Even if you are on hormone therapy, if you're resistant to insulin and have a moderate to high carbohydrate diet, your HRT isn't going to resolve your wild hormone fluctuations.
Insulin affects all your other hormones, all 50 of them, to include the BIG three associated with menopause; estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. When insulin can't bring your blood sugar down like it's meant to, you will continue to feel menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and mood swings.
Why Do I Think This Might Be Your Problem
As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner working with women usually aged 45 to 60, I come across a lot of hormone dysfunction. And in all cases, they have had prolonged stress of one kind or another that resulted in cortisol dysregulation.
And for many, insulin resistance was a factor.
Whether the stress or the high-carbohydrate was the trigger, it doesn't matter. When you combine those two â€“ hormone therapy rarely has a chance.
Women are sold on the idea that HRT is going to relieve them of all their menopause symptoms, and it just isn't true. And when they discover that for themselves, they become despondent, anxious and even more emotional than they were.
HRT can help, but it can also make it worse. It's like throwing gasoline on a fire if you don't look at the BIG picture, the whole person.
If you are frustrated, confused and overwhelmed by your mixed HRT results, lets take a look at what insulin resistance is and why it might be your problem.
What is Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance occurs when your cells basically rebel against the amount of glucose being shoved at them. It's true.
Insulin's job is to manage the level of blood sugar, and it does this by telling your cells to absorb glucose.
When blood sugar rises after eating, your pancreas releases insulin. Cells in your body are triggered to absorb the glucose for energy. They do this by storing as fat for later use. In the case of cells in your liver and muscle tissue, they can convert glucose into glycogen.
Glycogen is also used for energy storage like fat, but it is easier for the body to use it. Glycogen is called upon when you run out of blood sugar, such as when you're exercising, and there's still a need for immediate energy.
When you have high levels of blood sugar on a regular basis, after a while, your cells can decide to reject insulin's command if they're saturated with glucose.
Survival and Thrive Functions
Hormones are messengers, they instruct cells to carry out specific instructions that affect your immediate survival as well as your ability to thrive over time.
Insulin is a hormone I refer to as a survival hormone. Other hormones such as estrogen and progesterone are ones I refer to as thrive hormones. What do I mean by that?
Survival hormones such as insulin and cortisol are necessary for your immediate survival and your body will divert resources from “thrive” hormones to maintain these hormones. Your body diverts energy and resources for producing them and focus away from their roles.
For instance, if your adrenal glands are fatigued and not producing amounts of cortisol your body requires, it will divert energy and focus on producing cortisol while other levels of hormones such as estrogen drop.
When estrogen drops, you are more likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats.
If you don't survive, there's no reason to thrive.
How Insulin affects Cortisol, Another Survival Hormone
When blood sugar increases rapidly and consequently results in insulin being released and blood sugar dropping quickly, cortisol is released to compensate. Cortisol is a stress response hormone and when you need to fight, freeze or flee – you need blood sugar quickly to fuel your sudden energy needs.
Additionally, when blood sugar drops too fast, cortisol goes into action and triggers release of glucose as well as triggers cravings for carbs – sugar.
Then when blood sugar rises again in response to the cortisol, more insulin is released. This cycle can be relentless if you don't monitor your carb and sugar intake and keep stress levels down.
And this cycle, can lead to insulin resistance and adrenal fatigue due to the increased long-term demand for cortisol.
Ironically, if you are insulin resistant and overweight, your cells could be screaming for more glucose due to their inability to respond to insulin. And this, coupled with being fatigued, can drive your cravings for more carbs.
How This Cycle Affects Progesterone and Estrogen
When the level of cortisol remains high or your demand for cortisol out paces your ability to produce it, your progesterone levels will drop. Progesterone is a base hormone for cortisol, meaning progesterone is needed to produce cortisol. And because cortisol is a survival hormone and a higher priority, the conversion of progesterone into cortisol is also a higher priority and therefore levels of usable progesterone drop.
When progesterone drops too low, you can develop estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance is present when you have too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. Even if both hormones are low, you can still have estrogen dominance.
When you have estrogen dominance you can experience a wide-range of horrible symptoms.
- Swelling and tenderness, especially in your breasts
- Low libido
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Weight gain
- Restless sleep
- Memory issues
And it can disrupt your thyroid hormones resulting in hair loss, dry skin, cold hands and feet, weight gain.
Signs of Insulin Resistance
It can be difficult to determine insulin resistance by looking for symptoms. The signs are not that prevalent until you develop diabetes. The best way to recognize it is to monitor your blood sugar levels.
You can do this with a home test that you purchase online or from your local pharmacy.
I recommend you conduct your test first thing in morning after fasting for a period of 8 hours or more. For a fasting test, a normal blood glucose level is between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Optimally, I like to see it around 85 mg/dL.
If your results are consistently over 100 mg/dL, I recommend that you contact your health practitioner for further testing. If your results are between 100 and 125 mg/dL this is an indicator that you may have prediabetes and may be insulin resistant.
If you check your blood glucose about 2 hours after eating and it's at a level of 140-199 mg/dL that also indicates that you may have prediabetes and are insulin resistant.
Symptoms associated with pre- and diabetes that you may recognize are:
- Persistent thirst and hunger, even after you eat
- Increased or frequent urination
- Weakened immune system, frequent infections – slow to heal
- Burning, stinging or tingling in hands and/or feet
- Blurry vision
- Lowers libido and loss of feeling in genitals
- Vaginal dryness and painful sex
When you become insulin resistance, your risk for developing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, breast cancer and PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) increase.
In addition, high blood sugar damages nerves, blood vessels, and organ tissue – which can lead to very dangerous conditions.
As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between insulin resistance and the symptoms you associate with menopause. Even if you're on hormone therapy, it's not going to be enough to compensate for both natural drops in hormones as well as what insulin resistance is triggering.
What You Can Do
Your best bet is to review your current daily routines and restructure the ones that are not serving you, otherwise know as “make some lifestyle changes.”
It can take 6 – 12 weeks to reverse insulin resistance, depending on how long you've been this way and how strictly you adhere to correcting it. But the good news is, glucose metabolism is very responsive to positive dietary changes, and supplements can help.
You want to move toward:
- Maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar by eating balanced meals that include higher amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein, and low in carbs â€“ stick to low glycemic carbs; vegetables mostly.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid all drinks that contain sugar to include tea and coffee with added sugar, juices, sports and energy drinks and soda.
- Reducing stress by influencing stressful environments, practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and increasing fun exercise â€“ don't over exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep. Aim for 7 – 9 hours per night.
- Test the levels of your Cortisol and other hormones
That's Where Working with a Skilled Functional Practitioner Comes into Play
Remember, prolonged stress, to include the stress due to insulin resistance, increases the demand for cortisol. Over time your adrenal function will become diminished resulting in erratic cortisol production and hormone disruption throughout the body to include decreased estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels – even if you have estrogen dominance.
You want a very thorough view of your hormones and how they are interacting together. The best test for tracking and evaluating your hormones is the DUTCH test. You will need to seek out a health professional like myself or your health care provider for this test.
Additionally, you want a functional health provider that not only performs testing, but also know how to view the bigger picture. As this article demonstrates, there are a lot of possible overlapping conditions that can cause you to feel out of control when it comes your hormones.
If you have raging hormones, night sweats, hot flashes, persistent fatigue and other menopausal symptoms you thought your hormone therapy would relieve, it's important that you realize calm and balanced hormones can still be a reality for you. You deserve to live a symptom-free life, so you can feel like yourself and do great things.
You deserve good health. Everyone does, and you're no exception. You deserve to no longer be overwhelmed by emotions and feelings you can't control.
And working with a Skilled Practitioner is the one big giant step that helped me reach the level of health that I currently enjoy.
So, if you're sick and tired of banging your head against the wall trying to understand why your hormone therapy isn't working, I highly recommend you find a skilled practitioner to help you do some testing and treat common root causes.
And one that can guide and support you while you restructure your daily life with routines and habits that support optimal health and happiness.
If you need help finding the support you need from a good practitioner, click the button below.
When you click the button, it will take you to a health questionnaire. Fill it out as completely as possible, and then schedule your FREE Hormone Troubleshooting Session.
During our time together, we will dive into your health history a bit deeper and identify which root causes may be affecting you. Then we will determine if working with myself or one of my colleagues is a good fit for you.
You can have happy hormones and feel like yourself again. And it doesn't have to take a long time or be stressful. The key is to know what you're dealing with.
Your partner in health,
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