Ask The Expert

How your hormones can affect your sleep, your stress and sex life

By Dr. Marion Gluck, founder of the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones.

Hormones play a huge role in how we feel and how healthy we are, but due to a lack of knowledge around their impact, sometimes symptoms can just be put down to ageing and as a result treatment is not sought.

Hormones are chemicals produced by your body’s glands, which signal the body to initiate certain physical processes (such as ovulation, sleep and growth), as well as mental functions such as mood regulation.

There are four main hormones that have a significant effect on mood: estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol.  DHEA is a steroid hormone and can also affect mood. These are produced by glands in the sexual organs. This is how each hormone can affect mood:

  • Estrogen can improve your mood by supporting serotonin levels in the brain.
  • Progesterone can alleviate mood swings, irritability, and depression, having an overall calming effect.
  • Testosterone is an uplifting hormone and helps with a sense of wellbeing and confidence.
  • Cortisol is a released as a stress response and becomes raised at the expense of sex hormones, which in turn creates an imbalance of the thyroid hormones. It can cause irritability, anxiety and other negative moods.
  • DHEA is the most abundant steroid hormone in your body and is produced by the adrenal glands, with the ovaries and testes producing smaller amounts. It is a major precursor to stronger androgens such as testosterone and androstenedione and the female hormone estrogen.

When the glands produce too much or not enough of a particular hormone, this can severely impact mood and other processes such as sleep and sex drive.

Dr. Marion Gluck’s mission is to educate and empower people to take control of their hormonal well-being

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is the best treat your body can ask for. From balancing blood sugar, reducing the risk of heart disease, supporting a healthy weight, reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, increasing energy and concentration, to reducing anxiety, the benefits of good sleep are endless. There are several factors that can however affect sleep such as stress, hormonal changes, diet, and inflammation to name a few.

To help balance hormones and get a good night’s sleep there are a few tips and tricks that you can try. Magnesium Supplements have an all-round good effect on sleep and can improve the ability to fall asleep, increase the number of hours asleep and also reduce early morning awakenings.

Choose foods rich in L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid, which increases production of serotonin, one of the most important brain chemicals regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Foods rich in L-tryptophan include free-range organic eggs, organic dairy products, organic free-range poultry, wild salmon, oats, brown rice, quinoa, legumes, pumpkin seeds, and bananas.

Getting your daily boost of sunshine is one way to improve sleep. This is because we need sunlight to keep our circadian rhythm going, which tells our bodies when it is time to sleep and to be awake. Sunlight also plays a role in Vitamin D production, which is essential for so many aspects of our health.

The early-morning sunlight is the best at setting the circadian rhythm correctly. Go for a walk first thing in the morning (10 minutes is enough to do the trick) or walk/cycle to work if possible.

Stress

Stress can dramatically affect hormones and help create an imbalance. In particular, DHEA, which gives energy and focus, can fall to low levels which then will help trigger too much cortisol. Cortisol plays havoc with hormone levels and can increase appetite, decreases muscle mass, libido and bone density, along with contributing to depression and memory loss. If you are feeling stressed, try increasing exercise and time spent outdoors in nature each day and remember to be mindful or ‘in the moment’. Other de-stressing activities include meditation, yoga or journaling.

There are supplements and natural remedies which can be taken to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Adaptogens or Adaptogenic herbs work by helping the body “to adapt”. One of the ways they work is by bringing a state of balance to the adrenal glands (those producing the primary stress hormone cortisol), often overly taxed by chronic stress which in the long run can lead to adrenal fatigue. When out of balance, cortisol can affect energy, sleep, sugar cravings, the immune system, libido, and even menopausal symptoms, amongst other health issues.  So, if you struggle with getting out of bed in the morning, finding energy throughout the day and mid-afternoon sugar cravings are constantly chasing you, adaptogens may be the answer.

Adaptogens increase the body’s ability to cope with both physical and mental stresses and their use, particularly in the long term, leads to increased endurance. They work by “sensing” the body’s needs and tipping the balance in the right direction, hence they are usually very gentle and safe. For instance, the same adaptogen can help you sleep better by relaxing you in the evening and, if taken in the morning, can give you energy.

Some of the most popular adaptogens include Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Licorice, Maca and Holy Basil, with lots of scientific research backing up their use.

Sex

Low sex drive will affect almost every woman at some point in their life, either during their reproductive years or in menopause. Changes in the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can greatly affect sexual desire and arousal. Therefore, menopausal and postmenopausal women may notice that they’re not as easily aroused, and they may be less sensitive to touching and stroking. That can lead to less interest in sex.

Sometimes other issues such as a simply being too busy can influence our sex lives. Work and family commitments, along with other demands that we see in our ‘always on’ lifestyle means that sometimes intimacy can be bottom of the list. For women who are experiencing low mood or depression due to hormonal changes this can compound the feelings of low libido and only enhances the problem.

Diet can be tweaked to help improve sex drive with zinc being an important nutrient for the senses and can help improve reduced sensitivity. One of the richest sources of zinc is oysters, which is why they are commonly referred to as an aphrodisiac (actually, all shellfish contain zinc). Likewise, caviar is rich in zinc. Other good sources include pine nuts, spinach, rye, almonds, and sesame seeds, as well as whole grains, particularly brown rice.

Regular aerobic exercise can increase your staminaimprove your body image, lift your mood and boost your libido. Exercise also reduces cortisol levels so it’s a great way to help balance hormones.

Lower levels of estrogen can cause a drop in blood supply to the vagina. This can affect vaginal lubrication, causing the vagina to be too dry for comfortable sex. Prescription testosterone creams can increase sensitivity, helping women to achieve orgasms again. If vaginal dryness is an issue seek medical help and, in the meantime, regular off-the-shelf lubrications can help.

Women will experience so many changes in their sex drive, from first becoming fertile to experiencing childbirth and beyond. Ageing can certainly affect libido but there are usually other contributing factors, such a stress. For anyone experiencing a low sex drive the first step is to find out exactly what is causing the issue, and this can be done by a simple hormone level check.

Treating a Hormonal Imbalance

Bio-identical HRT with specific hormone balancing, is personalised by testing the blood of each patient to ensure the treatment is unique to each deficiency. For the individual patient this can be life changing, increasing sex drive and helping the woman to feel herself again. Bioidentical hormone treatments are 100% identical to human hormones produced in the ovary and adrenal gland. BHRT can be offered in a variety of applications including transdermal creams, lozenges, tablets and vaginal creams according to individual needs and preference. Adjustments to the doses of each hormone may be made over time and through regular follow up, the treatment can be compounded to achieve the best possible outcomes.

About the expert

Dr. Marion Gluck has gained global acclaim for her work in women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing therapy which can help reduce menopause and perimenopause symptoms. The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to restore and maintain optimal health and hormone balance for patients. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her pioneering method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and slow down ageing.

For more information, please visit www.mariongluckclinic.com

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