Adrenal syndrome – is stress making you fat?
Adrenaline is good…it makes you get up and go, run when you are threatened, find that spurt when the pressure is on. It is a survival hormone and we all need it. But what happens when we live a life which
puts us on a constant stream of adrenaline? In short, we get tired and fat! We met with Harley Street nutritionist, Hayley Pedrick to understand why. Here’s what we learnt:
The adrenals, two small almond-shaped glands located above the kidneys, produce adrenaline, as well as other important hormones including cortisol.Cortisol is often referred to as our“get up and go” hormone, providing us with the drive to get things done. It helps us wake up and then provides a support structure for our energy balance throughout the day. From high levels on waking, cortisol dips gentlyaround11.00am (that’s why we reach for our mid-morning coffee), peaks againaroundmiddayand then dips in the afternoon between 2.00pm - 5.00pm. It rises a little again around6.00pm, to get you through the early evening but then sensibly tapers away, preparing our bodies for sleep. Simply put, good cortisol balance helps usget through the day.
But modern life is not about balance. We live in a 24/7 world, with neon lights and caffeine keeping us awake; constant demands of career, kids, parents, house, husband, and every other demand which knocks on your mental door. Too many women today are running around faster than ever and getting fatter with every step. Why?
In short, too many stressors, can over-stimulate your adrenal glands, heightening your cortisol levels as you “fight” for survival. Excessive levels of cortisol promote the degradation of muscle tissue, which Pedrick describes as our, “metabolic tissue needed in optimal amounts to burn fat”. It also promotes consistent release of sugar stores from your liver, which in turn provokes an insulin response, making you more likely to store excess calories as fat.
If you have the following symptoms, it is highly possible you have overtaxed your adrenals and they are screaming out for help:
Tired when you wake – pushing back that duvet feels like hell
Needing coffee to get going in the morning and keep going throughout the day
Waking up in the early hours of the morning, typically between 2am - 4am
Low mood – crying seems more normal than laughing
Low sex drive – you dread the words ‘fancy an early night’ and don rollers and winceyette in an attempt to put him off
Constant colds and bugs
Weight gain – especially around the abdomen making you look like a tired apple.
So what do you do?
First focus on the things you can control, then get expert help.
Step One: Lifestyle – the SEA formula level 1
Sleep:First make sure your body gets rest. Sleep is not for the lazy, it is for life. Seven to eight hours a night is optimal for your adrenals. Pedrick notes that it is important to get the ‘four golden hours’ as often as you can – sleeping between 10.00 p.m. and 2.00 a.m. (See our upcoming blog on the importance of sleep for mental wellbeing). If you have trouble sleeping then look into mindfulness [See our upcoming blog on mindfulness for control].
Eat: Skipping meals might reduce calories but it also stresses your adrenals. “You need energy to go about your daily life and if you don’t put the fuel in through food, the adrenals produce cortisol which enables to access energy from your reserves”, Pedrick explains.The advice? “Aim to eat three meals a day, balanced with protein and plenty of fresh vegetables. Then add in two small snacks such as humus and cruditésor, oatcakes and nut butter. This will prevent overstimulation of the adrenal glands. It’s also worth knowing that cortisol increases appetite and may also increase motivation to eat in general. So eat to ease off the adrenal accelerator and you will lessen the likelihood of over-eating or making poor food choices later in the day when your willpower is at its lowest ebb”.
Avoid: Cut out the following to support your adrenals and promote healthy fat loss: Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, smoking, refined or processed foods. Read the labels and where you can, eat fresh only. Likewise you need to manage your energy levels to avoid toxic burn-out. Be assertive and create time for yourself every day – 30 minutes of reading, walking, relaxation, mindfulness or just chatting with a friend will pay dividends.
Step Two: Get help – the SEA formula level 2
Some of us have lived with adrenal stress for years before we realise what is going on. By that time the stress has become a habit and we need additional support to turn things around. You need someone who will spend time understanding your lifestyle, personality, pressures and goals. A good nutritionist will put together a support programme which is linked to your lifestyle and unique symptoms. The nutritionist will look at your symptoms and stresses and create a personalised programme to move you towards adrenal balance. This will include all of the lifestyle changes outlined above but will add:
Supplements: Therapeutic doses of magnesium, Vitamin C and certain Bvitamins, all of which support adrenal function. If you are on medication, it is important that you discuss your program with you GPto ensure there is no adverse interaction between your meds and these supplements.
Eating plans: An eating plan designed to ensure you are getting sufficient nutrition and balance of foods to support you lifestyle and your adrenals. Diets can be devised to fit your life, your preferences and any intolerances.
Adaptogenic herbs: Adding herbs such as rhodiola (for burn-out), withania or rehmnia (to support adrenals and neurotransmitters); Siberian ginseng (for energy) will give your adrenals the additional help they need to get healthy. Again, if you are on medication or have any known health conditions, check safety of using these herbs with your GP.
So how long does it take?
Sassita, our bodies are designed to survive. Managed well they are balanced and healthy – and they work hard to keep us that way. It takes a lot of stress over an extended period to reach a state of adrenal fatigue and the road out may take weeks or months. But keep going and focus on that day when you will wake up feeling refreshed and smile – after an ‘early night’ with your partner without the winceyette!