Did you know that taxing your adrenal glands (those little organs that sit atop your kidneys)—with too many stimulants (like caffeine or fish oil capsules!), stress, and not enough sleep—could be affecting your fertility? Trying to start or expand your family can be stressful enough, but if your adrenals are taxed, that can make conceiving that much more difficult. Tired, worn out, overtaxed adrenals can affect both men and women’s fertility (this isn’t just about us ladies, gentlemen!).
Adrenal Fatigue or Exhaustion and Fertility
When adrenals are overtaxed, it can contribute to reproductive issues in both men and women. The high levels of cortisol production from ongoing stress snowball into hormone imbalances, a feeling of constant fatigue, and even more stress and anxiety once fertility problems show up.
A study showed that stress and anxiety contribute to infertility in women partially because they increase the amount of cortisol in the blood. When cortisol levels remain elevated for an extended period of time, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) falls out of balance. That goes on to affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadotropic axis (HPG), which can “affect the hormonal profile in critical stages of the fertilization process.” When your hormones aren’t balanced, your fertility is compromised.
While the adrenals are working so hard to produce cortisol in response to ongoing stress, they’re dropping the ball on secretion of the other hormones necessary for fertility. The production of estrogen, progesterone, and DHEA takes a hit. Remember, cortisol is meant to be released short-term, in response to stress (fight-or-flight situations), so it wouldn’t normally interfere with these other hormones long-term, and fertility wouldn’t suffer. Chronic stress throws all of that out of whack. Eventually, the adrenal glands become too exhausted to keep up with the body’s cortisol demands and production of that drops off to lower than normal levels.
Even in men, an elevated rate of cortisol production can decrease fertility. In another study that looked at 60 subjects under fertility screening, the ones with the lowest sperm counts and motility were also the ones who had elevated cortisol serum levels. They had been under psychological stress for a prolonged period of time and their adrenals were working overtime to release cortisol. Adrenal fatigue can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night, and a study in the Journal of Epidemiology showed that sleep disturbances, too, can alter semen quality. (As a side note, not getting enough sleep can contribute to adrenal fatigue, too, because it increases the production of cortisol, creating a vicious cycle.)
Signs of Adrenal Fatigue
In addition to infertility, there are several other signs of adrenal fatigue, including:
- Fatigue, no matter how much sleep you get
- Still feeling tired first thing in the morning, so it’s hard to get up
- Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night
- Junk food cravings (especially sweets and refined carbs!)
- Mood swings
- Weakened immune system
- Need for stimulants, like sugar or the caffeine in coffee, to get through the day
- Decreased libido
- Brain fog
- Low tolerance for stressful situations
How to Give Your Adrenal Glands a Break
In our society, where it sometimes feels as if everyone is “on” all the time and rushing from place to place, fueling yourself with the right foods and allowing yourself to relax and get a full night’s sleep each day may seem impossible. The last thing you want to hear when you’re all stressed out and struggling to get pregnant is, just relax! You probably want to shout at them, shut uuup!, even though that is one part of healing the adrenals and may help you get pregnant. To reverse the effects of adrenal fatigue, you need to nourish your body, mind, and soul. You have to train your body to slow down in order to keep moving forward, not run harder.
- Yoga, tai chi, walking, or any other gentle exercise you enjoy can help. This isn’t the time to start incorporating high-intensity interval training into your workout routine. That would do more harm than good, as that level of difficult activity would just further stress the adrenals. I’ve personally been a yogi for years, and consider my practice essential to the balance of my life.
- Breathing exercises/meditation will also soothe your mind and naturally decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. If you’re just starting out, you’ll be amazed by what even short periods of quiet will do. It is a practice, so you have to work on it to get better and better. Focus on breathing deeply. Concentrate on those breaths so no nagging to-do list will sneak in and ruin your moment. You can also work to learn some definite yogic techniques, like how to do a handstand.
- Give up the caffeine and sugar. When that afternoon sugar and coffee craving hits, try going for a short walk instead, or try consuming a small amount of bee pollen. Caffeine and sugar stimulate the adrenals, and though it’s a quick fix for a few hours, it’s doing nothing for you over the long run.
- You gotta change your diet. There ‘aint no way to get around it! :) Cut out the refined carbs and other junk food. When your adrenals are taxed, you may be clinging to these but your body needs and deserves a highly nutritious, nurturing diet. The Beauty Detox Foods fill you up with the vitamins and minerals you need to recover; they don’t rob you of beauty, energy, or health the way the sugary, fatty, salty foods you crave when your adrenals are exhausted will. Over time on this diet, you’ll realize that your energy levels are maintained throughout the day, not up and down depending on what you last put into your body. Bananas are especially good for keeping anxiety to a minimum, which in turn relieves your adrenal glands.
- Don’t drink or at least greatly cut back on alcohol. I realize it’s not realistic to expect everyone to cut it out completely. When dealing with adrenal fatigue, you may want to avoid even the occasional glass of wine, at least until your body has had time to heal. Alcohol stresses the adrenal glands just like coffee and sugar do. You may be used to having a glass of wine here and there at dinners, get-togethers, etc. But if you make a conscious decision not to drink, at least for a period, you’ll surprise yourself that you don’t need those drinks as much as you think.
- Skip the scary movies. Anything that makes you feel like you’re on the edge of your seat, anything that makes you feel stressed by watching or reading it (that includes the news!), should be avoided. You know those scenes in horror movies aren’t real, but your body still reacts as if they are. That also goes for “scary”, drama-filled reality shows, ala Housewives of blah blah blah shows. You know what I mean!
- Unplug. When you get home, turn off the computer and the phone and just unwind from your day. Eat a healthy meal, invite a friend over to relax by the pool, go for a walk in nature if the sun’s still up, read a book, and just do the things that help you recharge. Work will follow you around 24/7 if you let it. It’s up to you to take charge and set boundaries. I’ll be honest. I don’t have boundaries with my clients- I communicate with them 24/7. But no matter what, I have my mediation time in the morning and night- that I do not skip.
Relaxation may not be a switch you can flip the way those well-intentioned people seem to suggest when they find out you’re suffering from infertility, but making changes to your life will change your feelings of well-being overall. When you nourish yourself this way, by being careful about what you put into your body (and mind) and giving it time to rest and recuperate each day, you’ll find that you did “just relax” after all. It’s not exactly that simple because it may involve making some huge adjustments to your lifestyle, but teaching yourself to live a healthier, more balanced life will result in more happiness overall–and fertility in all areas of your life- including manifesting all your goals and dreams.