The Adrenals and the Sex Hormones
The adrenal sex hormones fulfill a number of important roles in human body. It is vital to understand how adrenal fatigue can impact your body’s hormonal levels, and how any imbalance in the hormones can further stress your adrenals.
Most people interested in adrenal fatigue tend to focus all their attention on cortisol. Still, it is important to remember that adrenal glands are also critical for maintaining the proper level of the various sex hormones.
The major portion of the body’s sex hormones originates from the production centers in the gonads. However, supplementary amounts of the various hormones are also produced in the adrenals to ensure that the primary hormone for each gender is kept in balance. For males, that means that the adrenals provide a small amount of testosterone, and also produce a bit of estrogen to keep the male hormones in check. In females, the adrenals produce some estrogen to supplement that which comes from the ovaries, and also produce testosterone to balance the female hormones. It is important to understand this balancing act if we are to appreciate why maintaining healthy adrenal glands is so vitally important.
The Adrenal Hormones
Just as in the production of cortisol, the creation of the sex hormones begins in the hypothalamus. It monitors the body and determines when more testosterone or estrogen is needed – either for developmental reasons or in response to some form of stimuli – and then sends a relay signal to the pituitary. That gland then alerts the hormone-producing areas of the body to being production. In the male body, this results in the testes receiving a hormonal trigger from the pituitary to begin converting cholesterol into testosterone. At the same time, the adrenals begin producing trace amounts of testosterone and estrogen to release as part of their attempt to maintain a proper balance in those hormonal levels.
Of course, cholesterol doesn’t just magically transform into testosterone. First, it is converted into pregnenolone, and that substance is then used to make different sex hormones. This is because the zona reticularis – the zone within the adrenal cortex where these hormones are produced – is designed with a great deal of flexibility in its production path. As a result of that flexibility, pregnenolone can be converted into DHEA, and that can then be made into androstenedione, which can in turn be made into testosterone or estrone. Those two hormones can also be converted into estradiol. Taking another path, pregnenolone could also be made into progesterone, and then that hormone can be converted to androstenedione before being converted into one of the aforementioned hormones.
Apart from the balancing act served by adrenal production of these sex hormones, there is much that remains unknown about why the adrenal glands play such a critical role in this area of health. What is known, however, is that low adrenal function has been consistently seen in women with premenstrual syndrome, and some of the more severe states of menopause. Adrenal cell extracts have proven useful in treating those conditions. Adrenal impairment has also been associated with reduced development in young teens, as well as reduced sex drive for both men and women.
How the Adrenal Sex Hormones Protect You
One thing we do know for certain is that those sex hormones – including the precursor hormones and the primary sex hormones – all have protective roles to play in human health. While their immediate and obvious effect is to balance out the sex hormones produced by the testes in men and the ovaries in women, these other protective roles are just as critical.
Take cortisol, for example. Though it is a vital component to good health and helps to control things like blood sugar and the impact of white blood cells, it has a darker side when it is given free rein. Without proper control of its actions, cortisol can be extremely dangerous to your health. These sex hormones actually rein in many of those dangers by providing a balance to cortisol. Because of their anti-oxidant properties, sex hormones and their precursors are able to safeguard cells against the damage cortisol might otherwise do.
Beyond that, the precursor hormones like DHEA also play a vital role as component parts for the manufacture of the main sex hormones. This precursor is often sent as raw material to the cells, only to be manufactured by the cell into whatever hormone happens to be needed at the time. This proves to be a very efficient way to speedily meet the body’s needs by relying on localized hormonal conversion of precursor hormones rather than mass production of the primary hormones within the adrenals.
Weak Adrenal Function and its Impact on Sex Hormones
Of course, all of the benefits associated with the production and release of those hormones becomes a moot issue once the adrenals become weakened. As stress mounts and the adrenal glands are continually called upon to produce more and more of the critical components the body needs to counter the pressure, the zona reticularis loses its ability to respond. As adrenal fatigue sets in, those vital hormones fall to critical levels and eventually reach a point where the body’s demands go unheeded. Every hormone, including vital DHEA, suddenly becomes unavailable for the body that so desperately needs them.
This is why adrenal fatigue sufferers typically experience a dramatic loss in their sex drive. Without that ongoing production of testosterone, neither men nor women maintain their natural libido. That loss of sexual appetite is also seen in many people as they age. It is no coincidence, of course, that adrenal activity also decreases significantly with the passing of time. Research has indicated that one of the easiest ways to track a person’s aging process is by tracking the levels of their testosterone and DHEA production over time. Unlike cortisol, which remains consistent throughout life, the level of these critical sex hormones plummets as a person gets older.
There is good news, though. Patients who identify their adrenal fatigue early and who take the necessary steps to counter the damage that has been done to their adrenal glands can experience recovery. And, since the damage caused by reduced sex hormone production is in many instances directly related to those weakened adrenals, many patients can experience recovery of those critical hormonal levels as well. If you’re suffering from the effects of low sex hormone levels as a result of adrenal fatigue, keep that positive news in mind as you continue your recovery efforts.
You might also be interested in:
- Adrenal Glands. http://www.yourhormones.info/glands/adrenal_glands.aspx
- Testosterone Week: A Short Primer on How T Is Made. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/01/15/how-testosterone-is-made/
- Background: Function of the adrenal glands. http://endocrinediseases.org/adrenal/adrenal_what.shtml
- The Adrenal Cortex. https://mcb.berkeley.edu/courses/mcb135e/adrenal.html
- Adrenal Cortex. Anatomy. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/6388/adrenal-cortex