You don’t have to be an expert in menopause to know that changing levels of estrogen and progesterone have a lot to do with what’s going on in your body. But there’s another key player in menopause, one that’s typically overlooked: the adrenals.
The adrenal glands are walnut-sized glands on top of the kidneys, and they are responsible for secreting almost 50 hormones, some of which can mimic symptoms of menopause.
What Do the Adrenals Do?
Of the many hormones the adrenals secrete, epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and cortisol are some of the most important. These are the famous “fight or flight” response hormones, which increase heart rate, shunt blood toward essential organs like the brain and muscles, and convert glycogen to glucose, raising blood sugar.
In the past, this response was necessary for giving us the quick jolt of energy we need to escape or fight a predator in the wild. In modern times, we’re more likely to experience this kind of stress while stuck in traffic late for work or in the middle of a long argument with our spouse.
The problem is, the fight or flight stress response was designed to be for fleeting moments, and was not meant to keep the body in a prolonged state of stress. Yet that’s often how we live, primed for a fight that’s never-ending. This constant stress is bad for the body, promoting inflammation that’s deleterious to long-term health.
Is It Early Menopause or Adrenals?
This ongoing stress, due to the constant release of hormones (specifically cortisol) from the adrenal glands, can lead to symptoms that are common in perimenopause, including:
- Cognitive impairment and memory problems (brain fog)
- Disturbed sleep
- Weight gain
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Digestive issues
- Hot flashes
When a cluster of these symptoms appear in a woman’s mid 40s-50s, she may believe she’s entering menopause. If she’s younger, she may even think she’s entering early menopause. Many of these symptoms can be caused by other things that should be ruled out, like sleep apnea, thyroid disorders, and diabetes, but they’re all common symptoms of chronic stress. However, there’s no evidence that chronic stress does lead to early menopause, and by managing stress, these symptoms can be eliminated.
Whether you’re experiencing perimenopause now, past menopause, or not, it’s always a good idea to actively manage the stress in your life. If you’re not able to remove sources of stress, reduce it by adding in activities you enjoy that let you blow off steam. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health overall and is an excellent stress reliever for the body. Make sure you’re eating well and avoiding excessive alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Last but not least, be sure to get plenty of restorative sleep to let your body recover. When you take good care of yourself, you can more clearly determine the source of your symptoms, whether they’re a sign of menopause or not.