Adrenal, Thyroid + Sex Hormones - Dysfunction & Healing

As we may have heard or personally experienced, problems with our adrenal, thyroid, or reproductive hormones play a big role in our physical health + sense of well-being.

While our adrenal, thyroid + reproductive hormones each have unique functions + responsibilities, they also work in tandem as part of a larger, inseparable system of hormonal function, balance and regulation (aka, the endocrine system). 

 

3 MAIN HORMONE SUB-SYSTEMS

The adrenal, thyroid and reproductive systems work to govern and maintain their own specific set of duties while also serving as a built-in backup for each other. 

Here's a high-level overview of the local function, interdependencies, and common characteristics of dysfunctions in each of these sub-systems:

ADRENAL sub-system 
Primarily responsible for throttling energy allocation, intercepting and handling demands perceived or placed on body, determining stress response, regulating sleep, setting nervous system fight/flight mode, etc.

Lends backup to -- Reproductive sub-system. Thyroid sub-system
Pulls backup from -- Reproductive sub-system. Thyroid sub-system

Adrenal sub-system dysfunction is often characterized or accompanied by:  
excessive energy (hyperadrenalism); lack of energy (hypoadrenalism); altered cortisol patterns; inability to fall asleep or stay asleep soundly for 6-9 hours; desire to sleep excessively; energy spikes/crashes; excess body hair growth/loss; increase in male patterned hair growth/loss in females; under/overactive libido; extreme intolerance for or overreliance on caffeine, alcohol, sugar; theobromine intolerance; too much/little intake of salt, carbs, fat or water; too much/little exercise or activity; use of cortizone shots, steroids, inhalers, anti-inflammatory drugs; inability to properly outlet stress; chronic or extreme state of physical, mental and/or emotional stress; severe nutrient deficiencies 

Common names referring to Adrenal sub-system hormones include: 
cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dhea, androgens, pregnenolone, etc

 

THYROID sub-system  
Primarily responsible for adjusting our body's metabolic rate + speed, controlling our core + basal body temperatures, defining our base energy level, directing storage of cholesterol + fat, etc.

Lends backup to -- Reproductive sub-system. Adrenal sub-system
Pulls backup from -- Adrenal sub-system. Reproductive sub-system

Thyroid sub-system dysfunction is often characterized or accompanied by:
sluggish thyroid (hypothyroidism); over-active thyroid (hyperthyroidism); difficulty maintaining weight; fast weight gain/loss, low/excess energy, puffy eyes, face, calves, ankles; hair loss (esp eyebrow outer 1/3); low core or basal body temperatures; irregular or absent menstrual cycles; constipation/diarrhea; jittery; excess sweating; lumps, pain, swelling of neck/throat; weight distribution on upper arms, hips/thighs; cholesterol imbalances; food allergies or or intolerances (particularly gluten, dairy, nut or soy); severe nutrient deficiencies

Common names referring to Thyroid sub-system hormones include: 
TSH, T3, T4, free T3, free T4, reverse T3, thyroxine, etc.

 

REPRODUCTIVE sub-system

Primary hormone sub-system responsible for permitting reproductive capacity, enabling sexual organ development, supporting sexual function, driving libido, promoting fetal growth, etc.

Lends backup to -- Adrenal sub-system. Thyroid sub-system
Pulls backup from -- Adrenal sub-system. Thyroid sub-system

Reproductive sub-system dysfunction is often characterized or accompanied by: 
menstrual cycle absence or irregularity; PMS/PMDD; acne; increase in male patterned hair growth/loss in females; infertility; miscarriage; under/overactive libido; early or incomplete development of sexual organs; use of contraceptives or artificial hormone replacement drugs; disease of sexual organs; thyroid hyper/hypofunction; adrenal hyper/hypofunction; extreme intolerance for or overreliance on caffeine, alcohol, sugar; severe nutrient deficiencies

Common names referring to Reproductive sub-system hormones include: 
estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, testosterone, LH, FSH, pregnenolone, etc. 

 

PRIORITY, BALANCE + DYSFUNCTION

The endocrine system supervises the hormone sub-systems and their energy needs (largely through the negative feedback loop control center that resides in the HPA axis of the brain). 

The adrenal, thyroid + reproductive hormone sub-systems work to keep their local area balanced and running smoothly. However, at any time, the endocrine system may (re)direct -- or even shut down -- efforts of one sub-system to re-allocate its energy + resources to another struggling sub-system that it deems as a higher priority.

Many functional practitioners have observed that the endocrine system often seems to allocate energy to the sub-systems in the following order of priority:

  1. Adrenal sub-system
  2. Thyroid sub-system
  3. Reproductive sub-system

Chronic dysfunction in any one area (adrenals, thyroid or reproductive) can create problems local to that area and -- if not resolved -- may also inhibit the functional capacity of other areas.

When we understand the interdependence of hormonal sub-systems, we understand why hormonal imbalances are best cared for by supporting the endocrine system as a whole, while also addressing issues specific to the struggling sub-system itself. 

 

ResolvING HORMONE IMBALANCE + DYSFUNCTION

Optimal hormone function is indisputably dependent on the energy we derive from the food we consume on a daily basis. The energy + nutrients we get from our food support production of the hormones our body needs to fulfill its many complex, life-giving duties.

The good news is that hormone balance can be restored and supported through a variety of targeted, natural therapies -- proper food and nutrient intake being only a foundation. 

The unfortunate news is that hormone repair can often take longer than we'd personally prefer.

Natural healing supports the fullness of long-term healing, but it can take a fair amount of patience, attention + time. Certainly it takes more effort than mindlessly popping a pill.

While there may be a few individuals able to heal their own hormonal issues quickly, most of us are unable to affect long-term change and healing on our own -- and end up worse if we try by unintentionally creating a state of greater imbalance. 

The use of targeted therapies for hormonal healing -- even "natural" therapies (e.g., food, supplements, herbs, oils, cognitive strategies, movement, etc) is best determined and led by a practitioner. It is wise to find someone who has been trained in natural therapies as well as the common healing reactions, contraindications, and long-term implications associated with them if our goal is effective, long-term healing. 

 

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net