The adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys, and consist of two parts, the inner medulla and the cortex (outer covering).
When your nervous system senses danger (physical or psychological) the adrenal glands release adrenalin and noradrenaline, the “fight or flight”, stress-response hormones, into your bloodstream — which immediately constrict your blood vessels and raise your high blood pressure.
Blood vessels in your gut are simultaneously constricted, which causes stomach muscle stress and contraction and quickly slows or stops all digestive processes. This partly explains why food is difficult to digest if you try to eat while under stress.
Today, for many people these stress-response hormones are triggered on a low-grade level all day long. Driving in heavy traffic, dealing with stressful situations at work or at home, always feeling rushed – even watching television news -all contribute to a constant state of alertness and overstimulation. But our bodies weren’t designed for constant stress; our adrenals need a period of rest after the release of stress hormones.
When our adrenals are overactive it can lead to chronic high high blood pressure, stress anxiety, mood swings, depression, destructive personality changes and other mental instabilities. When the adrenals continue in an overactive state for an extended period, they are likely to become underactive — worn down and unable to respond at all. This state of weakened adrenals may result in fatigue, insomnia, allergies and hypoglycemia.
Changes in diet and lifestyle, plus a carefully designed program of nutritional supplements can help restore the balance and health of the adrenal glands.
Cortisol and Weight Gain
Why does stress make you fat?
Simple, stress creates high levels of cortisol, and high levels of cortisol create insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes us gain weight since the sugar and carbohydrates we eat are converted to fat rather than burned as fuel. This fat is most commonly stored around the midsection.
Not only do we need to eliminate sugar and bad carbohydrates (high-glycemic), but we must reduce our cortisol-inducing stress if we are to control our insulin resistance.
Skipping meals or undereating can also create a cortisol connection. If you diet, skip meals, restrict calories, and eat improperly, your body will perceive this as famine. The body’s reaction It secretes cortisol to help you through this famine. This contributes to premature ageing.
Every time you miss a meal, cortisol levels go up to take care of the perceived famine, and the body readjusts to survive on fewer calories. It no longer needs the same food requirements because it has learned to survive on less food in the false state of famine. When you return to normal eating you will gain weight, since your body has adjusted to eating less food. To try to lose more weight, you may eat even less. This will increase cortisol further and now you are on the merry-go-round. That is why some people hardly eat at all and they are still gaining weight.
Our bodies work like finely tuned machines. The more you understand how your body functions, the easier time you will have understanding the effects of food and stress. Everything in our bodies has to work in balance. Trying to lose weight but having hormonal imbalance is very self-defeating. You will lose some weight because you are eating properly, but until your hormones are in balance you are not going to get the desired effects.
Stress is going to have the same effect. You can eat right, you can have balanced hormones, but stress is going to blunt your hormone production, and that will lead to hormonal imbalance.
Hormonal imbalance ALWAYS leads to WEIGHT GAIN.
To keep adrenal and cortisol levels working at optimum, you must live a balanced life. You must sleep, eat right, balance your hormones, and eliminate stress.
We need to keep our lives in balance … whatever that takes.
We must find the time to calm ourselves and adequately take care of ourselves. Otherwise, the end result is that we are using up more biochemicals than we are rebuilding. This leads to hormonal imbalance, which cause us to seek comfort behaviours (overeating, carbs, alcohol, excessive exercising or not exercising at all).
Symptoms of hormone imbalance might include:
- lack of sex drive
- decreated energy
- hair loss
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- increated appetite
- increased blood-sugar levels
- sugar craving
- nicotine and alcohol cravings
- increased facial hair
- loss of lean muscle tissue
- loss of bone mass
- lower back problems
- muscle weakness
- weight gain
Adrenal burnout is epidemic in our country. Adrenal fatigue occurs when adrenals are depleted. Often times this goes unnoticed by our healthcare practitioner. When peoplare are under enormous and prolonged stress, they will experience adrenal fatigue.
In men, high cortisol will cause a man to lose his testosterone down the road because cortisol will block testosterone from working at the cell receptor sites. A man will lose his sex drive and be 15 kgs overweight. He will frequently have high cholesterol and high triglycerides. It’s a perfect setup for a heart attack.
The brain becomes less sensitive to estrogen when there is high cortisol, resulting in hot flashesand PMS in women who had previously been in perfect hormonal balance.
Increased cortisol also occurs as a result of chronic inflammation and chronic pain. The liver has a reduced ability to detoxify, promoting leaky gut, with consequent autoimmune reactions within the body. Increased cortisol can cause ulcers in both the stomach and small intestine. Bone density can go down.
Additionally, high cortisol will supress the pituitary’s ability to release luteinizing hormone (LH). LH is essential for ovulation. So if cortisol suppresses ovulation, you’re in a state of infertility and won’t be producing any progesterone.
If left unchecked, you can quickly progress to adrenal exhaustion. At this point the adrenals are unable to respond to any stressor, and you will see low levels of cortisol and DHEA in the body.
When your adrenals are shot, all our hormones are thrown out. Nothing works right.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, that’s a sure sign your adrenals are burned out.
Most people who are adrenal-fatigured are usually pretty slim. The people with high cortisol are the ones who gain the weight.
Adrenal-fatigued people must have protein with each meal.
It’s mandatory that they don’t skip breakfast. If you are going to snack, then snack on low-glycemic foods like seeds and nuts. Fruit juices should be avoided because of the sugar, and if you’re going to eat high-glycemic foods, always have protein with it.
Opportunity to realign our life
Adrenal burnout is always a wake up call. Some area of life is out of alignment. For a deeper exploration of self, it is often the starting point. Rather than just existing as a programmed zombie, adrenal burnout may be the beginning of real living.
It’s time we get in touch with our purpose in life. Why are we on this planet Let that purpose guide you as opposed to anything else. Find out why it’s important for you to be here. We all need purpose. Align ourselves with that purpose.
Achieving optimal adrenal function
You cannot have optimum health if your adrenals are undernourished and a well balanced diet is essential to adrenal health.
Potassium is very important to the adrenal glands. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of potassium. Try to include more of the following in your diet: carrots, corn, avocado, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, lima beans, spinach, apples, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, peaches, plums, strawberries and sea vegetables (arame, bladder wrack, dulse, hijiki, kelp, kombu, nori, sea palm and wakame).
Sea vegetables are such a good source of many minerals that I advise adding them to your diet right away. They can be chopped in the food processor or blender and sprinkled over food, or added to soup after it is cooked.
Chicken and fish are also good sources. If you can add enough of these foods to your diet you may not need a potassium supplement, other than a good multivitamin/mineral tablet. Keeping your salt intake low will also help avoid potassium deficiency.
Pantothenic acid is also extremely important for the adrenals. It is in whole grains, lentils, beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, salmon, liver, tomatoes and peanuts. If you do not eat some of these foods daily, you should take a B complex tablet with at least 50mg of pantothenic acid in it. Take 4,000mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids daily and 200 I.U.’s vitamin E daily. If you have a high score, take an extra pantothenic acid supplement for three to four months, for a total of 500mg daily.
Other nutrients essential to healthy adrenals are: Essential Fatty Acids, amino acids, vitamin E, vitamin A and vitamin C and the minerals chromium, zinc, selenium, magnesium and manganese.
Some of the most notable herbs utilized for adrenal support are licorice, ginseng, and astragalus.
The herb licorice root increased the half-time of cortisol. Licorice is also an antiviral and great for respiratory infections in those who have adrenal fatigue.
Astragalus has long been used in Chinese medicine as a tonic. Research has demonstrated its value in enhancing immunity through multiple mechanisms.
Ginsengs are commonly prescribed to increase energy and support adrenal function. Research has demonstrated improved functioning under stress as well as increased working capacity following ginseng use. For women, Siberian ginseng appears to be the most appropriate of the ginsengs, as from a Chinese medicine perspective, it is more cooling (less likely to induce hot flashes) and can be used on a regular basis.
Borage leaf also provides specific support to the adrenal cortex and can be used daily to support adrenal health.
Excellent are green foods like kelp, barley grass powder and various colored vegetables.
Drink high quality water, not from the tap. Distilled or spring waters are best. Good quality water is an excellent investment in yourself.
Laughter is important as a de-stressor. Take vacations.
Rest. Go to bed early. Plan on nine hours of sleep for at least a few years. At times, more may be needed. Sleep is not a waste of time. There is no substitute for adequate rest.
Gentle walking is beneficial. Vigorous exertion depletes the adrenals. Deep breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga or tai chi do not deplete the body. Exercise to relax rather than to build muscles. You shouldn’t feel worse the next day.
The hormone pregnenolone, which is produced in the adrenals and the brain, is the precursor to all the adrenal hormones, and also improve memory. DHEA helps with third-degree adrenal fatigure. Lastly, bioidentical progesterone strengthens the adrenals.
A self test to check adrenal health
You will need a blood pressure monitor.
- Lie down and rest for five minutes.
- After five minutes, take your blood pressure (while lying down).
- Next, stand up and immediately take another reading.
If your blood pressure is lower after you stand up, your adrenals may be functioning poorly.
Adrenal fatigure quiz
A higher score on the quiz below suggests a greater degree of adrenal fatigue.
- I often feel dizzy, faint, like I haven’t woken up, or like I’m in a dream.After getting up from lying position or after bending down, I often feel lightheaded or dizzy.
- I have dark circles under my eyes.
- My nails are brittle and weak, my hair is dry and thinning, and/or my skin seems to be aging quickly.
- I feel tired, run down, drained, or emotionally or physically exhausted much of the time.
- I catch colds or other infections (cold sores, yeast or bladder infections, eye infections, boils, sinus infections) easily.
- I’m gaining weight around my middle.
- I have strong cravings for sweet or salty foods.
- I feel overwhelmed or stressed by work, family, and other responsibilities.
- I’m often irritable, impatient, or pessimistic.
- I often have trouble waking in the morning, even though you went to bed at a reasonable hour.
- I often feel tired after exercise, rather than energized.
- I have developed allergies, asthma, hayfever, skin rashes (hives, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne), arthritis, autoimmune disease, or other inflammatory conditions and/or I’ve taken anti-inflammatories or steroid drugs.
- My body temperature seems off balance (my hands and feet are cold, your face feels warm even though I’m not sick, or I get hot flushes.
- I drink more than one 8 oz. cup of coffee, caffeinated soft drink and cola, or other caffeinated beverage every day.
- In my free time, I’m often too tired to do anything that involves going out of the house.
Adrenal test kits
Are you suffering from a hormone imbalance Take the Hormone Imbalance Quiz to see if your symptoms may be a result of hormonal imbalance. You can use symptoms to determine which hormones to test in saliva.
Where to get your saliva hormone testing kit
Individuals will often order a saliva assay to establish a baseline before embarking on hormone supplements. More frequently, however, a saliva assay is ordered to pinpoint the cause of a problem.
While saliva kits can be ordered direct, we encourage individuals to work with their doctors. A growing number of doctors are gaining experience with analysis of saliva results, but to many, it is still a new science.
Cortisol hormone collection will require 1 to 4 specimens over the course of one (1) day, usually collected at 0600, 1200, 1800 and 2200 hours.
Click HERE to find a testing facility near you.