By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
From a naturopathic and functional medicine viewpoint, we look at the body as systems that interconnect, rather than symptoms that need treating on their own. I wanted to share with you some very common patterns of interconnection that I see regularly related to women’s health and hormones especially. It may help to shed light on some of the symptoms you are trying to treat on their own, and may not be succeeding.
For example, I very commonly see women with a group of symptoms like this:
- Heavy periods
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Anxiety and difficulty sleeping
- Hair thinning
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
These issues are not all single symptoms – they often interconnect:
(1) Insulin resistance can contribute to heavy periods and weight gain:
Insulin resistance is extremely common, and results from over-eating high-carbohydrate foods, sugars or increased alcohol intake over a period of time. It will set in earlier if you have a family history of diabetes, and is the most common cause of weight gain in the 40’s and 50’s.
With insulin resistance, there is a reduction in the binding protein that carries your hormones called ‘sex hormone binding globulin’ (SHBG), leading to more free hormones in circulation. In addition, there is increased estrogen production from abdominal fat cells (the Estrone form of estrogen), causing an overall increased load of estrogen which thickens the uterine lining and leads to heavier periods.
(Read more here: https://drshawnadarou.com/2022/05/31/top-causes-of-insulin-resistance/)
(2) Heavy periods then lead to iron deficiency, and sometimes outright anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency:
Of course with ongoing very heavy periods or flooding, it is difficult to keep up with iron requirements, and if you’re not supplementing regularly, iron levels will drop and over time hemoglobin and vitamin B12 will decline too. This will cause significant fatigue and sluggishness.
(Read more here: https://drshawnadarou.com/2021/12/14/did-you-know-that-most-women-in-their-40s-are-iron-deficient/)
(3) Iron and vitamin B12 deficiency contribute to insomnia and anxiety:
In addition to fatigue, it is common with a drop in iron and vitamin B12 to have more physical anxiety and also difficulty sleeping. Without addressing the deficiencies, it will be difficult to treat with either medications or supplements for anxiety and insomnia.
(4) Iron deficiency and insulin resistance contribute to hair thinning:
Hair thinning is a consequence of both iron deficiency and also insulin resistance. Iron deficiency causes diffuse hair loss (evenly through the scalp), and insulin resistance causes more thinning on the crown and temples. Once iron levels are restored (usually ferritin above 40ug/L), and insulin resistance is reversed, the hair will regrow.
(5) All of this can be worsened if there is low stomach acid:
If there is low stomach acid, there is poor absorption of nutrients, especially iron. Low stomach acid also affects protein absorption, which can impact your muscle tone, energy along with hair growth. We usually assess stomach acid production with a hydrochloric acid trial, and suspect low stomach acid if iron levels are not increasing as expected with supplementation.
(Read more here: https://drshawnadarou.com/2019/11/04/what-anxiety-hair-loss-and-poor-protein-absorption-have-in-common/)
I hope this short article showed you have some very common health issues interconnect, and in this case when we address insulin resistance at the top, we can have a positive impact in period issues, energy, anxiety, sleep and also hair growth. They were not all separate symptoms!
It is always interesting to map out symptoms and complaints in a way that shows how systems and symptoms connect, and in this way we truly get to the root of your health issues.