Conquer Fatigue: Hormonal Balance in Times of Change
Pregnancy is demanding in its own unique way: hormonal changes, increased nutritional demands, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns can take an exhausting toll on a mother-to-be. Regular exercise, healthy eating habits, a prenatal supplement, regular sleep, and moderating one’s work load are usually enough to maintain energy throughout the pregnancy.
Some women may become anemic during pregnancy or develop shortages of some vital nutrients. Simple tests can detect these deficiencies that can be corrected with nutritional supplementation. At times, other health problems emerge during the pregnancy that can cause fatigue, such as hypothyroidism and diabetes. With good prenatal care, these issues can be detected and treated appropriately.
The cycles and phases of hormonal change, such as the monthly premenstrual time and the perimenopause transition, can challenge what is called our stress adaptation mechanism.
There are three phases to this stress response, which are generally regulated by our adrenal glands. The initial phase is the alarm reaction, commonly known as our fight-or-flight response. This alarm phase is usually very short lived. The next phase is the resistance reaction, which allows us to continue to deal with stress after the fightor-flight response has worn off. Lastly, in the exhaustion phase, our adrenal glands have become depleted of the hormones called glucocorticoids, our bodies lack potassium, and cells and tissues do not receive enough glucose or other nutrients to function properly. We become fatigued.Premenstrual syndrome and perimenopause are their own kind of stress on the system.
During these times, many women find that their stress tolerance threshold decreases. The complicated interaction between hormones and brain chemistry challenges our stress adaptation mechanisms, resulting in fatigue. The fluctuating levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and thyroid interact with brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and others that affect our emotional and physical responses to life, environmental stressors, to insults, and even infections.
Different circumstances call for differentapproaches, and if persistent fatigue is something that plagues you, it is important to consult with a licensed health care practitioner to determine the cause. A good medical history, physical exam, and selected laboratory tests can determine if the cause is low thyroid,
anemia, an infectious agent, low or high blood sugar, or a serious illness.
Licensed alternative practitioners will also have tools and perspectives to consider food sensitivities or intolerances, toxicities, neurotransmitter imbalances, and hormonal status.Nutritional and herbal support can play a critical role in supporting theadrenal glands when a person displays symptoms of intense prolonged stress or a “burned-out” stress adaption mechanism. Insufficient or excessive adrenal hormone release can usually be addressed with key nutrients such as pantothene, B6, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin C. As these nutrients are critical for optimal adrenal function and the manufacture of adrenal hormones, their levels can be diminished during times of stress.
For example, a deficiency of pantothenic acid results in fatigue, headaches, insomnia, and more.Eleutherococcus and panax ginseng are notable botanicals for their ability to support adrenal function andenhance resistance to stress. They belong to a category of general tonic herbs known as adaptogens. Adaptogens have been shown to act as tonics and anti-stress agents, enhancing the ability to cope with both physical and emotional stressorsRhodiola is well known in Eastern Europe for its ability to enhance energy, stamina, and endurance. Rhodiola appears to increase the chemicals that provide energy to the muscle of the heart and to prevent the depletion of adrenal hormones induced by acute stress.
Ashwagandha is another adrenal and immune supporting adaptogen. Its active constituents are called “withanolides” and have been
shown to support pain relief, have antioxidant effects, reduce inflammation, as well as stimulate thyroid, respiratory, and immune function. It appears that it may also support optimal dopamine levels in the brain.
Astragalus has historically been used as a tonic for strengthening and regulating the immune system. Astragalus extracts seem to be able
to restore or improve immune function in immune deficient cases.
Holy basil, another adaptogen, is also a rich source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Experimental studies with humans display promising blood glucose effects. Moderating glucose levels, including after meals, is another positive effect of the basil.