The role of your adrenal glands in menopause

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In menopause, the adrenal glands take over the production of oestrogens once the ovaries lose their powers​1​. The adrenal glands become the powerhouse of oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and adrenaline.

Because the adrenals are being asked to do a lot more work, the added pressure may result in symptoms of adrenal overwork, like fatigue, overwhelm and symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes. If you are already stressed, especially with chronic stress, menopause may appear early or be more uncomfortable.

Seeking support for the adrenals’ health well before menopause is recommended, but you can support these glands any time without spending a cent.

The adrenal glands produce androstenedione, which can be converted into oestrone, a conversion that occurs in fat tissue. Androstenedione is also converted into testosterone. Testosterone can be converted into oestradiol via aromatisation in fat cells.

The adrenal glands also produce the hormone precursor dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

Under stress, the adrenal glands also pump out extra adrenaline and cortisol, placing a large burden on the adrenals with the increased demand for cortisol, DHEA and androstenedione.

At menopause, this can create excessive demands on the adrenal glands, which may continue into the years, without adequate recovery.

The main supportive mechanism of the adrenal glands is to reduce the pressure on them, which comes mainly in the form of reducing stress. Stress triggers the extra production of adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenals. Thus, reducing or augmenting our stress response can be a meaningful way of supporting adrenal recovery and function.

There are many ways to modify stress, and you’ve heard them all: sleep well, eat well, deliberately relax and exercise regularly. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into your day can also help.

If you’re not stressed but were during your menopausal transition, you may have been in a weak starting position, adrenally speaking, and some restoration may be in order.

Supportive adrenal herbs are traditionally liquorice and rehmennia, and may include adaptogens like Panax ginseng, withania and others. Get good herbal advice from a trained herbalist or naturopath if you’re unsure if herbs are safe or appropriate in your case, and always check the safety and warnings before taking them.

References

  1. 1.
    Lasley B, Crawford S, McConnell D. Ovarian adrenal interactions during the menopausal transition. Minerva Ginecol. 2013;65(6):641-651. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24346252


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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
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