The "yin and yang" of the adrenal and gonadal systems in elite military men

Stress. 2017 May;20(3):258-264. doi: 10.1080/10253890.2017.1333594. Epub 2017 Jun 19.


We recently established daily, free-living profiles of the adrenal hormone cortisol, the (primarily adrenal) anabolic precursor dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and the (primarily gonadal) anabolic hormone testosterone in elite military men. A prevailing view is that adrenal and gonadal systems reciprocally modulate each other; however, recent paradigm shifts prompted the characterization of these systems as parallel, cooperative processes (i.e. the "positive coupling" hypothesis). In this study, we tested the positive coupling hypothesis in 57 elite military men by evaluating associations between adrenal and gonadal biomarkers across the day. Salivary DHEA was moderately and positively coupled with salivary cortisol, as was salivary testosterone. Anabolic processes (i.e. salivary DHEA and testosterone) were also positively and reliably coupled across the day. In multivariate models, salivary DHEA and cortisol combined to account for substantial variance in salivary testosterone concentrations across the day, but this was driven almost exclusively by DHEA. This may reflect choreographed adrenal release of DHEA with testicular and/or adrenal release of testosterone, systemic conversion of DHEA to testosterone, or both. DHEA and testosterone modestly and less robustly predicted cortisol concentrations; this was confined to the morning, and testosterone was the primary predictor. Altogether, top-down co-activation of adrenal and gonadal hormone secretion may complement bottom-up counter-regulatory functions to foster anabolic balance and neuronal survival; hence, the "yin and yang" of adrenal and gonadal systems. This may be an adaptive process that is amplified by stress, competition, and/or dominance hierarchy.

Keywords: Cortisol; anabolic; catabolic; dehydroepiandrosterone; endocrine; military; positive coupling hypothesis; testosterone.

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Yin-Yang


  • Biomarkers
  • Testosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Hydrocortisone