Dealing with a hormone imbalance is tough work. Since hormones run a chunk of our physiology, it’s like running a car without gasoline, oil, or coolant.
What’s worse, the symptoms that come along with a hormonal imbalance take a lot out of you. They include:
- Brain fog/lack of focus
- Poor sleep
- High/low blood sugar
- High/low blood pressure
- Rapid weight loss
- Increased risk of Cancer
The symptoms one experiences largely depends on which hormones are out of whack. Unfortunately, sometimes multiple hormones go askew.
A new study shows that circadian rhythms and mitochondrial dynamics regulate the production of pregnenolone, the precursor to all steroid hormones. Consequently, disrupting circadian rhythms OR mitochondrial dynamics impairs the production of pregnenolone.
Our lifestyle regulates both circadian rhythms AND mitochondrial dynamics. As a result, a poor lifestyle contributes significantly to hormonal imbalance.
Fortunately, this paper gives us some clues as to which behaviors need to change to improve the balance of hormones in the body.
Steroid hormone production
Steroid hormones are a class of hormones made from cholesterol. Hormones such as DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrogens, cortisol, and aldosterone are examples of steroid hormones.
The first step in steroid hormone synthesis is the transport of cholesterol in to the mitochondria and its conversion to pregnenolone. This is also the rate-limiting step, meaning it’s the slowest step and thus dictates how much you make.
Pregnenolone thus acts as a precursor to all the sex and adrenal hormones. So, obviously, it’s pretty important.
Many people with a hormone imbalance have heard of something called pregenolone steal. In this theory, stress causes those with sex hormone imbalance to use all of their pregnenolone for stress hormones.
As a result, they don’t have enough to make sex hormones. On the surface this seems to make sense. The problem is, the pool of pregnenolone used for each is separate.
Pregnenolone for sex hormones resides in the reproductive glands while that for stress hormones resides in the adrenal glands. There’s not a single pool that all endocrine glands pull from, it’s all created within cells.
Even the different stress hormones made in the adrenal gland are in completely different areas. Separate areas of synthesis means no pregnenolone steal.
Granted, reducing stress is generally better for hormonal balance, not because it prevents pregnenolone steal. But making adequate pregnenolone is crucial for proper hormonal balance.
If only there was a way to improve pregnenolone synthesis central to all endocrine glands.
Circadian rhythms and mitochondrial dynamics in hormone imbalance
A large chunk of our physiology follows a 24-hour pattern. For example, the stress hormone cortisol peaks in the early morning and decreases gradually as we get closer to night. Melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep, follows the opposite pattern.
When hormones follow this trend of an approximately 24 hour cycle, they follow a circadian rhythm. Normally, environmental cues such as light and feeding help set our circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms also control the dynamics of little organelles in our cells called mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cell, making more than 90% of the energy cells need in the form of ATP.
When our cells need lots of energy, our mitochondria combine together to form large networks in a process called fusion. When energy needs are low, mitochondria separate in a process called fission. During fission, our cells remove damaged mitochondria and replace them.
It turns out the processes of hormonal production and mitochondrial dynamics are not mutually exclusive. In other words, cholesterol transport AND pregnenolone production are under circadian control. And since the first step happens in the mitochondria, pregnenolone follows mitochondrial dynamics.
This may limit the amount of pregnenolone available when demand for hormone production is high. As a result, endocrine glands can’t produce hormones because they don’t have enough precursor.
Note: TSPO is believed to team up with another circadian protein called steroidogenic acute regulatory protein(StAR) to bring cholesterol in to the inner mitochondrial membrane
Circadian disruption as a cause of hormonal imbalance
As mentioned above, circadian rhythms are largely regulated by our lifestyle. Exposure to environmental signals called zeitgebers function to reset our internal hourglass every single day.
This helps keep us in sync with the day/night cycle to optimize our hormones to the environment. That way, we have a better chance of successfully navigating our environment to find food and reproduce.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle often desynchronizes us from the environment. Factors that do this include:
- Low daytime light exposure
- High nighttime light exposure
- Low levels of physical activity
- Changes in activity patterns throughout the day
- Eating late at night
- Not getting the necessary nutrients
- Chronic inflammation
- Social isolation
- Social jet lag
- Night shift
Interestingly, the symptoms of circadian disruption mirror that of hormonal imbalance. In fact, we covered how circadian disruption makes menopause so much worse in a blog you can read here. Tl;dr-The cortisol rhythms regulates the progesterone rhythm in menopausal and postmenopausal women. And cortisol is driven by circadian rhythms.
A common way that people address hormonal problems is through hormone replacement therapy, which helps with symptoms. However, it does not address the underlying causes of the imbalance, and may lead to bigger problems down the road.
Correct your hormone imbalance by fixing your circadian rhythms
Correcting a hormonal imbalance with circadian rhythms starts with getting your light and feeding right. We cover this in the video below from the Facebook page.
Now, for some, particularly the young, this may be enough for substantial improvement. Furthermore, addressing these big movers should also improve mitochondrial dynamics.
Most people will notice a sizeable difference after implementing these factors. But for some, deeper intervention is necessary. Normally, this is because of one of three factors.
First, you may be doing other things in your life that confuse the clock. For example, you may be lacking certain nutrients the circadian clocks rely on, or your activity patterns may not match your feeding patterns.
Second, chronic inflammation induced by a leaky gut or other issue causes mitochondrial dysfunction. As a result, mitochondrial dynamics are also messed up.
Finally, when we’re young, our circadian rhythms are strong no matter what. But, as we get older, our circadian rhythms become less robust. This makes our lifestyle an even bigger piece of this puzzle as we rely more on our environment to reset out internal hourglass every day.
Get regular physical activity too!
Circadian rhythms help maintain mitochondrial quality control, but physical activity is the biggest driver of increasing mitochondria. Many assume this adaptation only happens in muscle, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Exercise also improves mitochondrial function in the liver. Furthermore, glucocorticoids such as cortisol influence mitochondrial function, and exercise of sufficient time and intensity impacts the production of cortisol.
Exercise has body-wide effects on improving mitochondrial quality and number. Since the rate limiting step of steroid hormone synthesis occurs in the mitochondria, increasing mitochondria improves your ability to produce hormones.
And you don’t have to start running marathons to get these benefits. If you’re currently sedentary, start walking. If you’re already walking enough, add in some higher intensity stuff such resistance training, jogging, or tennis.
A sedentary existence is not conducive to human health. In addition to impacting mitochondrial health, it also plays a role in circadian disruption. Properly programmed exercise of sufficient intensity, but not too much, is important for maintaining hormonal balance.
Health and happiness are within your grasp…
All things start clicking when you optimize circadian rhythms and improve the health of your mitochondria. Addressing both of these factors improves you health and happiness whether you are generally healthy or trying to pull yourself out of the chronic disease loop.
Here we have testimonials from 2 individuals who are members of our Circadian Retraining Program. You can check out the program and other testimonials by clicking here.
Fixing Chronic fatigue
Denise was suffering from ME/CFS when she tried to incorporate exercise in to her routine. She made it a long way from bed-ridden to walking regularly, and she wasn’t going to stop there. She knew it was important, but her body fought her every step of the way.
It wasn’t until we addressed her gut health in a way that she never attempted before that things really started clicking. She went from exercise intolerant to sprinting in a matter of weeks.
“…now when I do my sprints while on my walks, it’s like a night and day difference. Feels like I have more oxygen to breath.”
ME/CFS is a difficult nut to crack because mitochondrial dysfunction is a significant piece of the pie. Chronic inflammation was getting in her way and it wasn’t until she fixed her gut that things started to fall in line.
Moving from good to great!
On the other hand, Nicole is a registered dietitian and felt pretty good. But she read about the benefits of circadian rhythms and thought it would be great for her clients.
It was important for her to try it out, and boy was she surprised at how it turned out:
“I signed up to help my clients, but I’ve noticed so many improvements in my own health! My energy is through the roof. Even on nights I don’t sleep well or the kids get up, I feel great the next day.
I feel very motivated, clear headed, and focused. I used to experience insomnia 1-2 nights a week for no rhyme or reason. That hasn’t happened in a few weeks. My body temperature is consistently up, which is nice going into winter!
Plus, my clothes are fitting better…I gained muscle and lost body fat, without weight training. I now have the energy I need to add in more weight training!”
Hormone imbalance can cause some pretty gnarly symptoms and leave you feeling…off. You’ll feel fatigue, brain fog, and may have problems trying to conceive or experience nasty symptoms in menopause.
Typically, people approach this with hormone replacement therapy. And while this often leads to partial resolution of symptoms, it doesn’t address the underlying cause.
Circadian disruption is an unrecognized cause of hormonal imbalance. As such, many don’t think to address their behavior to correct the problem.
The conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone is the first step in the creation of all steroid hormones. It’s also the rate limiting step, meaning it dictates how much of each steroid hormone you make.
Maintaining strong circadian rhythms and a large pool of healthy mitochondria are essential to hormonal health. Thus, the first steps to correct a hormone imbalance are to fix your circadian rhythms and get adequate physical activity.
Have you implemented any circadian principles in to your lifestyle or interested in starting? Have you seen significant results? We would love for you to share your experiences with us.
Email Dave@hackyourgut.com and let us know how it went for you or to ask questions on how to get started.