These little walnut-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys are one of the most overworked and under appreciated body parts. Our adrenals play many roles in our health. I’m just going to focus on a brief summary of their role in maintaining a healthy weight (and weight loss).
The adrenal glands have two main components, the cortex and medulla, that perform such diverse functions that some scientists consider them to be two separate glands.
The adrenal medulla synthesizes epinephrine and norepinephrine, allowing our bodies to respond to stress. The adrenal cortex synthesizes important hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone and androgens. Cortisol is catabolic, meaning it breaks down tissue (like muscle) and high cortisol levels raise blood sugar, which raise insulin–all to our detriment, making us prone to storing fat rather than losing it. Weight gain in the midsection that is resistant to weight loss is a classic indication of someone under chronic stress.
DHEA is a key hormone from which testosterone and the estrogens are made. It mitigates some of the negative affects from high cortisol and it also promotes the growth and repair of tissue (especially muscle). When the demand for cortisol is prolonged, DHEA levels decline and the whole hormone system begins to break down. Yikes!
In acute stress situations, our adrenals are meant to respond by releasing cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine to enable us to take appropriate survival “fight or flight” action. When the stress passes, these levels lower and normalcy ensues. This is when adrenal function is normal and stress is manageable.
In chronic stress, our hormones become disrupted and even incapable of normal function without intervention (removal of the chronic stressor and help restoring the damage). The adrenals have difficulty producing adequate levels of cortisol and it generally becomes worse as the day goes on, although someone with tired adrenals generally needs coffee or other caffeine sources to “get them going” in the morning. Caffeine makes it worse, forcing the adrenals to work harder, and contributes to dysfunctional adrenals. It’s a vicious cycle.
There are many potential stressors we face living in the modern world: food chemicals, food coloring, impurities in drinking water, synthetic chemicals in the home & office, pesticides on the cotton our clothes are made of (or clothing made from synthetic materials), perfumes in our laundry detergent or on our skin, pesticides in our food, genetically modified foods, medications, heavy metals, EMF, working long hours, work stress, pollution…my goodness, the list could just go on and on!
Besides your garden variety relationship, family, and/or work stress, there are MANY things that our bodies can interpret as stress since they disrupt normal healthy function. Not all stressors are obvious either. For example, food intolerance or parasites & pathogens can be quite difficult to identify without proper lab testing yet they can cause a drain on your health much like someone poking a hole in your bathtub plug. The cumulative stress caused my several stressors taking their toll on your health day after day is what leads to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is a health red flag being frantically waved so that you make changes before it is too late.
Signs of adrenal fatigue
- Extra weight in the middle
- Difficulty losing weight even with exercise
- Blood sugar imbalance or diabetes
- Feeling exhausted, especially in the afternoon
- Low sex drive
- Reproductive issues
- Thyroid condition
- Low bone density
- Problems managing weight
- Mood disturbance
- Difficulty concentrating, poor memory
Restoring adrenal function
Restoring function to tired adrenals is a piece of work. The first piece is as basic as nailing down the optimal diet, a metabolic typing diet, and eliminating food allergies and intolerances. I offer both of these tests as well as the BioHealth 205 adrenal function panel. This is a saliva test which tests your cortisol levels and rhythm throughout the day (it is possible to have “normal” cortisol output, but have very sick adrenals and this is something the rhythm test will identify), 2 DHEA tests, melatonin, estriol and estradiol (estrogens), and testosterone levels. The results of this test convey valuable information related to the level of function of your adrenals and from this, an advisor can determine the right protocol to help you whip those adrenals back into shape.
Lifestyle is an important factor in restoring adrenal function.The world we live in now is quite different than the world even 50 years ago. Technology can be a double edged sword. I love Facebook as much as the next person, but it can be a time suck that distracts us from more important things such as sleep, face to face time with our friends and family, preparing healthy meals and taking a walk outside in the fresh air.
Getting 6-8 hours of sleep every night, eating the right diet, drinking enough clean water, moving your body daily, and using stres reduction techniques are all part of an adrenal repair protocol. If you think that your adrenals are fatigued (or if you are just curious), take this free adrenal function questionnaire (close to bottom of page).