Adrenal Fatigue, Metabolic Syndrome and Weight Gain – Are They Linked?
If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, you could likely be feeling a general lack of energy, tiredness and maybe even some feelings of sadness or depression.
People who are suffering from adrenal fatigue tend to rely on coffee, soda, and other stimulants to keep them going throughout the day. However, this is not going to treat the problem and often leads to caffeine and sugar crashes, making the loss of energy more acute.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a term often applied to explain a variety of non-specific symptoms such as nervousness, body aches, fatigue, trouble falling asleep, craving sugars and caffeine, and even digestive problems.
Although the term is widely used in alternative medicine, adrenal fatigue is not currently recognized as a medical condition. (1) Still, its proponents claim it is a legitimate condition and deserves attention and addressing through a wide range of treatment options.
Amongst believers of the condition, the adrenal fatigue condition is linked to the normal functioning of the adrenal glands. It is therefore necessary to know more about the adrenal glands and how they each function in order to understand adrenal fatigue.
What Are The Adrenal Glands?
The word ‘adrenal’ comes from the Latin ‘ad renes’, which means near the kidney. The adrenal glands sit just above the kidneys and play a large role in the function of your kidneys.
There is one adrenal gland above each kidney, and although you might assume they are symmetrical, this is not true. The adrenal gland on the left is shaped like a half moon while the adrenal kidney on the right is triangular shaped.
Each of the adrenal glands is yellowish in color and is about two and a half inches long and one inch wide. The adrenal gland is divided into three distinct layers, with each layer being responsible for different functions.
Each adrenal gland is surrounded by a protective layer of fat that is called the capsule. The primary function of the capsule is to enclose and protect each of the adrenals.
While the capsule is not technically a part of the adrenal gland itself, it plays an important role in keeping the adrenal glands functioning properly.
The cortex is primarily responsible for producing DHEA and other sex hormones. The middle layer of the cortex is the zona fasciculate and controls the levels of corticosteroid in your body. Cortisol is responsible for our sleep and wake cycles, regulating blood pressure and suppressing inflammation.
The medulla is the part of the gland that is responsible for managing our responses to stress. The medulla secretes epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which all affect the fight or flight response. (2)
Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue
Many people experience the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, yet the medical community says that these symptoms may actually be related to other underlying health conditions.
Here are some of the most common symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue.
1. Metabolic Syndrome
It is believed that many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue match those of metabolic syndrome. In fact, if you have one of these two conditions, it is likely that you are going to develop the other.
A person with metabolic syndrome, for instance, could develop adrenal fatigue as the pancreas becomes overworked with the cycle of sugar spikes and insulin drops. In this situation, it is believed that the individual could develop type 2 diabetes. (3)
2. Unexplained Weight Loss
It is also believed that when the adrenal gland is not functioning correctly, this situation can result in excessive or prolonged catabolism.
This means that muscle tissue, as well as essential fat deposits throughout the body, can become depleted. This results in the body entering a negative energy state, and the gradual loss of weight particularly with the reduction of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat.
This symptom is one of the later stages of adrenal fatigue. (4)
3. Lethargy After Eating
If you are finding yourself ready for a nap two hours after every meal, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, this could be a sign that your adrenal glands are fatigued.
When you are eating a diet that is high in carbohydrates, you are more likely to experience a crash shortly after your meals, feel less mental clarity, and experience a significant drop in energy. This is because carbohydrates cause a rise in insulin, which leads to your blood sugar levels falling. (5)
4. Overuse of Stimulants
Many people have to rely on coffee to get them through their day. Although moderate caffeine consumption is deemed safe, relying on your next dose of caffeine or sugar to boost your energy levels may be a sign that something is not right with your adrenal glands.
Over time, stimulants lose their effectiveness and the amount of coffee or sugar you need in a day is going to steadily increase, leading to more hormonal dysregulation. (6)
5. Cravings for Salty Food
The cortex of the adrenal gland is responsible for producing aldosterone which is what regulates the mineral excretion of the kidneys. As the adrenal glands become fatigued, the number of minerals that are being excreted increases.
This leads to both increased urination and a craving for junk foods that are high in sodium. These foods are meant to replace the sodium, potassium, and magnesium that are lost through the kidneys, but always bear in mind that there are always healthier options available. (7)
Effects of Adrenal Fatigue
If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue you will find that there are numerous effects on your body. Here are some of them:
1. Sleep Disruptions
Cortisol naturally rises and falls throughout the day and this is what dictates our sleep and wake cycles. However, both high and low levels of nighttime cortisol can lead to disrupted sleep.
In the early stages of sleep disturbances, there is usually a lot of stress that causes a surge in adrenal hormones, which disrupts the sleep and wake cycles.
Once the adrenal glands become fatigued from producing the additional cortisol, it could lead to low fasting blood sugar levels. (8)
2. Constant, Extreme Tiredness
While aging is a factor in feeling as though your energy supplies are lower than they used to be, you shouldn’t find yourself without energy on a constant basis.
When you have been suffering from adrenal fatigue for a long time, your adrenals become depleted and cannot produce the hormones your body relies on to keep you moving throughout the day. (9)
3. Inability to Manage Normal Stressors
When your adrenal glands are not functioning correctly, the “fight or flight” system in your body stays on permanently. This means that the adrenal glands are constantly producing adrenaline and cortisol at high amounts.
This is going to leave you feeling nervous, irritable, and more heavily affected by minor stressors that would not usually have a negative effect. While you are likely to overreact to some minor stressors, you might also find that you are underreacting to significant stressors.
In short, the adrenal gland can no longer be relied on to produce the correct amounts of hormones to help you deal with situations. (10)
4. Weakened Immune System
If you have been suffering from adrenal fatigue for an extended period, your immune system is not going to work the way it should.
When cortisol levels are elevated, the body’s response to inflammation works overtime and leaves your immune system in a weakened state. However, when cortisol levels are too low, your immune system becomes sensitive to pathogens which can lead to chronic inflammation as well as respiratory and autoimmune diseases. (11)
5. Fat Storage in the Midsection
An expanded waistline is another common symptom of adrenal fatigue that is often missed.
When we begin to feel hungry, our blood pressure drops and this sends a signal to the adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for activating glucose, which keeps our body energized until we eat. When we are experiencing extended periods of stress, the cortisol and glucose levels in the blood remain elevated, and this extra glucose is then stored as fat, primarily in the abdomen. (12)
How to Treat Adrenal Fatigue Naturally
If you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, there are many things that you can do to help your adrenal glands function normally, without requiring the use of medications.
There are many lifestyle changes you can make that will help your adrenal gland return to its normal function and allow you to lead a healthier, happier life.
1. Manage Your Screen Time
Getting enough sleep is a huge part of managing your adrenal gland.
Screens and electronics have a huge impact on your sleep, however, there are a few things you can do to help encourage a healthy use of screen time.
The first thing that is recommended is to remove the TV from your bedroom. When you can watch anything you want to watch, whenever you want, you are more likely to give into the temptation to curl up in bed and watch “just one more episode.”
Another recommendation is to switch off all your electronic devices thirty minutes before you go to bed and leave them off until morning. Using screens before bedtime can have a negative effect on the production of melatonin which is essential in maintaining your circadian rhythm. (13)
2. Make Changes to Your Diet
The foods that make up your diet have the largest impact on your adrenal function. Junk foods slow down your metabolism, while healthy foods can repair and stimulate the metabolism.
When you create an adrenal-supportive meal plan, you are going to encourage your adrenal glands to repair themselves and avoid making adrenal fatigue worse. The first thing you need to do is identify the foods that you are sensitive or intolerant to and eliminate those from your diet. This includes caffeine, sugar, and heavily processed foods.
Once you have eliminated the foods that have a negative effect on the adrenal glands, you are going to want to introduce foods that promote healing. These foods include organ meats, fruits and vegetables that are low in sugar, nuts and seeds, and whole, sprouted grains. Finally, you are going to want to ensure that you are drinking enough water and keeping your body hydrated. (14)
3. Eat the Right Foods Before Bed
Getting enough sleep is a key element to managing your adrenal gland function. Some of the foods that are good for before bed include cherries, which are high in melatonin, and bananas which are high in both potassium and magnesium which work together to create a natural muscle relaxant.
Warm milk and turkey are also both great choices as they contain an amino acid called tryptophan. In contrast, some things such as alcohol, coffee, chocolate, and spicy foods are best avoided in the hours leading up to bedtime. (15)
4. Create a Nightly Routine
When you are trying to train your brain to sleep well, it is important to establish a routine both before bed and in the morning.
First, you should decide what your pre-bedtime routine is going to consist of. This can be anything from a hot bath, reading a book, or simply brushing your teeth. The goal is that your body comes to recognize these actions as what happens before you go to sleep. In addition to having a routine to get ready for bed, it is important to commit to a regular bedtime.
Having a regular bedtime will help to train your brain and hormone cycles to shut off at a specific time each night. Just as going to bed at the same time each day is important, it is also important to wake up at the same time each day.
To make getting up easier, it is recommended that you set your alarm about thirty minutes before you must get out of bed. Starting your day in this relaxed fashion will help you decrease your stress throughout the day. (16)
5. Get Enough Sleep
While you are setting up your bedtime routine, it is important to think about how much sleep you are going to be getting in a night.
Many people believe that they can function well on just a couple of hours of sleep a night, but the truth is, that is not enough. It’s important to ensure that you are getting at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to have your body functioning at its best. (17)
6. Supplement with Vitamins and Minerals
When you are suffering from adrenal fatigue, your body is going to be short on many of the vitamins, and minerals that the body relies on to function optimally.
Some of the supplements that are commonly used to treat adrenal fatigue include B-Complex supplements, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Omega 3, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, CoQ10, and D-Ribose. These supplements are said to help naturally boost your energy levels and encourage your adrenal levels to normalize. (18)
While the debate continues on whether or not adrenal fatigue is a true medical condition, there is no question that the body will reap the benefits from healthy lifestyle changes such as reducing stress levels, getting enough sleep, and eating the proper, nutritious foods.
Also remember, that the symptoms attributed to adrenal fatigue may, in fact, represent other more serious health issues.
It is best to seek a medical professional for advice and diagnosis before jumping to conclusions or introducing any changes in your health and wellness regimen.