For most of my adult years, I’m proud to say I’ve made my health a priority. I eat well, I exercise regularly, and despite a busy work and travel schedule, do my best to manage my stress levels.

But that’s to say I’ve got my health all figured out. No way! One poorly combined meal, and my digestion can go off on a dime. Not enough sleep and I’m dragging my feet – or worse, times when I DID get enough sleep, yet I’m crashing by 3pm.

To avoid letting these, and other health issues get the best of me, I keep a good support system in-place. Which brings me to Andrea Larsen: She’s my ‘go-to’ nutritionist and health guru. Extremely knowledgeable and well-versed on everything, she helps me stay on top of my health using natural based solutions wherever possible.

From tweaking my diet (after years of being vegan, she got me eating fish) and supplements (hello, low iron!) to tracking my changing hormone levels, I could go on about how valuable she is to me.

If there’s one take away here for you, may it be to seek help when you’re facing a health dilemma.

There are no ‘wrong’ questions to ask your doctor. The more you know about you and your body, the more pro-active you can be to keep it functioning best.

Recently I probed Andrea with a few questions. Questions I believe many of us can benefit from knowing her answers to…

Q: Despite getting 7 hours of sleep nightly, eating healthy and exercising too, can you please tell me why so many of us are completely spent by 3pm? Like ‘give us a cold brew – STAT’ kind of tired, so we last until bed time (typically 10pm)?

A: There can be several reasons, but one of the most prevalent and correlated is adrenal fatigue. Typically between three and five in the afternoon, cortisol levels are plummeting, and rather than take a power-nap, many of us will reach for a quick carb, sugar-hit or caffeinated beverage. If you’re going to reach for anything, I recommend a lean source of protein for energy, plus some Licorice Root Tea as it helps with digestion.

Q: Now in my mid-40’s, I’ll presume menopause isn’t far off. What are some tests women my age should consider getting as we enter the next chapter, hormonally?

A: My preference is optimal hormone testing through urine and saliva. These tests provide more inclusive tests such as Estradiol, Estriol, Estrone, Progesterone, Testosterone (Free), DHT- Testosterone, DHEA- OH17 Progesterone, Cortisol, phase I and II Methylation Pathways of Estrogen. A standard CBC and SMAC should include Thyroid, TSH, Free T3 & T4, Thyroid Antibodies (TPO, Thyroid Antiglobulins), and Vitamin D3.

Q: When we read about under-performing thyroid function (weight gain, occasional insomnia, cold hands and feet), I sometimes think, that’s me! What are some tell-tale signs?

A: All such symptoms can be involved with thyroid, as well as fatigue, brain fog and mood swings. Typically, these are indications of hormones imbalances. The stress hormone cortisol can be very impacting on thyroid function too.

Q: Where supplements are concerned, what are your top recommendations for women and why?

A: Every woman is somewhat different, but I recommend a good quality natural or organic multi-vitamin containing 5MTHF folic acid. Along with that, a Woman’s Probiotic, Adrenal, Immune and Autoimmune support, as well as appropriate hormonal support.

Q: Can you elaborate a bit on weight gain through the abdominal area, and why this is common for women? Is it hormone related?

A: The stress hormone cortisol as well as estrogen dominance are major contributing factors. Cortisol is a major hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. Balanced adrenals secrete cortisol throughout the course of the day. If we have healthy adrenals, the cortisol will adjust according to the circadian rhythm. If our adrenals are not functioning properly, the metabolism is compromised, thus contributing to middle body-weight gain.

In a nutshell, stress can be good for us – but not in big doses. So your first-step is to look at what’s causing you stress and make adjustments. Also take a look at your diet and exercise. For example, extreme workouts, too much caffeine and not enough phytonutrients can over-tax your adrenals and cortisol production. When we’re constantly running on stress, the body goes into survival mode, holding on to fat. And for many women, that fat shows up in the mid-section, sorry to say.

Q: Bioidentical hormone therapy – all-natural vs. synthetic, versus doing at all? Your thoughts.

A: It’s in my professional opinion to follow the ideology of ‘less is more’ when it comes to hormone rejuvenation. Bio-identical hormones are exacting to what we would produce ourselves. They are compounded into specific physiological doses evaluated through symptoms and testing. Synthetic hormones are unfamiliar to the human body and may disrupt the metabolic pathway and store in the tissue, thus causing health concerns.

Q: What exactly are adaptogens and how do they affect our body?

A: Adaptogens are herbs vitamins, minerals, and foods that support the body’s ability to adapt to changes challenges and stress responses. For easy way to get adaptogens into your diet, you can replace your coffee and/or add to smoothies convenient powders made from a variety of mushrooms. Four Sigmatic’s elixirs or Moon Juice’s Power Dust are two such options.