Adrenal Fatigue- Is stress causing you to Gain Weight?
What are the Adrenals? The adrenal glands, or “adrenals”, are two small glands that sit on top of each of the kidneys. They are responsible for producing a whole host of hormones and other chemicals that regulate many of the basic processes in your body as well as your ability to lose weight.
Here are some of the chemicals produced in the adrenal glands include along with their basic functions:
Cortisol- the basic stress hormone in the body that regulate sugar metabolism, blood pressure, inflammation, immunity, liver function, memory and more.
DHEA- the building block of testosterone, estrogen, and other sex hormones.
Adrenaline (epinephrine/nor-epinephrine)- another stress chemical; adrenaline increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, dilates air ways in the lungs and prepares the body for the flight of flight response.
Is high cortisol bad? Cortisol gets a bad rap. When it is chronically elevated, cortisol gets blamed for belly fat and all sorts of other health problems. And while chronic elevated cortisol levels can lead to obesity, osteoporosis, illness, fatigue and other undesirable health issues, cortisol is not all bad. In fact at our clinic, we see many issues resulting from excessively low cortisol levels including difficulty losing weight. I will explain why.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released when your brain determines that you are in danger. It prepares you to run or fight for your life. In fact, the response to stress has been appropriately dubbed the "fight or flight response" since it's job is to prepare you to do just that. It triggers events in your body that give your arms and legs energy so you can run as fast as possible or fight as hard as possible in order to survive an attack. Remember, attacks from animals and/or rival village members was not uncommon a few years back, and our genetic makeup has not changed a bit since those more wild days. These days, every time we experience a "stress," regardless of what type of stress, our bodies respond by releasing cortisol to trigger the fight or flight response. The problem is, we don't need a lot of cortisol to deal with traffic, deadlines or relationship issues (the modern version of stress) because fighting or running are not the best ways to deal with those issues. This will lead to high cortisol levels and weight gain, primarily in the belly and around the mid-section. And if this cycle doesn't stop, it will lead to a situation that is even worse than high cortisol levels- adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal Fatigue- how does it happen? If we constantly tax the adrenal glands with our constant demand for cortisol, eventually they will lose their ability to produce the proper amount of cortisol and other important hormones and chemicals. This situation is called adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal exhaustion or adrenal gland burn-out. It simply means that the adrenal glands are not able to produce the chemicals that the body requires from it. Cortisol, and possibly DHEA and adrenaline will measure low on lab tests and you will not feel good. In fact, you will feel much worse with excessively low cortisol than with high cortisol. Excessively low cortisol (adrenal fatigue) is one of the most common causes of weight gain.
What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue? When your adrenal glands are shot you will have a whole host of symptoms including:
weight gain all over your body (not just in the belly)
low sex drive
and many other symptoms that are often thought of as symptoms of low thyroid. This is because the thyroid and adrenals rely on each other in their functions. Both must function well, otherwise neither will work well. In fact, every thyroid patient that comes to my office gets tested for adrenal function. And amazingly, correcting the adrenals can often make the thyroid symptoms go away! That is because there is often nothing wrong with the thyroid itself, but rather a problem with the adrenals that turned into a thyroid problem. Read more about the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue.
Is Adrenal Fatigue common? A better question might be "Is chronic stress common?" The answer is obviously YES! Can you imagine if our ancestors were being attacked by tigers all day, every day? Of course not- we would not even be alive to contemplate the scenario if that were the reality. They were under occasional stress, such as tiger attacks, but those dangerous situations were very rare. And when they did happen, our ancestors ran for their lives. So their brains learned that running really, really hard meant that we were trying to survive. And if we lived through the attack, our brains new that the attack was over and that it could shut the stress response off.
Our modern lifestyle, while very convenient and luxurious in many ways compared to our ancestors, is not what our bodies are designed for. We are far too sedentary and we are bombarded with stress all day, every day. Unlike our ancestors, our stress is not rare and when we do encounter stress we rarely run for our lives. So the stress response never quits and the adrenal gland is the organ that suffers the most from this chronic stress. What we are left with is a society of individuals with adrenal fatigue.
Can you test for Adrenal Fatigue? It is simple and non-invasive to test basic adrenal gland function. I often send patients home with a simple saliva collection kit that they can perform in their own home. The results can be put into any different categories. It can tell us if you have adrenal fatigue, excess cortisol production, or a number of other adrenal abnormalities such as reversed cortisol production. Read more about testing cortisol and the adrenals.
If I have Adrenal Fatigue, is there anything that will help it? We see patients with adrenal fatigue or adrenal dysfunction of some variety almost every day and there is nothing more rewarding than to help our patients restore optimal adrenal function. When the adrenals regain their function, so does the whole person. The patient often reports more energy, improved mood, deep sleep, better digestion, enhanced immune function, and best of all weight loss that was previously unattainable no matter how much they dieted or exercised. We use a combination of customized lifestyle changes including diet, nutrition, burst training and stress relieving techniques to help the patient heal. No two people are alike so we feel like the individual approach is best when determining the best program for each person.
The two best products I have found for rejuvenating the adrenal glands are Adrenal Complex and Adrenotone. They work well individually and can work very well together for those who need extra adrenal support.
If you have
Trouble Losing Weight
Get Sick a lot
or some of the other symptoms discussed, you may have adrenal fatigue. Complete Health and Weight Loss can help!