The adrenal glands sit on top of our kidneys and release both sex hormones and other hormones in response to stress. Any time you have intense emotions, over-exert yourself or get exposed to environmental toxins or allergens, the adrenal glands kick it up a notch. This overdrive can lead to the unwanted side-effect of infertility.
The adrenals are composed of two important layers. The outside layer is called the cortex and the inside layer is called the medulla. What I find in my office for fertility is that the cortex is more important than the medulla with the rare exception of someone that is juggling a high stress life.
The cortex is responsible for making sex hormones such as DHEA, testosterone, androstenedione and estrogen.
How Do You Know If You Have an Adrenal Problem
- Low Libido
- Poor Egg Health
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Brain Fog
- Cravings (sugar or salt)
- PMS Symptoms
- Hair Loss
- Dizziness – going from sitting to standing
- Low Energy – especially in the afternoons
- Short Temper
How to fix an adrenal problem is the topic of another article, but if you have at least a couple of the above symptoms, you can know for sure that your adrenals may be a missing piece to your fertility puzzle.
High Stress Affects Your Fertility
When the body is under chemical, physical or emotional stress, the adrenal glands release adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones alert the rest of the body that you are under a time of stress.
One thing I have learned over the years is that that body is good at short-term compensations, but has very little view of the long-term consequences.
What I mean by that is that the body is most worried about what will keep you alive today. If keeping you alive today means that you will have arthritis in the future, then your body thinks that is acceptable.
So with that in mind with regards to fertility and high stress, your body only cares about surviving today, not whether or not you reproduce and your lineage survives another generation. Your body will refuse to give up your stress resources to an egg or growing fetus because it is not important in the short term for your survival.
The body stops conception by allowing the adrenalin that is released from the adrenal glands to inhibit your body from using progesterone. Progesterone is the most important hormone for maintaining a pregnancy after conception is achieved. I feel this occurs much more often than people think.
Adrenalin also stimulates the brain (pituitary gland) to produce more prolactin. High prolactin with low thyroid stimulation from TSH is a very common presentation in women TTC.
Males don’t get to skip out on this one as cortisol released from the adrenal glands in response to stress suppresses the brain’s sex hormone (GnRH) and thus decreases sexual activity and sperm count.
This is just a basic overview of the adrenal glands with regards to fertility, but you can see it gets confusing with all of the interactions. The main thing to know is that the adrenal glands are critical in balancing sex hormones and while they are under stress the focus on the short-term, not on conception.
But I Don’t Have High Stress
As I mentioned in the previous section, stress can be chemical, physical or emotional. The physical portion is one that I stress often in my treatments as it is something most other doctors dealing with fertility don’t include in their protocols. Assessing previous physical trauma and muscle balancing is a large part of my initial 1-hour visit and you can read more about it here.
The chemical portion of stress has to do with diet and nutrition. If you know that you feel “yucky” every time you eat ice cream, but you choose to continue eating it, this is stress on the body. You may only feel a stomach ache, but the adrenal glands get stressed each time you eat your ice cream. The adrenal glands are also very important for balancing electrolytes in the body. If you have a nutritional deficiency that you have developed, which is very common, then your adrenal glands are stressed trying to compensate for that and keep you in balance.
Other chemical stressors include hidden infections, excess sugar, caffeine, chocolate, allergies/sensitivities and lack of sleep.
Fixing Your Adrenals
- Discover your sensitivities. Histamine from an allergic response is the most potent stimulator of the adrenals.
- Get your diet in check. A Paleo-type diet is going to help you get rid of most problem foods and substances that can trigger your adrenals. If its new to you, then know that you have a journey ahead of you.
- Get your sleep. Somewhere between 7 and 10 hours per night seems to be the magic number for most. If you know you have worn yourself down over time, the more sleep the better. Naps are great also.
- Adrenal Support. I mostly use Supreme Nutrition for adrenal support in my office. The two products I use are Ashwaghanda Supreme and Tulsi Supreme. I use Supreme Nutrition specifically and wouldn’t buy any other brand for adrenal support. I also find that vitamin B6 (P5P) is also needed frequently for adrenal health.