Adrenal fatigue and how it affects your vagina

If you’ve been super stressed for a long period of time, you may have adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion. Adrenal fatigue isn’t a medical diagnosis per se, but many healthcare practitioners are familiar with the concept.

A series of tests is able to determine if your cortisol system is working as it should.

Because of the web of hormones and how they all work together, adrenal fatigue can leave you without the necessary hormonal juice to keep your vaginal tissues working properly, and you may start to experience vaginal itching and discharge.

Your doctor will probably run tests to see if you have an infection, but if you have adrenal fatigue, this is likely to come back negative. You may have disturbed vaginal flora, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an infection is present.

Without addressing your adrenal fatigue, your vaginal symptoms will not clear up.

Adrenal fatigue and progesterone

Adrenal fatigue may affect your progesterone levels in two ways.

First, by reducing the amount of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) secreted by the adrenals, so reducing your body’s ability to produce normal progesterone levels. 

DHEA regulates cholesterol metabolism, with cholesterol required to make progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone.

Second, you may end up with low progesterone production in the ovaries, resulting in less cortisol and adrenaline being made in the adrenal glands.

So how exactly does adrenal fatigue give you an itchy vagina?

  1. Your adrenal glands produce cortisol, which keeps you alert during the day, and offers you the feeling of anxiety when you are stressed or conversely the feeling of excitement when you are having fun.​1​
  2. Your body uses progesterone to make cortisol.
  3. If you are low in progesterone for some reason, you can run out of cortisol.
  4. Or conversely, if you are stressed for long periods you can end up converting all your progesterone to cortisol, leaving you low in progesterone, and very stressed and anxious – until you run out of everything.
  5. When you run out of cortisol (and/or progesterone), you end up with adrenal fatigue.
  6. …and signs of low progesterone, like an itchy vagina, vaginal discharge, and even urinary tract discomfort (needing to pee a lot/urgency).

What low progesterone means

If you are low in progesterone for whatever reason, you are likely to end up with oestrogen dominance (relative oestrogen excess).

Progesterone and oestrogen naturally oppose one another, keeping each other in check, so without progesterone, oestrogen is left unchecked.

Oestrogen excess can cause vulvovaginal symptoms and allow yeast to flourish.

What to do about itching and discharge caused by adrenal fatigue

Soothing your vagina will be important, so you may want to use a vaginal moisturiser like coconut oil to keep the itch at bay.

You need to deal with your adrenal fatigue, or your vagina simply can’t get better, so find yourself an experienced practitioner who can give you the instruction and herbal medicine/supplements you will need to slowly but surely get yourself back on track.

Recovering from adrenal fatigue is usually quite a slow process, so try different strategies to help soothe your vagina as you go.

Speak to your healthcare practitioner and ask their advice, as they may be able to help with temporary measures while your body builds itself back up.

References

  1. 1.
    Amabebe E, Anumba DOC. Psychosocial Stress, Cortisol Levels, and Maintenance of Vaginal Health. Front Endocrinol. Published online September 24, 2018. doi:10.3389/fendo.2018.00568


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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
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