midnight). If cortisol doesn’t drop appropriately, this contributes to fat production and provides very little fuel (glycogen) to the muscles. So, you’ve got weight gain. And you’re tired.
The reality is: if you’re not sleeping well, you’re not going to feel well. And it won’t matter how many supplements I throw at you, you won’t feel better until you’re sleeping better.
And sleep is a major obstacle to cure.
I’m excited to share that in an effort to increase accessibility to naturopathic care, I am offering virtual consults to individuals who live in rural areas of Manitoba.
Perimenopause: the hormonal shift, occurring over months-years, which transitions you into menopause. ‘Peri’ means “around” or “near”, so - you get the point.
We’re stressed out, right? Well, the increased cortisol produced by stress makes us hungry - hungry for carbs, sugar and fat (and not the good kinds, okay?). If we follow suit and eat like this all the time we start to feel fatigued (and in desperately hoping for a caffeine boost), moody and may even start to find that we don’t think as clearly (some will call this ‘brain fog’). And stress forces our body to utilize a significant amount of nutrients to produce the energy we need to respond - even if our stress is created by sitting in front of a computer all day.