You may be familiar with the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, a neuroendocrine axis that regulates numerous physiological processes from digestion and immunity to mood and the stress response. More recently, a new axis – the ovarian-adrenal-thyroid (OAT) axis – has emerged as one that, when out of balance, is implicated in numerous health conditions. In women, it is involved in the menstrual cycle, the stress response, libido and mood, and metabolism. The ovaries, adrenal glands, and thyroid gland are intricately codependent for optimum health. Just like a three-legged stool needs all three of its legs to be safely sat on, all three organs of the OAT axis must be in a state of balance for a woman to feel well.
What happens when the OAT axis is out of balance? Subtle imbalances can occur when you have the occasional poor night’s sleep or experience temporary mild stress. This usually doesn’t show up as anything more than a temporary feeling of fatigue or worry. However, when the adrenals, ovaries, and thyroid are exposed to chronic or severe stressors, medical conditions can develop, leaving a person feeling incapacitated. These conditions may include hypothyroidism, PMS, fertility issues, headaches, anxiety, low mood, weight gain, and extreme fatigue.
One of the biggest misconceptions I see in my practice is the assumption that the primary endocrine gland involved in someone’s hormonal imbalance should be treated aggressively while the other two can be ignored. And for menopausal women – whose ovaries are no longer functioning as they once did – ignoring this part of the picture can be an obstacle to overcoming hormonal concerns. No matter what your age is, when supporting the OAT axis, incorporate lifestyle, nutritional, and supplemental measures that provide a holistic approach to all three glands.
Ovarian and estrogen balance support
Estrogens circulate in women at varying levels during different parts of the menstrual cycle and throughout a woman’s lifetime. When the body’s detoxification systems, like the liver, are unable to properly metabolize these estrogens, estrogen dominance can develop. Estrogen dominance contributes to PMS, heavy or painful periods, hormonal acne, hair loss, brain fog, breast tenderness, headaches, uterine fibroids, and low libido.
Support the body’s ability to metabolize estrogens:
Adrenal and stress support
The adrenal glands produce many hormones, with cortisol – the stress hormone – being the major one. When under stress, levels of cortisol can fluctuate from being very high at times to very low at others. In both scenarios, fatigue, mood changes, and sleep concerns can be greatly exacerbated. The adrenals also pick up the slack in the production of sex hormones once a woman enters menopause. Because of this, adrenal optimization is crucial to help support the transition through this period of hormonal change.
Nourish the adrenal glands:
Optimize thyroid function
The thyroid gland is most known for its effect on metabolism. Most imbalances in thyroid health are related to poor thyroid function leading to hypothyroidism with symptoms including low energy, weight gain, mood changes, and hair loss.
Balance thyroid function: