THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr. Wendie Trubow Headshot

What Are Those Adrenals Doing in There, Anyway?

Posted: Updated:
Alamy
Alamy

If you're not a medical professional, you may have heard of the adrenals but haven't spent much time thinking about them. Before joining Visions, I really didn't either. Not even when my mother was diagnosed with Addison's disease, a complete failure of her adrenal glands that causes a need for lifelong medicine to replace the missing cortisol. Nor did I think too much about my adrenals when I had a stressful day and my hands would be a little shaky, or when I had trouble falling asleep. But it turns out the adrenals play a critical role in many, many functions, including some of my own symptoms I've described. Adrenals impact our ability to have a healthy libido, lose weight, sleep, become pregnant, get out of bed, and digest our food, as well as other behaviors.

So let's review the basic function of the adrenal glands, one of the major glands of the endocrine system. The adrenal glands are really cool and impact our ability to live well. When you wake up in the morning, your adrenal glands are at their most active and are producing the most cortisol. The levels then slowly fall during the day and are at their lowest at night. Your adrenals also put out extra cortisol when you have a stressful event -- a car accident, a fight with a loved one -- or when we have a deadline and have to work extra hard.

But what happens to the adrenals when we have repeated stressful events and fail to take the time to rejuvenate? Well, that depends on a lot of factors. One factor is your unique constitution, i.e., how strong you are and how well you respond to stressors. Another is how often you have additional stressors and how strongly your body reacts. The foods you eat, as well as how you process them, also impact how the adrenals function.

Over time, with repeated stressors, the adrenals begin to have a more difficult time recovering. They still function, just not as well as they did before you overworked them! When the adrenals get over-exerted, they set off a cascade of events that impact all the things I mentioned above.

Let's talk about how the adrenals affect libido, since the majority of people I meet admit that their libido "could be better." Libido is the medical term for sex drive. Prolonged stress can inhibit the normal cycle of hormones, which can lead to an impairment of ovulation. We are hardwired to get pregnant; as a result, women often notice an increase in libido around the time of ovulation. Inhibit or even stop ovulation, and you get a concurrent decrease in libido.

What's really cool about the adrenals is that there is whole chain of hormones they produce. What's discouraging is that in the face of stressors, the adrenals will preferentially produce the stress hormones, and divert adrenal "resources" to production of those stress hormones at the expense of producing the "sex" hormones.

Like most of the things we talk about, it's fixable! But it may take changing some aspects of your life. Like staying up too late and not getting enough sleep (more on sleep in future posts), eating foods that stress the adrenals (more on that, too, in future posts!), and -- perhaps most difficult to alter -- having a life that is full of stress. I promise we are going to get into the details. And that, step by step, we can get you feeling like the million bucks you were meant to feel like!

For more by Wendie Trubow, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.

From Our Partners