Adrenal Stress & Weight Gain
Adrenal Fatigue.. it’s a trendy word, but is it true? And does it contribute to weight gain?
Before diving into adrenals, we need to know the basics of hormones.
What are hormones?
All hormones travel throughout the body via various receptors and are derived from fats. They are chemical substances synthesised in small amounts and carried between tissues in the bloodstream to affect every organ in the body. Hormones can affect our mood, blood sugar, our reactions to stressful or peaceful situations, our menstrual cycles, our ability to have energy etc. They are basically the essential messengers in our body that carries signals from one organ to another. Some of the bigger organs that we think about when it comes to hormones are the thyroid, pituitary, gland pancreas, adrenals, ovaries and testes. Examples of hormones are cortisol, the sex hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone, insulin, melatonin and thyroid. Since these substances are incredibly important to our body’s optimal function and they are derived from fats, it is essential that we have adequate quality fats in our diet to sustain them.
How do I know if I have hormonal imbalance?
Big hormonal areas in females are the imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, thyroid issues, adrenals and blood sugar dis-regulation which can lead to weight gain and diabetes.
Signs of hormonal imbalance include:
the inability to lose weight
anxiety and depression
menstrual issues (irregular periods for example)
blood sugar levels
PMS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
adrenal stress & burnout
The worst thing is, there are plenty of endocrine disruptors in our environment including what we use on a daily basis in our beauty products and household cleaners. No wonder hormone disruption can lead to weight gain!
Better health: Weight loss is just a side effect on the health journey.
Is Adrenal Fatigue a myth?
Dr. Christianson, amongst many other adrenal experts and doctors are supporting the fact that the term ‘adrenal fatigue’ is not true and not a true medical condition. The only way the adrenals do not work is if someone has Addison’s Disease.
Our adrenals sit on top of the kidneys and work via the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Adrenals regulate circadian rhythms, balance of electrolytes, hormone usage, immune response and can pick up the slack in hormone processing.
THE HPA AXIS
Stress triggers hormones in the
hypothalamus (a part of your brain)
which ultimately supports release of cortisol and noradrenaline through the cortex and medulla of the adrenals respectively.
When we feel stressed due to traffic, being late, the bills, marital discord, inadequate sleep, poor diet etc. and more, this biological process happens in order for adrenaline to be released and to get us into ‘fight and flight’ mode. On a consistent basis and on overdrive, the adrenals do not get fatigued, however, the body goes into a negative feedback and says “ok, that is enough cortisol production”. Essentially, the body is regulating itself in order not to produce too much cortisol. In our daily lives, the constant stress do not disappear and we find ourselves lacking the capability to deal with stress in an appropriate manner once our adrenals are thrown out of rhythm. This is also known as allostatic load.
It is important to note that besides all the tangible items in our life and work that is obviously causing stress, other reasons can cause stress too such as the mold in your bathroom, loneliness, electromagnetic fields, tobacco, negative thought patterns, lack of compassion and self love etc.
Most women have adrenal stress or HPA Axis dysfunction (better tested with the DUTCH test) characterised by fatigue, weight gain, weak immune system, insomnia etc. Chronic stress can seriously cause us to have salt and sweet cravings, pack belly fat around the waist, cause insomnia and directs attention away from making our sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. For all you ladies who are wanting to get pregnant, chronic stress is not your friend. It can take two years for the adrenals to heal! So give yourself that grace and acceptance to let go and work consistently to reduce stress levels.
Cortisol is great if we are running away from tigers but this is not so in the modern day era. The over production of cortisol from consistent chronic stress can affect the production of other hormones because the body prides cortisol over everything else. The adrenaline inflammatory response is a survival mechanism known to the body that primes us to run in order to survive. When we have too much cortisol, our skin can become inflamed, our fertility abilities reduce, our sex drive can be reduced, our periods will become out of whack. In addition, our digestion system does not work well and we are not producing digestive enzymes and absorbing the nutrients from our foods for hormone precursors. Our visceral fat cells in turn produce cortisol and eventually we are stuck in an endless loop.
Note: Cortisol helps the thyroid to function properly, which is involved in fat metabolism. Too much cortisol can affect the thyroid function and thus contribute to weight gain.
How to know if your HPA Axis is dis-regulated?
Your bowel movements are affected and are constantly having diarrhoea. You have dizzy spells and headaches.
You have difficulty falling asleep or waking up feeling exhausted.
A word on Adrenal PCOS
Women with PCOS have several types, the most common being insulin resistant. According to Dr Lara Briden’s flowchart, a woman may have adrenal PCOS even if she has normal levels of testosterone (ovarian androgens), but higher levels of DHEAS (which are adrenal androgens). The cause is due to a disruption in the HPA axis and normal stress response system. The treatment for adrenal PCOS is similar to the lifestyle solutions for HPA disruptions as shown in the next section.
Nutrition for Adrenals:
1 citrus fruit per day (vitamin C) or supplement
Increase intake of mushrooms
Adequate selenium absorption through eating 2 brazil nuts daily
At least 2 to 3 servings of greens per day (smoothie, salad, steamed greens)
Vitamin Bs especially B5 and choline
Adequate protein from organic clean meat sources and plant based proteins legumes like beans and chickpeas. Have cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli.
Adequate unsaturated fats from wild caught fatty fish, nuts and seeds
Consider magnesium supplement which can help with energy metabolism and sleep
Adaptogenic herbs: ashwaghanda, rhodiola (kickstart in the day), ginseng
Start by accepting that you are stressed - no longer in denial!
Look at: stress triggers and sources of perceived stress/emotional stress/physical stress: disruption in circadian rhythm, inadeqate nature and fresh air, inflammatory responses from diet/overexercise/illness/injury, blood sugar imabalance (if you are unable to leave the house without food)
Try out an elimination diet and use IGg testing to give supporting evidence (food intolerance testing)
Have healthy fats and proteins and more savoury foods for breakfast
Maintain 4 to 6 hours between meals in order to give the digestive system a rest
Limit sugar intake (including natural ones like fruits and honey)
Improve gut health
Test for nutrient deficiencies
Adaptogens if needed
Laptop Curfew (especially turning off the blue light)
Sleep well in order to regulate our hunger and satiety hormones
Reset circadian rhythms by going outdoors for light exposure, and reducing blue light at night
Look at oestrogen and progesterone ratio (both high and lower levels can cause weight gain)
Peppermint essential oil and tea