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Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal hormone imbalances are one of the most overlooked areas in weight loss. Adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress is very common problem but few people look at this imbalance having reached a weight loss plateau.

When a person sets out to lose weight they typically focus solely on diet and exercise. Although obviously important, diet and exercise are only two pieces of the equation for fat loss.

The truth of the matter is they’re really just means of creating the necessary hormonal balances for fat loss to occur. I’ve said it time and time again that fat loss is 100% a hormonal game. You can cut calories all you want and do cardio until you drop, but unless your hormonal balances are in line for fat loss, you can forget about losing weight.

What Causes Adrenal Fatigue…

Adrenal Fatigue is a common condition that can develop from a variety of factors associated with chronic stress. Your body undergoes stress from both physiological and psychological factors. The following list represents the most common sources of chronic stress.

  • Anger, fear, worry, anxiety, depression, guilt
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Infections (chronic/acute)
  • Poor diet
  • Food allergies
  • Traumas (mental/emotional/physical)
  • Surgery
  • Whiplash
  • Inflammation
  • Toxic exposures
  • Late hours- working excessively

Why Should Chronic Stress Concern You?

Chronic stress can cause the breakdown of the body’s hormone, immune, digestive, and detoxification systems. All of which are very important in relation to weight loss, not to mention overall health.

Chronic stress that leads to adrenal dysfunction is commonly associated with the following symptoms.

  • Excessive fatigue, low energy levels
  • Difficulty falling asleep- insomnia
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Low blood sugar
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Premenstrual tension
  • Sweet cravings
  • Headaches
  • Poor resistance to infections
  • Common colds and illness
  • Diminished sex drive- libido

Specifically chronic stress will have an effect on the following components which we’ll talk about in detail:

Thyroid Function
Liver Function
Digestion
Immunity/Allergies
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Reproductive Function
Sleep Difficulties
Exercise

Stress (regardless of the source) triggers the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol and adrenaline, which are the primary adrenal hormones. The problem comes when your body undergoes too much stress resulting in overproduction of the adrenal hormones (followed by diminished production) or “adrenal fatigue.”

Thyroid Function
The thyroid produces hormones which serve to regulate your metabolism. During periods of rest your metabolism is controlled by the thyroid hormones, but during times of stress your metabolism is being controlled by the hormones produced by your adrenal glands.

Elevated levels of cortisol (due to chronic stress of any nature) will interfere with the production of your thyroid hormones. When thyroid hormone production goes down you’ll experience symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, cold hands and feet, etc.

Unfortunately, when thyroid levels are low the typical response by many physicians is to simply prescribe thyroid medications to increase these hormones. The problem with this strategy is it fails to address adrenal imbalances, which likely contributed to the decrease in thyroid production. That’s why it’s important that you work with a physician who will take the necessary time to evaluate your entire endocrine system. I’ll share with you some local referrals here in Charleston at the end of this article.

Liver Function
The liver is the main detoxifying organ in your body and one of its primary functions is to turn harmful fat-soluble toxins into less harmful water-soluble toxins -which can then be later excreted. When liver function becomes impaired due to a poor diet, excess toxins, etc, you’ll become more susceptible to fatigue, headaches, allergies, acne, and of course weight gain.

Elevated cortisol levels will interfere with normal liver function by disturbing the detoxifying process. It does this by literally unwrapping the toxins that have been packaged for elimination and throws them back into your bloodstream.

The negative effects you feel from your liver not functioning properly are a result of the toxins that are circulating in your bloodstream. These additional toxins will cause “auto-intoxication”, meaning your body is continually self-poisoning itself. When you overload your liver there’s little chance you’ll be able to lose weight effectively.

Digestive Function
Bloating, gas, indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux and other irritable bowel problems can often be linked back to stress and cortisol. The reason is elevated cortisol levels erode the intestinal lining of your digestive tract. Cortisol when produced in excess begins to irritate and inflame your intestinal lining, which can ultimately lead to ulcerations in your digestive tract. These ulcerations make it easier for undigested food particles to leak across your intestinal lining and into your blood stream. When this happens, it makes your body more susceptible to food allergies, yeast overgrowth, candida, and other digestive issues.

Reproductive Function
Many women over the age of 30 with chronic stress undergo decreased levels of progesterone, which is associated with fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, and decreased libido. The problem is pregnenolone (the precursor to progesterone) will often be “stolen” by your adrenal system. If your adrenals are frequently “stealing” this hormone to make excess cortisol, you’ll have a decrease in the production of DHEA, estrogen and testosterone.

DHEA is called the anti-aging hormone because it is known to increase lean muscle tissue, burn stored body fat, balance blood sugar, improve memory, and support immune function.

Women should also be mindful that as menopause approaches the ovaries stop producing hormones. It’s then up to the adrenals to produce all the estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and DHEA. However, if the adrenals are exhausted there’s little chance they’ll be able keep up at the same pace as the ovaries once did.

Immune/Allergy Function
It is well known that the more stress we place on ourselves, the weaker our immune system becomes. Working long hours, not getting enough sleep, and a poor diet is a perfect recipe for getting sick. When cortisol levels are raised, it begins to reduce the number of antibodies fighting to protect your cells from free radicals, viruses, and bacteria. As the number of antibodies goes down due to stress your immune system becomes more and more susceptible.

Blood Sugar Imbalances
Cortisol affects your ability to regulate blood sugar for two reasons.

  1. Elevated levels of cortisol will make your cells more resistant to insulin. This means your body will have to produce more insulin to stabilize blood sugar. This is a major reason for the increase of insulin resistance. When your cells become resistant to insulin, the pancreas now has to make more insulin. The end result is all that extra insulin triggers your body to store fat.
  2. Cortisol also functions to raise your blood sugar when it is dropping. If your adrenals are overworked and exhausted they can reach a point where they’re unable to make enough cortisol to stabilize blood sugar levels.

Sleep Difficulties
Sleep is when the body releases most of its growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone that work to repair and regenerate the body. There are two classic problems associated with sleep, both are stress-related.

  1. The inability to fall asleep. This is a sign that your body is in the ‘fight or flight’ mode. Your adrenaline and cortisol levels are too HIGH keeping you alert and awake when you should be sleeping.
  2. You fall asleep quickly, but wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. This is a sign that your cortisol levels are too LOW, due to depleted or exhausted adrenal function. The reason you awaken in the middle of the night is because instead of releasing cortisol to raise your blood sugar the adrenals are releasing adrenaline which acts as a brain stimulant.

Exercise
The benefits of resistance training really come when we sleep and rest. The training part is where we literally tear down the muscle. It’s with sleep and rest when the actual rebuilding process of muscle takes place.

One of the classic problems from people struggling with too much stress and adrenal fatigue is that they can’t add or develop new muscle- even though they are working out diligently. Remember cortisol interferes with the release of growth hormone (HGH), testosterone and insulin growth factor (IGF-1) which are the major building blocks involved in lean muscle development. Elevated cortisol will have a negative effect by interfering with the release of these hormones.

Stages Of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue progresses in three stages. Stage I is distinguished by an increase in cortisol production along with an increased probability of decreased DHEA. The chronic stress which brings about Stage I adrenal fatigue causes, pregnenolone -the precursor to cortisol and DHEA to be preferentially diverted to cortisol production instead of the sex hormones. Decreased libido is a common symptom with Stage I adrenal fatigue.

Stage II adrenal fatigue is marked by the transition from increased to decreased cortisol output. This stage is characterized by normal total cortisol output with signs of low morning, noon or afternoon cortisol levels. There continues to be an increased probability of pregnenolone steal and a further decrease in DHEA.

Stage III adrenal fatigue is an advanced stage characterized by decreased total cortisol output. The adrenal glands are now pretty much completely exhausted to the point that they lose their capacity and reserve to produce enough cortisol. The eventual result is a crash of several hormonal systems.

Evaluation For Adrenal Fatigue
As a starting point you can take a quick Stress Test Evaluation for Adrenal Stress Index (ASI). This form will help you assess the probability of adrenal fatigue.

Testing Adrenal Function
There are a few simple blood or saliva tests that can be used to assess adrenal function. If you experience signs of adrenal fatigue consult with your physician. Listed below are two local Charleston physicians that specialize in hormonal testing.

Dr. Craig Koniver- Primary Plus Medicine

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston Personal Trainer, speaker, fat loss expert, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He is available for thoughtful and candid interviews on the hormonal connection to fat loss and fitness. You can register for a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston Personal Training Programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Hormones & Health.