If you’ve been experiencing unexplained weight gain (especially around the belly), stress, sluggishness, irritability, anxiety, or depression, it may be time to check your adrenals.
These could be symptoms of adrenal dysfunction and high cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is released during stress, and excess cortisol can lead to a multitude of possible health problems and symptoms. It can hinder your ability to fall asleep, lower your sex drive, and make you tired and moody.
The good news is that there is plenty you can do to lower your cortisol levels naturally. In this article we’ll look at adrenal supplements and weight gain, and give you the tools you need to combat the unwanted symptoms of high cortisol.
How Stress Affects Your Body
They say that stress is the number one killer. And they’re right! While everyone experiences stress from time to time, chronic stress is linked to six leading causes of death and 75 percent of doctor visits per year (1).
While the body does a good job of dealing with acute stress, chronic stress can lead to a variety of problems, which are detrimental to your overall well-being and health. That is because stress triggers a “fight or flight response” in the body, where your central nervous system tells your adrenal glands to release stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which increase your heart rate, spike your blood sugar level, and rush blood to your heart and brain.
While this is helpful when running away from a predator or dealing with other short-term stressors, in can be detrimental when triggered constantly by everyday stressors.
This leads to changes in behavior and sleep and eating patterns, continued pressure on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, extra production of blood sugar by the liver, and an upset digestive system. During stress, our muscles also tense up and eventually lead to pain in various areas of the body, which may cause us to exercise less and turn to pain medications.
Additionally, this can lead to weight gain. Cortisol suppresses functions that are non-essential, such as your digestive, immune, and reproductive responses. When you have more cortisol in your system, you may crave more fatty, salty, and sugary foods. The excess nervous energy also often contributes to emotional eating, causing you to eat more than you normally would. In addition, many people have trouble sleeping when they are stressed, and research has linked poor sleep to slower metabolism (2).
Common Stress-Induced Disorders
Although you might think that you’re handling the stress just fine, your body might think otherwise. Long-term stress accumulates and contributes to a variety of ailments, such as:
- High blood pressure, heart disease
- Increased risk of developing diabetes
- Body aches
- Poor sleep
- Anxiety and Depression
- Irritability, moodiness
- Obesity or other eating disorders
- Skin problems
- Hair loss
- Loss of sexual desire or ability
The adrenal glands are triangular organs on top of your kidneys. They are made up of two parts: the adrenal cortex (the outer part of the gland), which produces hormones vital to life, including cortisol; and the adrenal medulla (the inner part), which produces nonessential hormones such as adrenaline. Both help the body respond to stress as well as regulate and maintain many of your internal processes.
Signs of Adrenal Dysfunction
As we have often heard, all is good in moderation. In today’s fast-paced world, you’re under considerably more stress than ever before. When you haven’t had an opportunity to truly relax for a while, the adrenal glands produce too much of the above-mentioned hormones, and eventually, they get beat up from overuse, causing adrenal dysfunction.
With adrenal dysfunction, you can no longer respond normally to the stresses of life, and you begin to feel energy deprived, anxious, and depressed. Some symptoms of adrenal dysfunction include:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Cravings for salty and sugary foods
- Poor sleep and reliance on stimulants such as coffee or alcohol
- Low sex drive
- Muscle weakness
- Poor digestion and the accompanying abdominal pain or bloating.
Adrenal Dysfunction and Weight Gain: 5 Tips for Healthy Adrenals
Increased stress stimulates our adrenal glands to produce excessive and inadequate amounts of hormones. Cortisol, in particular, is often linked with weight fluctuation. Excess cortisol can impact blood sugar levels and thyroid function.
Since cortisol has an intricate relationship with the hormone insulin, which controls our blood sugar, when cortisol levels increase, there is an increase in blood sugar, which can lead to weight gain as well as Type 2 Diabetes.
High cortisol levels also slow down your metabolism, leaving you feeling fatigued, depressed, cold, and experiencing decreased memory and poor concentration. In addition, high cortisol levels can impair the conversion of the thyroid hormone, resulting in a low functioning thyroid, which also causes weight gain.
The Adrenal Stress Index (ASI) test can accurately assess your cortisol levels and your adrenal function in general. It tests four samples of saliva during a 24-hour period, and the samples are examined to determine your adrenal function and rhythm.
If like millions of Americans, you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, an adrenal balancing treatment plan may be just what you need to beat that sluggish feeling, shed that extra belly fat, bring down your glucose levels, and speed up your metabolism.
1. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
There are a number of foods that offer adrenal support, helping to replenish your adrenal energy. Stay away from hard to digest foods, coffee (especially after noon), which may interfere with your sleep cycle, making it harder for your adrenals to recover, sugar and sweeteners, gluten, processed foods, and hydrogenated oils (eg. canola, vegetable oils).
Include foods that are rich in probiotics, healthy fats such as from avocado and coconut oil, nuts, wild-caught fish, honey (in moderation), bone broth, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
2. Restore Your Gut Ecology
There is a clear connection between the health of your gut and your adrenal levels. When we eat bad foods, there is a stress response in the body. When we experience an infection, which leads to a leaky gut, there is a stress response as well.
This impairs the adrenals’ ability to heal. A randomized clinical trial showed that after the subjects were given a probiotic, their cortisol levels were reduced (3). Probiotics introduce billions of live good bacteria into your gut and restore your gut ecology, providing anti-inflammatory and gut-healing effects.
My probiotic formula is the most complete one on the market today with 12 of the most effective, clinically-proven probiotic strains, an organic prebiotic, and L-Glutamine to increase absorption and repair "leaky gut." It is 100% plant-based to reduce oxidation and keep more bacteria alive. I highly recommend including it in your adrenal fatigue strategy plan.
3. Use Tools That Curb Inflammation
Stress attacks our cells and activates our immune system, which can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain. Here are some other tools that can help you curb inflammation in the body:
- Turmeric (available as a supplement or spice), which works by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes.
- Fish or Krill Oil (available as soft gels or capsules), a source of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which have an anti-inflammatory effect by blocking cytokines and prostaglandins.
- Flax (available as capsules, oil, ground meal, or flour), some of the fat contained within converts to EPA and DHA, the active ingredients in the aforementioned fish oil.
- Ginger (available in capsules, extract, powder, essential oil, and tea) has strong anti-inflammatory properties and works to inhibit harmful chemicals
- Boswellia or Frankincense (available in capsules or as an essential oil) and thought to have analgesic and anti-inflammatory qualities
- Bromelain - protein-dissolving enzymes that have an anti-inflammatory effect by altering leukocyte (white blood cell) migration and activation. Bromelain is found in pineapples and is also available as a supplement.
3. Reduce Stress
It goes without saying that reducing stress is essential in repairing your adrenals. If you can reduce or eliminate the stressors, you certainly should. Sometimes small changes make a big difference.
For example, if your daily commute is stressing you out, perhaps you can try to leave home or work 15 minutes earlier or later to avoid the rush or beat the traffic, or take a longer scenic route rather than the highway, or a different form of transportation. Take 5-minute breaks during work hours, if you can, and practice deep breathing.
Additionally, make time to fully relax. Take a warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil and two-three cups of Epsom salt. Light a candle or incense. Certain scents such as lavender, rose, vetiver, and Roman chamomile are especially soothing. Keep a journal. Reduce your caffeine intake.
Spend time with friends and family. Social bonds help us release oxytocin, which is a natural stress reliever. This effect is called "tend and befriend," and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. Laugh more.
Take a break from technology. Turn off your phone, TV, and shut down the computer. Especially before bedtime, the light from screens shining into your eyes interferes with your sleep. These lights send signals to your brain that impede the production of melatonin, a chemical needed for sleep.
Blue light, in particular, is problematic. Blue light is used in places like factories to help night workers stay alert. Nowadays many phones and tablets have a blue light filter setting, which you can set for the evening hours, and try not to use technology at all for at least an hour prior to bedtime.
Stay away from fluorescent lights. Fluorescent light induces a stress response in the body. According to a research summary of CFLs’ effect on stress reactions, the spectral composition from CFL bulbs does not just suppress melatonin but directly triggers a fight or flight response in the body (4). Consider changing the lighting in your home to incandescent bulbs.
Exercise -- it is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress. Activities such as walking or jogging, which involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups, are especially stress relieving. Exercise also will help you sleep better, and as mentioned earlier, adequate sleep is paramount to adrenal support.
Additionally, consider adding meditation or deep breathing exercises to your daily routine. Deep breathing exercises can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the relaxation response. Focus your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. Starting your day with just 15 minutes or deep breathing can make a world of difference.
Tip #5 - Leisure Walks
A study out of Japan published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology in March of 2007 showed some amazing metabolic effects of walking especially when done in a natural environment (5). In this study, researchers examined the impact of walking in different environments on cortisol levels.
The participants showed a significant lowering of cortisol levels from walking in the woods versus walking in the city. If you live in a city, find a park you like, or take trips to serene natural spots, where you can go hiking and take in the beautiful scenery.
Furthermore, walking slowly and leisurely lowers your cortisol, and may be the only physical activity that does not create significant compensatory hunger reactions for most people.
How to Choose Healthy Adrenal Supplements
Unfortunately, many of the “adrenal support” supplements contain ingredients that can be unsafe or altogether harmful. They contain thyroid hormones, steroids, and/or unhealthy fillers, such as corn, wheat, soy, or GMOs, all of which can cause dangerous side effects.
As a doctor and the author of “The Blueprint to Balancing the Adrenals…,” I used my thousands of hours of clinical research to create the formula for “Relax,” a natural adrenal repair supplement that works to lower cortisol levels and helps manage stress.
It is made with organic holy basil, ZMA, magnolia bark, L-Theanine, and more -- the optimal blend of natural ingredients, each one carefully chosen to help you feel your best again, with zero additives or fillers. When taken daily it promotes restful sleep at night and calm energy throughout the day. Click here to order the product today!