Sounds like how you might feel if you got glutened, yes?
What these symptoms really describe is the treacherous and unpleasant transition into menopause. It’s often spoken of with dread and distain because few women claim to have an easy one. And the years spent sick and depleted from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity don’t help either.
As you know, I’ve spent the past couple of months talking about hormone issues and how they affect those of us in the gluten-free community. I’ve even shared my story about adrenal fatigue as well as the reasons why gluten sensitive individuals could be more likely to end up with hormone problems.
Danger Ahead in Hormone Land?
The reaction to the previous adrenal articles was astonishing and even bigger than I had expected. It appears that quite a lot of folks can relate to my story which on one hand is great because perhaps it will provide some valuable insight.
But I also find it concerning because the majority by and large who identified with my story are women still stuck in the midst of incredible energy depletion. One fascinating point which I barely touched on in previous articles is the connection between adrenal issues and how bad a woman’s transition to menopause can be.
Let me reiterate – a long term consequence for burned out adrenals is a rough menopause. Whether this is a new information to you or not, we all need to have this conversation for the betterment of individual health.
See, your adrenals pick up the slack once the ovaries “close for business” in hormone production. If the adrenals are spent, you’re in for trouble. The exact amount of “trouble” will ultimately depend on an array of factors that include how depleted your adrenals are, how much inflammation is still in your system and how much time you give yourself to address the deficit.
Nora Gedgaudas CNS, CNT, Nutritional Therapist and author of Primal Body, Primal Mind shared with me, “The health of your adrenals and adrenal functioning IS the health of your menopause. ALWAYS.” She mentioned this topic many times when I saw her speak earlier in the year at the PaleoFX conference.
But few know this information because drug companies have crafted an effective marketing message that it’s commonplace to have “difficult menopause symptoms” so they can sell more drugs. Certified Nutritionist Samantha F. Grant counters that a difficult menopause “isn’t normal, but it is marketed to women in such a way that we are taught to believe it is. However, the choices you make today can influence your experience with hormonal changes in the future.”
But know that when Samantha uses the term “normal” in relation to menopause, she acknowledges that it’s “difficult to define because there are inevitable shifts that occur with our hormones as we age. That is a fact. How much we shift is very individualized [experiencing] mild symptoms such as body temperature fluctuations, interrupted sleep, changes in skin tone and elasticity and changes in body composition. However, none of these symptoms need to be extreme.”
Why You SHOULD Worry About Menopause
Nora states that, “If you are gluten sensitive/celiac then you already have an autoimmune condition. Statistically, if you continue to consume gluten (according to the research), your likelihood of developing a second or even third autoimmune condition is literally 100%. Any state of autoimmunity, particularly if you are continuing to have exposure to triggering antigens, is going to perpetuate an inflammatory condition.”
“Inflammation is always stressful and will most certainly influence any woman’s menopausal experience. Stress provokes [the production of] stress hormones…” which can certainly throw things off when the body is being triggered all the time.
Samantha clarifies further by pointing out that “the adrenals lend a helping hand to produce more of the hormones like DHEA, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. They also produce catecholamines which help regulate the nervous system in times of stress. If you have adrenal issues like adrenal fatigue, the helping hand isn’t there and your hormone levels plummet even more causing more extreme symptoms of menopause.”
And if you’re diet is made up of many sugary and starchy treats, I’ve got bad news for you. Samantha has found with her own clients that “sugar, especially when combined with gluten and/or dairy, seems to escalate symptoms of menopause.” So cutting back or out many of the convenience-based gluten-free breads, muffins, pancakes, waffles, bagels and other treats will help you immensely to avoid being on the blood sugar roller coaster.
Now is the Time
Nowhere near menopause? Assume you don’t need to be concerned until you get closer to your late 40s? Think again.
Burning out the health and resiliency of your adrenals in your 20s and 30s comes with a hefty price of limited time to address a deep problem the longer you wait. Samantha acknowledges that her focus on adrenal health came as the result of feeling absolutely exhausted after the birth of her son. She knew that it wasn’t normal to feel so fatigued, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious answers until she began digging and realized that her issues potentially started when she came down with Mono as a freshman in college.
Childbirth and being a new parent (or perhaps raising kids at all) is a huge stress factor which was also acknowledged by well-renowned acupuncturist Chris Kresser when he realized that he had slipped into adrenal fatigue. Though men might not get menopause, they certainly have their own hormonal issues that the pharmaceutical world calls “Low T” (T of course stands for testosterone) as well as andropause. Some great resources on this topic can be found by clicking here for parents.
Even my own personal journey began long before my adrenal testing came back positive for adrenal fatigue, resulting from years of toxic stress (think bad break-ups, an insane schedule, and even a unimaginably traumatic life (living in NYC on 9/11 to be exact) contribute), consuming foods to which I was sensitive and even over-exercising in the pursuit of attaining a level of skinniness that’s not at all natural for me.
Bottom line? Your body isn’t going to simply forgive and forget these big issues. It can’t simply because it was something that happened last year or even ten years ago. The assault on adrenal health begins early which is why both Samantha and Nora highly suggest jumping on this problem now.
Samantha advises that “it’s good to pay attention when you have symptoms of fatigue that won’t go away, insomnia issues or a big stressor in your life, like an illness, accident, move, etc.” And getting a baseline sooner rather than later of where you stand can also help you know exactly what must change. Most alternative practitioners suggest doing an Adrenal Stress Index (ASI) which tests your saliva and provides a starting point of where to make changes. Though I’ve had this test twice, the results of the first test ended up being the catalyst that prompted Samantha to suggest I go gluten-free back in 2008.
If you were to ask either when you should start looking into this, the urgency is clear. “As soon as humanly possible!” shared Nora. “It is never too soon to support your adrenal health. In fact, the sooner the better.” She also notes that “what we may perceive as adrenal problems/”exhaustion” [may not have anything] to do with the adrenal glands themselves.” It could be “a brain-based issue that is secondary to chronic infections and inflammation, some manner of neurological dysfunction or even undiagnosed autoimmunity.”
Small Steps in the Right Direction for a Healthy Menopause
1. Watch your soy intake. What might seem like a good idea of ‘naturally’ tinkering with your own hormones thanks to naturally-occurring phytoestrogen in soy could turn out to be a mistake. Hormones are a big deal and shouldn’t be treated the same way as you would in taking a multi-vitamin.
2. Get a good night’s sleep. Don’t poo-poo this step and act like it’s “so easy” to do, because it’s not. Most people don’t sleep enough and/or experience good quality sleep. To feel positive changes, begin shutting down an extra hour or two before bedtime. Make sure your room is dark, the TV is off (or totally nonexistent in your room), and the temperature is comfortable. Use an eye pillow to block out potential light disturbances, buy a new pillow and try using lavender essential oil to help your body and mind wind down.
3. Banish caffeine from the later half of your day. Caffeine stays in your body for up to six hours and will disrupt your ability to settle down at night. Even if you claim to sleep just fine despite drinking an espresso with your after dinner dessert, the quality of your sleep can drastically be affected.
4. Avoid eating starchy gluten-free carbs for breakfast. If you gravitate toward the convenience gluten-free food products such as cereal, granola, bread, pancakes, waffles, bagels or muffins for breakfast, swap them out with more nutrient dense, lower glycemic meals. Frittatas, omelettes, fish, meat, veggies and healthier starches like sweet potatoes and squash which are much better options to keep your body and mind going until lunch without needing a snack at 10am.
5. Bio-Identical Hormones shouldn’t necessarily be your first option. Again, tinkering with hormones affects the enter landscape of hormones which is why it’s prudent to uncover if there are underlying issues that need to be addressed rather than just bandaiding over them with more hormones. Consider exhausting the most natural options before heading down this path.
6. Most importantly, seek professional help to balance your hormones with a trusted expert who has a track record. It can’t be repeated enough that supplementing hormones is not like popping vitamins and can have huge consequences on your body. Decide how you’d like to handle your own personal situation (as only you can make that decision for yourself after doing your homework).
Even if your family doctor or OB/GYN wants to step in and help you balance them, ask questions about their experience and philosophy for treatment. There are plenty of practitioners out there like Samantha and Nora who can help you walk down the path that feels best for you.