Stress over extended periods causes the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which promotes the release of glucose and fat into blood, to be carried to the muscles where it will be used to generate energy to run from danger. In today’s society, our mostly sedentary lifestyle means there is no danger, and we are less efficient at clearing glucose, cortisol and lipids from our blood, causing abdominal weight gain in the form of visceral fat.
Adrenal glands – what do they do?
The adrenals are triangle shaped glands that sit on top of our kidneys. Their primary role is to control our body’s response to stress, as well as regulating blood pressure and metabolism. When we become stressed from:
- Excess caffeine
- Scary animal (rare)
Hypothalamus (control centre in brain) ⇒ pituitary gland ⇒ adrenals ⇒ produce adrenaline and cortisol (hormones) which ⇑ awareness and blood flow (), simultaneously ⇓ the digestive and immune systems (damn).
Cortisol causes a release of glucose and fat into the blood to allow a burst of energy to run from danger. As mentioned, there is no scary animal to run from so we stay in the flight or flight response, constantly wired.
Adrenal fatigue – what is it?
Adrenal fatigue is commonly known as HPA axis dysfunction, and occurs when the adrenal glands are placed under continuous demand and lose their ability to manage stress in the body.
Adrenal fatigue – why is it bad?
Chronic adrenal stress results in increased cortisol production (stress hormone) which in turn gives us a lovely distended abdomen over time. The rise in blood glucose stimulates the release of insulin (another hormone), which plays a role in fat storage.
Excess blood glucose ⇒ excess insulin ⇒ excess blood sugars are converted to visceral fat
This distended abdomen is composed of visceral fat that accumulates around our heart, liver and kidneys as a protective mechanism as the body thinks it is in danger and clings on to fat for potential energy. Essentially, your body is not coping with the stress and that your adrenals are heading for a burnout. Additionally, constant cortisol production can weaken the gastrointestinal (GI) tract leaving it more susceptible to inflammation and infection.
When the adrenals are in overdrive your brain is always switched on. This can effect your thought processes, attention span and ability to focus, leading to excessive thinking and an inability to switch off. When your body is constantly on the go, sleep becomes interrupted and you lose the ability to recharge your batteries, or adrenal tank so to speak. A vicious cycle of stress, insomnia, fidgeting and cravings can then ensue.
Our body loses sodium (an electrolyte) while in adrenal stress, which causes salt cravings due to dehydration. Foods such as potato chips suddenly become more attractive.
There are also knock on effects to several other hormones in your body (which I will address in another blog post), suffice to say it effects fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism and therefore our weight.
Top 5 tips to prevent Adrenal Fatigue
- Eat a nourishing breakfast – including good quality fats (avocado or flax seeds), satisfying protein (eggs or milk) and filling carbohydrates (wholegrain toast or chia pudding); this will ensure even energy throughout the morning and reduced stress.
- Monitor your caffeine intake – if you notice that you are particularly sensitive to caffeine (think fidgety or buzzing), try to limit your intake to 400mg a day.
- Good quality sleep – aim for 6-8 hours of uninterrupted each night to allow your adrenals to rest and your hormones to re-balance.
- Stress reduction – find something that works for you to lower your cortisol levels: 10 minutes of reading before bed, not using your phone for an hour from waking, 30 minute phone call to a close friend.
- Movement to use up excess blood glucose: sign up to that dancing class you’ve always wanted to do, agree to meet a friend for tennis once a week, chase a ball with the kids.
If you think you may be experiencing adrenal fatigue, you don’t have to continue on this path. Pop in for a chat and we can work out some solutions to get your mojo back.
All the best,
Madeleine (That Healthy Girl)
This blog post was written by Madeleine Baumgart and first appeared on That Healthy Girl blog Sunday 18th February, 2018
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