Practitioners of Chinese medicine and naturopathic medicine have understood the interconnected nature of the human body for centuries. And any child who has heard the lyrics to Dem Bones (“the shin bone is connected to the knee bone”, etc.) gets the idea, too.
Nowhere in our physiology is this interdependence more evident than in our endocrine system. This system is a complex web of glands -- each of which is important on its own and together forms an intricate relationship in which each affects the other. The most important endocrine glands for women are the ovaries, the adrenals and the thyroid.
These three glands are very dependent on each other for optimal function. If the adrenals are overtaxed, this will often lead to poor thyroid function and irregular menstrual cycles. Along the same lines, poor thyroid function will often exacerbate adrenal fatigue. Finally, ovarian hormonal imbalance will negatively affect any undetected hypothyroidism.
Common complaints from patients experiencing imbalances in this triad of can include: insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, brain fog, hypoglycemia, dry skin, slow metabolism, easy weight gain, PMS, irregular menstrual cycles, cystic breasts, anxiety, depression, and increased belly fat. Any of these sound familiar?
Peri-menopause is a time in a woman’s life that the interplay among these glandular systems becomes most pronounced. By the mid-40’s, reproductive hormones are starting to decline, adrenals are experiencing some degree of fatigue from chronic or acute stress, and thyroid function becomes impaired.
The fact that the relationship between these systems is so often overlooked by conventional medicine helps to explain why therapies that seem well indicated often do not work as they should. For example, if you are being treated for hypothyroidism with thyroid replacement medication, but have underlying adrenal fatigue, the therapy will not be effective. As a result, your practitioner may give you higher and higher doses of medication, leading to deleterious side effects and no improvement in your original symptoms.
The accurate diagnosis of dysfunction in the ovarian-adrenal-thyroid triad is often made clinically or through a combination of conventional and functional laboratory testing. Once it becomes clear which system’s dysfunction is playing a dominant role, an effective and individualized treatment plan can be implemented.
To sum up, the ovaries, adrenals and thyroid form a physiologic equilateral triangle that must be in perfect balance in order for the body to function optimally. Any change in one organ system will affect the other two. This is yet another example of why we must always treat the whole person and not just the disease.