The past several months with the #MeToo Movement and the last couple of weeks culminating in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, have been emotional for a lot of women and men. Regardless if they are survivors of sexual misconduct or not.
Trauma can take many forms, and regardless of time the pain can linger. Emotional trauma can cause you to feel shame, insignificant, helpless and that you have no voice. This can cause you to feel like you have to prove your worthiness and in doing so – place yourself last.
Of course, you don’t need to experience trauma that is sexual in nature to feel this way. Trauma can come in many forms, to include being a child in the middle of a messy divorce, being bullied, or surviving an accident. But after working on my own healing journey and working with women from all over the world, traumatic events to have a habit of causing long-term stress.
Therefore, it’s important to recognize what causes you stress, of any kind, and make yourself a priority by knowing your value. Because stress and trauma can have a significant impact on your hormone health which can lead to Metabolic Chaos™.
Reed Davis, the founder of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, has defined Metabolic Chaos as; “The intuitive recognition that all cells, tissues, organs, and systems are intimately connected and that any negative influence can and will cascade throughout the entire body so that symptoms may appear far removed from the actual cause or underlying system that is failing. The challenge is figuring out what system or systems were actually failing and throwing off all the other systems or functions that are producing the client’s complaints. And further, what is the least amount of intervention and most amount of healing that needs to occur to have the greatest overall effect.”
When your brain and body experience long-term stress, whether it’s the result of a trauma or not, this can create a negative effect on your stress response system, the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal (HAP Axis) pathway. Not only does chronic stress release a steady stream of cortisol, a catabolic hormone – meaning it breaks down energy sources such as glycogen, fat, and protein and you can lose muscle tissue over time – it also strains the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus acts as a bridge between your nervous system, your brain and your endocrine system. When its focus is on one system over others and/or its function is diminished, it affects all areas of your mind and body.
Cortisol and Stress
It’s important to remember trauma can have a long-lasting negative impact. Trauma can result in a continuum of stress due to the feelings of fear and helplessness the person experiences long after the event.
As mentioned previously, the HPA axis is the origin of the hormonal response by the body’s endocrine system and one of its responsibilities is to prepare the body for responding to a stressor, as long as it persists. It does this by directing the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Over time, cortisol, a catabolic hormone, can damage muscle tissue and has been shown to damage the neurons of the hippocampus which can contribute to memory and cognitive problems. As long as the stressor(s) remains present, cortisol will remain elevated in order to help your body deal with the ongoing threat, even if the threat is non-life threatening or mild.
When cortisol is released, resources are diverted away from processes that are not immediately necessary for survival. When cortisol is present it can suppress your immune system, reduce inflammation, and you feel less pain.
It also sends out instructions to your kidneys to reduce their excretion of salt in the urine to increase blood volume and pressure. This is important, because if you require quick thinking, speed, strength or endurance to get out of threat you have plenty of blood being supplied to support these activities.
And it signals the need for immediate energy, especially for the brain, triggering the release of glucose into your blood stream.
But sustained blood pressure can lead to hypertension and stroke. Cortisol also increases cholesterol and other lipids which may lead to coronary disease. High levels of blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and even diabetes. Immune suppression may lead to opportunistic infections and conceivably cancer. If you are prone to canker sores, you probably are familiar with the relationship between stress and outbreaks.
Finally, since cortisol in the long run is catabolic—it breaks down and changes tissues. It causes muscle loss, increases abdominal fat, bone loss or osteoporosis, swelling, and increased facial hair growth in both genders.
Trauma And Estrogen
Another factor regarding trauma and hormones that can lead to lasting damage, it the relationship between trauma and estrogen – specifically estradiol. There may be the link between estrogen and “fear learning.” A study was conducted on women who had either high or low estradiol. Women who had higher levels of estrodial were found to be more resilient, while women with low levels were not.
“Females with low estradiol levels had problems unlearning that the previous event was no longer threatening and continued to fear the event. This was found in women with a normal hormone cycle (so not taking hormonal birth control).”
The study did not look into the correlation between women on birth control and their ability to unlearn fear, however it is mentioned that hormone birth control suppresses natural estradiol. And I know few women who have not taken the birth control pill.
If it is found that there is a link between the birth control pill suppressing estradiol and a woman’s inability to unlearn fear, think of what that may mean for women who face traumatic events.
Trauma And Menopause Depression
When speaking with women about their raging hormones and the stress they cause, I ask questions about their childhood and their young adult lives. I inquire about their diets, illnesses and trauma.
An association with trauma in a woman’s younger years and depression during menopause has been established by a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania. Apparently, if a woman has experienced 1 major trauma, they are more resilient. However, when they experience 2 or more, they are more likely to develop depression during menopause.
“In the study, women who reported two or more adverse childhood experiences were twice as likely to experience major depressive disorder (MDD) in their lifetime and 2½ times as likely to experience MDD in their peri-menopausal to menopausal years than women who had no such bad childhood experiences.
The women who had two or more traumatic experiences in their post-puberty girlhood years were 2.3 times more like to suffer MDD in their menopausal years.”
Not only did the study identify depression, it also established a link between childhood traumas and a “variety of physical, emotional and psychological problems that can last a lifetime.”
Your Brain And Body Work Together
The brain receives information either acquired by outside stimulus registered by your sensory system; touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound or by signals from internal systems. The brain relies on the body to provide all information having to do with function in general, not just survival. What your body experiences, triggers a change in your brain.
And in reverse, your brain sends instructions and directs changes in your body. The relative health of your brain depends on the health of your body, and vice versa. If you experience trauma that causes dysfunction in one or the other, you will have dysfunction in both and need to address both.
When working with dysfunction of any kind, to include dysfunction initially caused by acute trauma – you want a mind, brain & body approach.
When addressing emotional and physical health conditions, it’s important to test hormone health. Testing hormones should be broad in spectrum and include your stress hormones.
When testing stress hormones, it’s possible to see HPA Axis dysfunction manifest in a variety of ways on a lab report. Free cortisol may be high or low, total cortisol production may be high or low, the diurnal rhythm of cortisol may be disrupted (lower or higher levels than normal at particular times or high when it should be low and low when it should be high), and cortisol may show a strong preference for either the active form or inactive form of the hormone.
However, it’s important to note that not all patterns of HPA Axis dysfunction will show up on a lab report. Because cortisol signaling issues can be tissue-specific, not just systemic, you can’t necessarily detect them in blood, saliva, or urine. And, we can’t tell if cell receptors may be up-regulated or down-regulated to compensate for low or high hormone levels.
That’s why lab testing is only part of a clinical evaluation – you always want your health practitioner to gather information about your symptoms and health history, so they can correlate that data with the lab test reports.
Additionally, you want both the hormone levels and hormone metabolites measured. When you measure both, your test can provide insight on hormone levels (production) and how your body is using them.
When it comes to evaluating HPA Axis function, measuring both provides information on cortisol availability (“free” cortisol) AND cortisol production (“metabolized” cortisol) and whether the body is preferring the active form (cortisol) or inactive form (cortisone) of the hormone. This information can be important, because it enables health practitioners see much more of a “complete picture” of what’s going on in the body and better select supplements targeted to correct that particular individual’s pattern of HPA Axis dysfunction and avoid using certain supplements that could be problematic given that person’s hormone pattern or the pathways his/her body is choosing to metabolize certain hormones.
In cases where the HPA Axis has been strained for a long time, it’s very common to see low free cortisol but normal or even high metabolized cortisol, and vice versa. And, I wouldn’t catch this discordant pattern with salivary testing, unfortunately. I’d only see the low free cortisol levels, and would likely recommend supplements that would help boost cortisol. However, this is an availability problem, NOT an adrenal problem. The adrenals are producing plenty of cortisol, but the body is clearing it too fast or there are other factors at play making less cortisol available to the tissues. This pattern might indicate hyperthyroidism or insulin resistance for example.
Gut Health Testing
You want to test gut health in addition to hormones, because you need nutrients for healing and hormone production and gut health has a significant impact on your neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that relay signals between neurons. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell the heart to beat, the lungs to breathe, and the stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.
Additionally, you may have gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance or maladaptation) or a pathogen infection. When you’re under a lot of stress over time, your immune system is compromised providing pathogens an opportunity to settle in.
If you are attempting to heal, you must clear any pathogens and dysbiosis or you will not make significant progress.
Diet And Lifestyle Recommendations
In general, you want to consider the following anytime you suspect HPA Axis or hormone dysfunction:
- Eat a well-rounded breakfast that does not include added sugars or artificial sweeteners.
- Don’t skip meals or substitute meals with snacks that can raise your blood sugar levels, you want to maintain steady blood sugar and avoid the ups and downs.
- Don’t be on a low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet. This may lower insulin, but may raise cortisol. Instead focus on avoiding refined white sugar, high fructose (corn syrup and agave both are high in fructose), and refined grains.
- Eat a nutrient-dense, whole food, plant-focused diet
- Choose organic produce and animal products
- Drink purified water
- Remove highly inflammatory foods (eat an “anti-inflammatory diet”); gluten, dairy, soy, corn, canola, and eggs. You may want to consider taking a food sensitivity test.
- Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Avoid processed food with highly refined vegetable oils, trans fats, and artificial additives
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid coffee, energy drinks and other highly caffeinated beverages
- Listen to your body’s signals and take a break when needed
- Consume foods that support adrenal function, foods containing Vitamin C, Vitamin B5, Sodium (if high blood pressure isn’t an issue), and potassium. Use high-quality salt like Himalayan pink salt, real salt or Celtic sea salt. Drink celery juice and cucumber juice – you can add salt if you do not have high blood pressure.
- Prioritize sleep, aim for 7 – 9 hours
- Make a conscious effort to de-stress your life
- Get some exercise, but don’t over-exercise
- Correct structural problems, work with a skilled chiropractor, visceral manipulation therapist, craniosacral therapist, etc.
Get A Complete Picture
Testing for root causes is important, but tests only provide a picture of a moment in time. Your mind and body are constantly seeking homeostasis and your chemistry is always in a state of fluctuation.
When addressing hormone imbalances and other dysfunction, you also want to dive deep into your health history, lifestyle and traumatic events. And as you proceed with building up your health and vitality, it's important to also include lifestyle shifts that support emotional and physical stress reduction.
If you feel like you need someone to talk to you, I invite you to contact me. But I do want you to know that I’m not a trained counselor and that there are others infinitely more qualified to support you emotionally with severe trauma.
Whether you suspect your hormone imbalance is due in part to trauma, long-term stress, or not, I invite you to contact me. I have set aside time to meet with women like yourself to look deeper and determine possible root causes of your current condition and to determine a near-term and a long-term strategy for feeling like yourself again.
If you’re interested in this, click on the button below and fill out the health questionnaire. Once you click Submit, you can schedule an appointment that is convenient for you.
To heal and support your body’s naturally ability to maintain health, you want to focus on providing it with resources; nutrients and oxygen and space to heal. And to do this, you want to begin by focusing on hormones, gut function and reducing emotional stressors.
Your partner in health,
P.S. When I first posted this article, I shared a brief account of my own #MeToo moments. I’m glad I did it, but I have since edited this article and removed my story. One reason is because it was still too raw for me to share, though all occurred between the ages of 11 and 22, and I’m now in my fifties.
But the deciding reason was my desire to help you and others with steps you can take if you suffered trauma and it’s possibly affecting your ability to normalize your hormone levels. I didn’t want my story to overpower the message.
However, I do want to recognize that the few days my original article was live, there was a sense of relief along with the fear. This realization has helped me make a decision to explore this deeper and find peace I didn’t understand I was missing.
If you have held onto deep emotional pain, I encourage you to find support for expressing it as well. There’s no reason why any of us should continue to live with fear from a past event. These events may have contributed to shaping who we are today, but they are not the defining factors of who we are.
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