Underlying causes of hormonal imbalances include stress, inflammation, food sensitivities, blood sugar imbalances, and gut infections. These cause hormonal imbalance by triggering the overproduction of cortisol. The overproduction of cortisol depletes the body of the vital precursors needed to make hormones.
Learning how to balance your hormones starts with supporting your adrenals and identifying what is causing hormonal imbalances and excess cortisol production. Adrenal health is key to having hormonal balance in the body.
The production of the hormone cortisol by the adrenals take priority over reproduction and other hormones. In times of stress, the adrenals steal the precursors and nutrients that are needed to make the sex hormones in favor of making cortisol.
To have balanced hormones you must take care of your adrenals and address the myriad of stressors that affect the excessive or chronic output of cortisol by the adrenal glands which causes hormonal imbalances and adrenal fatigue.
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The pregnenolone steal and how stress causes hormone imbalances
When the body is under stress due to lifestyle, food sensitivities, gut infections, and dietary factors, the adrenals produce the hormone cortisol. When there is chronic cortisol production, the precursors required to make additional hormones are left in little supply. Cortisol using up the precursors to make other sex hormones is known as the pregnenolone steal.
The precursor’s cholesterol and pregnenolone are needed by both the endocrine system to make hormones and adrenals to make cortisol. But only so much pregnenolone can be produced by the body.
When pregnenolone is used up by the adrenals to produce cortisol, there are insufficient precursors available to the endocrine system to make the sex hormones. Stress and chronic cortisol production cause hormone imbalance by using up the pregnenolone needed by the endocrine system.
A primary role of the adrenals is to produce cortisol in times of stress. A classic example of an emergency is when you would need extra glucose in the bloodstream to run from the tiger.
This fight or flight stress response is considered a major priority by the body and is prioritized over reproduction and other endocrine functions. In this situation, the adrenals are prioritized and allowed to use up the precursors that are needed by the endocrine system to make sex hormones.
The adrenals steal the pregnenolone (also known as the pregnenolone steal) to make cortisol. Cortisol increases the level of glucose in the bloodstream so that you can deal with the emergency. Unfortunately, in today’s world, EVERYTHING seems to be an emergency thus our adrenals are constantly being stimulated to produce cortisol and are stealing the precursors needed by the endocrine system to make the sex hormones thus causing hormonal imbalance.
Foods that cause hormonal imbalance
Another major priority of the body over reproduction is to maintain blood sugar balance within a specific range. In healthy blood sugar regulation, glucose is slowly absorbed into the bloodstream with the help of insulin as a transporter, and the hormone glucagon signals for the release of stored sugar back into the bloodstream.
BUT when a meal high in refined carbohydrates or sugar (think bread, pasta, chips, pop, doughnuts, sweets, etc.) is eaten blood sugar levels rise too high, too quickly causing a spike in blood sugar which is then often followed by the crash where blood sugar drops to low.
When blood sugar levels drop too low, too quick, cortisol is used once again as a backup hormone to help raise blood glucose levels within the normal ranges.
If you are on the blood sugar roller coaster, addicted to sugar, or eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates, eating healthy carbohydrates is crucial for balancing your hormones. Unhealthy carbohydrates that are highly processed can cause hormonal imbalances with fluctuating energy levels. Balancing your blood sugar is key to preventing cortisol from being needed to raise your blood sugar.
The best hormone-balancing diet includes eating foods in their whole unprocessed forms such as:
- whole fruits
- whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa
- free-range meats and eggs
- nuts and seeds
Eating small amounts of healthy fats with every meal will help to slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. The best fats to eat include are the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats found in fish, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. Saturated fats are pro-inflammatory so they should be consumed in small amounts.
Foods that cause hormone imbalance are nutrient deficient refined carbohydrates, sugar, and inflammatory foods.
Food sensitivities should be avoided as they stimulate the immune system and thus cause inflammation. Cortisol is then produced to help reduce inflammation caused by food sensitivities.
Eliminating the sugar and refined carbohydrates are key to hormone balance and blood sugar balance as these foods easily cause blood sugar spikes followed by blood sugar dips in which cortisol is drawn upon. Learn more about the difference between good carbs vs bad carbs in this post
How inflammation and gut infections causes hormone imbalances
Cortisol is also an anti-inflammatory hormone that helps counter the effects of inflammation created by the immune system. When the immune system is actively fighting infections or a lot of inflammation is created. When there is excess inflammation, cortisol acts like a firetruck that rushes to the scene to anti-inflame the tissue damage caused by the immune system.
If a person has chronic low-grade infections such as SIBO or is consistently eating foods that they have developed a sensitivity to the immune system will be activated along with cortisol. This vicious cycle eventually wears out your adrenals, causing hormone imbalances as the adrenals will be using up the precursors needed to make the sex hormones for cortisol production instead.
How to balance your hormones
To fix hormone imbalance, start by:
- optimizing your diet to balance your blood sugar
- implement stress reduction techniques such as daily meditation or
- walks in nature
- eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- avoid food sensitivities that cause cortisol production
- eliminate gut infections such as SIBO
- heal a leaky gut
Addressing the root cause of hormone imbalances can take some work. By implementing these tips, you can help to balance your hormones. It almost always takes a holistic approach to balance hormones.
Supporting your adrenals with seeking health’s optimal adrenal can help the adrenals recover and balance cortisol levels.