Curtis James, MSc
How can we maintain healthy adrenal glands and ensure an optimal sex life?
When sexual drive is low, we think of sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. But there is a lot more to sex drive than these hormones. The condition of the adrenal glands, sitting on top of each kidney, plays a substantial role.
The adrenals have two main parts: the cortex and the medulla. The cortex is the outside part and produces many steroid hormones that regulate blood sugar and fluid balance. This is also where women make DHEA and some testosterone a very significant factor in the female libido. When the cortex is stressed in women, the result may be reduced sexual desire.
The inside part of the adrenal gland, the medulla, makes adrenaline which gives us that uncomfortable fight-or-flight response: sweaty palms, stomach knot, anxiety, insomnia and in more extreme cases, racing heart and panic. All stress weakens the adrenal glands, whether it's caused by a spouse, children, work, heavy metals, poor diet, lack of sleep, prescription drugs, caffeine or illness.
The cortex maintains blood sugar by storing glycogen (sugars in a long chain) in the liver. When stressed, we use all our adrenal reserves and our blood sugar begins to drop. The brain registers this drop and signals the adrenal medulla to pour adrenaline into the bloodstream. This adrenaline takes fat to the liver to be converted into blood sugar. The blood sugar comes back up as we are flooded with adrenaline. This happens to many people in the middle of the night. They wake up with a start and are too busy thinking to sleep.
So how can we maintain healthy adrenal glands and ensure an optimal sex life? First, do everything possible to reduce stress. Resolve conflicts in your relationships. Enjoy your work. Stay positive. Help others. But most importantly, eat right and supplement with nutrients and hormonal support.
Nourishing the Adrenals
Natural physicians employ a broad range of tools to support the adrenal glands. Even people with high blood pressure can handle a little salt (sea salt) without a problem. Salt levels in the body are controlled by the adrenals and if you don't take in any salt, the adrenals have to work a lot harder to hold salt in the body. Strange as it sounds, adequate salt intake means healthy blood sugar levels. And yet, don't overlook the large amounts of salt already found in many processed foods.
All adrenal hormones and sex hormones are steroids. Steroids are made from cholesterol. That's why you need good sources of cholesterol. Forget about margarine and eat natural butter. Keep up an intake of plant protein, cholesterol and essential amino acids. Remember: a diet high in simple carbohydrates produces high cholesterol, not a high-cholesterol diet. Eat small, frequent, high-fibre meals and snacks that include fruit, salad, nuts and vegetables, especially potassium-rich foods. Avoid sugared and processed products. Alcohol and high-caffeine products, such as coffee, teas and soft drinks, deplete the body of magnesium, manganese and other nutrients.
To keep our adrenal glands healthy in the face of daily stresses, supplementation is extremely important. The highest concentration of vitamin C in the human body is in the adrenal cortex. Those with a low libido should try 3,000 to 5,000 mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids and vitamin B5 (300 mg). Eat adequate amounts of vitamin B6 (green leafy vegetables, nutritional yeast, wheat germ), vitamin E (wheat germ, unrefined cold pressed vegetable oils, eggs, sweet potatoes), coenzyme Q10, manganese, calcium, magnesium, chromium, iron, potassium and zinc (kelp, dulse, pumpkin, sunflower seeds). Lecithin, flax seed oil, grape seed extract, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes and greens may also help. Keep the bowels moving with exercise and psyllium fibre.
Adrenal extracts can be helpful. Whole adrenal tablets help energy levels but should not be taken too late in the day if you have sleeping problems. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an adrenal cortex hormone that declines with age. DHEA is an anabolic steroid, a controlled substance that is not available in Canada, although wild yam containing diogenim may boost DHEA activity. Pregnenolone is another adrenal hormone available over-the-counter (and also helps mood, energy, memory, vision and hearing). Androstenedione is a direct precursor of testosterone in the adrenals, and, although short-lived, can have a salutary effect on sexuality.
More Adrenal Helpers
Acupuncture and acupressure can sometimes give the adrenals a good boost. In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidney meridian relates in Western terms to the adrenals, so acupuncture points along that meridian may help. Chiropractic adjustments may also be helpful. In addition, regular exercise improves mood and self-esteem, boosts oxygen in the body and restores energy reserves.
Herbal treatments for the adrenals include asparagus root, parsley root and leaf, licorice root, Jamaican sarsaparilla root, ginkgo biloba, Siberian or Asian ginseng, kelp fronds, wild yam root, bay-berry root bark, milk thistle seed, hawthorn, gotu kola and cayenne pepper fruit. By combining these herbs and supplements with dietary and lifestyle strategies, you're on your way to boosting adrenal health and sex drive.
For more information please read Boosting Male Libido Naturally by Zoltan Rona, MD, number 15 in the alive Natural Health Guide series. Available in health food stores (or call alive books at 800-663-6513).