How to recognize the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and how to take charge of your body!
Dr. Simran Sethi
There is a lot of buzz around the subject of cortisol, our main ‘stress hormone’, which causes weight gain. Lately, this has increased cortisol-blocking supplements in the VERY extensive supplement market. These products claim to lower our body’s cortisol levels, resulting in weight loss.
Ironically, most people who need to lose weight actually have LOW cortisol levels.
What You Need to Understand First –
In order to understand why low cortisol causes weight gain, it’s important to first understand what cortisol actually does. Cortisol is made by the adrenal glands that sit on top of our kidneys. When exposed to any stress, our adrenal glands are supposed to release cortisol in preparation for ‘fight or flight’.
Cortisol’s job is to streamline the body’s workload so we can focus on addressing the immediate threat with increased energy and attention. This is one reason why cortisol inhibits insulin’s ability to reduce blood sugar and instead increases circulating blood sugar (glucose) so that it helps the brain stay more alert. Cortisol also redirects the body from working on more ‘long term’ functions like growth, reproduction, digestion and immunity. So far, it is clear that high cortisol is essential to survive a stressful situation, but what happens when this stress lasts for weeks, months, and sometimes years?
The Cortisol Surge –
When a Cortisol surge is followed by some kind of exercise, our body works stronger and more efficiently until the stress is gone; this also increases endorphins (a ‘happy’ brain chemical which balances cortisol and helps the body and mind cope with stress). If we continue to be exposed to stress without any form of stress release (activity/exercise), and proper nutrition support, then our adrenal glands become overworked resulting in overproduction of cortisol. It is the overproduction of cortisol without exercise that causes the accumulation of major stress, mood swings, emotional instability, and belly fat. When our bodies are stressed, we are more susceptible to carb (sugar) cravings, spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar, and difficulty falling asleep at night and waking up.
When stress continues for long periods of time, or even when we are experiencing hormonal imbalance, the adrenal glands are unable to produce enough cortisol to even respond to even the smallest amount of stress. This is called adrenal fatigue, and this is VERY common. Adrenal fatigue comes with its own set of symptoms: foggy brain, persistent tiredness, irritability, emotional instability, hormonal imbalances, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, bad food cravings, and more. They will often get uncontrollably drowsy at breaks during the day, or while driving home from work. Caffeine cravings are very common among those experiencing adrenal fatigue, because it’s a common option to help re-genergize the system, but caffeine is not ideal in this circumstance.
Once the adrenal glands are fatigue, they can’t secrete enough cortisol to help the body respond to simple physical and mental demands of day-to-day. Up to 60% of Americans may have some sort of adrenal fatigue, and that is a lot of people!
Cortisol Blocking Supplements –
Cortisol-blocking supplements can make adrenal fatigue even worse, which also results in weight gain. The good news is, if tested properly (a sensitive saliva testing) – adrenal fatigue can be diagnosed and treated. Treatment includes healing with restorative supplements, correcting sleep patterns and sometimes giving-up cortisol pills to help bring the adrenal clock back into balance. Once the adrenal gland has aided and given some love, sugar, salt and fat cravings are decreased, and the energy to live a pleasant and naturally enlivened life can begin.
Remember to reach out to your physician to get a saliva test done. There are options and good ones! Treating adrenal fatigue can be misdiagnosed and often leaves people feeling helpless. It is does take time to come back from it, but not as long as one would things. Take those steps now (literal steps, wink wink)!
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