There are many things that affect one’s love life including lack of sleep, toxins, and job or home stress.
A decrease in libido is often traced to excess stress, which has an impact on the adrenal glands.
There are more chemicals involved with sexuality than estrogen and testosterone. To counteract the amount of stress patients put on their minds and bodies, lifestyle changes and nutritional support can help them restore their passion and rebuild their desire for intimacy.
Adrenal glands and hormones
Many people think about the ovaries and testes when they think about sexual hormones. The ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, while the testes make testosterone. Although this is true, the adrenal glands also play a large part in producing these hormones.
The adrenal glands are located at the top of each kidney and are responsible for a lot more than many would imagine.
There are two main parts of the adrenal gland: the medulla (inner portion) and the cortex (outer portion). The cortex produces steroids, or stress hormones, which promote fluid balance and regulate blood sugars. It is in the cortex where women make their own testosterone and didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Certainly, the amount of testosterone women make is much smaller compared to men; however, it is still a significant player in the female libido. Many women who suffer from prolonged illness-related or emotional stress often find that they have a much lower libido than before.
The inner portion of the adrenal glands, the medulla, is responsible for making adrenaline. This generates the “fight-or-flight” response and its physiological effects including increased heart rate, fluttery stomach, sweaty palms, anxiety, and insomnia. This is the primary reason the adrenal gland is known as a stress gland, so it’s no wonder it affects sexuality. Most people would say that when they are stressed, the furthest thing from their mind is sex.
It’s important to note, according to stress researcher Hans Selye, MD, that any kind of stress affects the adrenals. Stress can be caused by poor diet, chronic illness, lack of quality sleep, or pressure at work or in the home. The adrenal glands release hormones necessary to deal with stress; however, prolonged periods of tension and angst on the body and mind will deplete the required stores.
People use up their adrenal reserves when under extended stress, which means that their blood sugars begin to drop. This tells the brain to signal the adrenal glands to release more adrenaline into the bloodstream to mobilize fat to the liver, which will then covert it to sugar. As blood sugar goes back up, the body is loaded with adrenaline, which has its own side effects.
Studies have shown that people feel more amorous when on vacation, as their stress levels are lower. They are able to relax more and catch up on sleep. Not surprisingly, during the hustle and bustle of everyday life, many couples say they are too tired to have sex. They would benefit from planning a vacation, or a “staycation,” because the rule of thumb for restoring the adrenals is “rest is best.”
Both men and women can be affected by a decreased libido due to stress. It especially impacts men who have had prostate issues or surgery, or are taking medications that interfere with erections. Further, when men worry about sexual performance, adrenaline pours into the bloodstream and anxiety further depletes sexual desire.
Stressing about physical appearance will also affect libido. Obesity is influenced greatly by the adrenal glands. If the body cannot mobilize fat to make energy, then the adrenal gland becomes dysfunctional.1
For fat to turn into sugar, the adrenal cortex must be functioning properly. If the adrenals are overworked and fat accumulates, then excess intake of carbohydrates and other sugars are used to gain some of that energy back. The cycle continues when a person takes in too many carbohydrates because, instead of coming from the liver, sugar comes from the pancreas and calories are stored as fat.
Healthy adrenal glands
To maintain an optimal sex life, it is necessary to manage stress. Patients who want to get their love life back on track should make stress reduction a priority. This may be easier said than done, but it is not impossible.
First steps might include resolving family and spousal conflicts, repairing broken relationships, finding ways to enjoy work, thinking positively, helping others, and getting good quality rest.
Increasing one’s sense of spirituality can help, too. This is the practice of getting in touch with one’s self and engaging in self-care. Meditation, yoga, and walking are good options—any activity that helps a person relax can promote a spiritual mindset.
In addition to behavioral changes, adjustments to the diet are equally important. Certain types of foods and toxins can influence the adrenals.
Proper supplementation can not only help the adrenal glands to work properly but also improve the entire body. Basic components of a healthier diet include the following:
Additive-free salt. Even those with heart conditions can consume some salt. This has been verified through various meta-studies.2 Salt levels are controlled by the adrenal glands. If a person doesn’t take in sufficient salt, then the adrenal glands have to work harder to hold salt in the body. Healthy salt levels promote healthy sugar levels.
Proper cholesterol levels. Patients should not cut out all cholesterol. Low cholesterol, in fact, is more dangerous than high amounts. Steroids are made from cholesterol, and all of the sex hormones are steroids.
Lean protein. This provides a good source of cholesterol as well. It is a high-carbohydrate diet that raises bad cholesterol, not a high-cholesterol diet.
Supplementation for adrenal fatigue and gland health
There are some effective natural supplements a person can take to improve adrenal gland health, especially in the face of constant ongoing stress. The adrenal cortex has the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body.3 For patients suffering adrenal fatigue, 3,000 to 5,000 mg of vitamin C before bed is recommended. Those under a particularly great amount of stress can take even more than that.
Vitamin B5 (also called pantothenic acid) is essential to healthy adrenal gland function. Patients can take at least 500 mg two to three times a day.
This can help with energy, colds, allergies, and sexual drive.
Some health food stores sell adrenal extracts, which can be extremely helpful. Cortex tablets can give energy without being over-stimulating. Tablets for the whole adrenal gland are also helpful for energy, but these types of supplements should not be taken late in the day as they can interfere with sleep.4
A popular supplement for the adrenal glands is DHEA. This is a major hormone produced in the adrenal cortex. It declines naturally with age, but when supplemented it improves energy and sexual drive.
Another adrenal hormone that is good is pregnenolone. It helps with mood, vision, hearing, and memory.
A direct precursor to testosterone is androstenedione. This is short-lived in the body; however, it can have an advantageous effect on sexuality.
When recommending supplements, hew toward high-quality versions, as the cheaper ones tend to be loaded with fillers and chemicals. Lower quality supplements can even do more harm than good.
Brenda Slovin, DC, has been in private practice since 2001. She is the founder and clinic director for a practice in Norwalk, Connecticut. She is a contributing author to Neck Pain, Neck Pain, You Don’t Want It… You Don’t Need It and coauthor of Why your Neck Hurts and What You Can Do About It. She can be contacted at 203-840-0000 or through endmigrainesnow.com.
1 Wilson JL. (2007). Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications.
2 Gumz ML, Rabinowitz L, Wingo CS. An Integrated View of Potassium Homeostasis. N Engl J Med. 2015;373:60-72
3 Hornsby PJ, Harris SE, Alern KA. The role of ascorbic acid in the function of the adrenal cortex: studies in adrenocortical cells in culture. Endocrinology. 1985;117(3):1264-71.
4 Jeffries WM. (1996). Safe Uses of Cortisol (2nd ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher Ltd.