Whether it's tension at work, a relationship in turmoil, caring for a sick family
member, or some other draining responsibility — we all know that when things get
tough, it can feel comforting to eat. Certainly over the long-term this quick-fix
will lead to extra pounds, but it's not the only reason stress causes us to gain
There are actual physiological changes that happen in the body during times of stress
that can predispose us to pack on more pounds than when we aren't stressed. These
changes are rooted in our adrenal glands, which govern the stress response
and many other fundamental bodily functions. When the adrenals are out of balance,
the body prepares for disaster the best way it knows how — by storing calories.
Yet if we restore the adrenals to their normal, healthy function, cravings disappear,
energy returns, and stubborn pounds fall away without too much effort.
As our lives become increasingly more demanding, let's stop and take a closer look
at how stress affects your weight so you can finally get rid of those stubborn pounds
and get back to feeling like yourself.
Our adrenal products help thousands of women
Learn more about all the products included in our
Adrenal Health Program.
The hidden ways that stress drives weight gain
We usually think that "being stressed-out" is an emotional state, but the body understands
stress quite physically. And one of the ways it physically handles stress is by
being stingy about how it uses calories, storing them primarily in the form of fat
around the abdomen.
Why we've evolved this way has a lot to do with living in the wild. If you were
being chased by a bear, your adrenals shifted instantly into fight-or-flight mode,
releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the blood. The adrenaline and cortisol helped
to give us superhuman strength and quickly mobilized energy production from carbohydrates
and fats. Once the threat was gone, our instincts led us to refuel with calorie-dense
foods that are most readily stored as fat. Under cortisol's influence, we are less
sensitive to leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full, and we eat more than we
The problem is that this sequence of events takes place whether the threat is real
or psychological. Since most of our modern-day stressors don't require fleeing or
fighting, we generally don't need all the extra calories our bodies make available.
What has also changed is that many of us exist now in a state of constant stress,
operating under elevated cortisol levels over long periods of time.
Adrenal fatigue feeds belly fat
Women with adrenal imbalance often develop a "spare tire" around the waist. This
happens for several reasons. Under normal circumstances, when we haven't eaten for
a while, our blood sugar (glucose) drops and the brain sends a message to the adrenals
to release cortisol. This cortisol mobilizes glucose, amino acids, and fat to prevent
low blood sugar and keep your brain and body fueled with energy in the absence of
food. Cortisol maintains glucose levels in the blood, while insulin helps usher
glucose into our cells.
When we have long-term stress, cortisol and insulin remain high in the blood, and
the extra glucose that isn't needed for energy gets stored in the form of fat —
primarily abdominal fat cells. Scientists have discovered that fat cells
have special stress-hormone receptors for cortisol, but that there also seem to
be more of these cortisol receptors on the fat cells in the abdomen than anywhere
else in the body!
And sadly, belly fat doesn't just "sit there" doing nothing; it's almost as if this
fat is itself an endocrine organ that reacts to the stress response, spurring still
more abdominal fat to be deposited. So the cycle continues unless we take steps
to heal the adrenal imbalance.
Steps to control high cortisol
Some of you may have read our article on
how to eat for adrenal health; everything we discuss there applies here
as well. Here are a few key points.
Eat well, and regularly. If you want to convince your
body that it's in no danger of starving to death, eat good food regularly. As explained
above, cortisol is integral to maintaining blood sugar, so it makes sense that keeping
your blood sugar as level as possible lightens the load on the adrenal glands. We
recommend you eat three balanced meals and two balanced snacks per day, spread out
across the day to work with your natural circadian rhythm.
When you eat matters too. Cortisol has a natural cycle
that complements your circadian rhythm. Normally, cortisol is highest in the early
morning and declines gradually throughout the day to help you get ready for sleep.
Because eating always bumps up cortisol, it's ideal to eat your largest meal early
in the day.
Keep healthy foods close at hand. Many women load up on
sweets and caffeine because they're so easy to get. But this habit often leads to
an even greater drop in energy. When you need a boost, make sure you choose micronutrient-rich
foods that support your adrenals, like asparagus, avocado, cabbage, garlic, ginger,
and lean protein.
Balance cortisol with phytotherapy The use of plant-based
ingredients helps reduce the negative effects of cortisol. For example, astragulus
root, rhodiola, cordyceps and passionflower are highly effective in resolving adrenal
Tip Consider supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin
mineral complex like the one we offer in our Adrenal Health Program. Adrenal expert,
Shawn Talbott, PhD, writes, "When it comes to dietary supplementation for stress
adaptation and cortisol control, the first line of defense appears in the form of
a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral supplement..."
Pacing yourself to promote healing
We live in a multitasking world where we're expected to be on-line 24/7. From cell
phones and e-mail to TiVo and Facebook, we rarely take a break. Restoring adrenal
balance means taking time for yourself and slowing down. It may seem counterintuitive:
we think being "on the go" all the time would help us to lose more weight. But if
you're tired, wired, and overweight, it's likely you will need to lower your stress
level and heal your adrenals to stop the vicious weight-gain cycle.
Did you know?
Light-headedness and salt cravings can be a sign of adrenal fatigue.
Take our quick quiz to see if
you have an adrenal imbalance and get our recommendations for your unique situation.
What do we mean by pacing yourself?
- Sleep. Many women say they get a second wind after dinner,
or that they're "born night owls." But when your circadian rhythm is turned upside
down, your cortisol cycle can follow, leaving you tired all day and wide awake all
night. You can avoid this pattern by eating less late in the day, ending all screen
time (TV, computer, cell phone) by 8 PM, and making a point of being in bed, asleep,
by 10 PM (striving for no fewer than 8 hours of sleep). If you are struggling with
sleep, our product Serinisol can help naturally reset your sleep cycle.
- Exercise wisely. If you already exercise regularly and
feel good, keep it up. But for those who are feeling exhausted all the time, try
easing up on the intensity for a few months while your adrenals are healing. And
try to keep your heart rate under 90 beats per minute. If you don't exercise, try
walking 15 minutes once or twice a day, especially after meals, outdoors if you
can. Exercise helps to reduce stress, as long as you are enjoying it, but this is
not a time to push yourself hard.
- Play. For once in your adult life, make having fun a priority!
Many of us forget just how relaxing a few hours of fun or a good laugh can be. So
today we are writing out a virtual prescription for you: "Play!"
- Breathe. Three to four deep breaths through your nose
can slow your heart rate and calm the whole body down. Find time throughout your
day to just breathe, especially when you feel stressed. Learn to recognize the signals
that you need to take a break, and get some fresh air, have a cup of herbal tea,
or simply put your feet up.
Let your body relax and release
In talking with women every day, we know how many responsibilities we have. It can
seem next to impossible to take a minute for ourselves! But we also know that weight
gain and lack of energy are serious concerns for women. For many of us, the stress
in our lives is intimately connected to our weight. Our bodies are wise — when stress
is the predominant state, your body will protect you by holding on to extra pounds.
You can coax your body away from "crisis mode" by healing your adrenals. Doing this
often means taking more time for you — including paying more attention to what you
eat, how you sleep, and how you live each day. You deserve every bit of it! And
once you replenish your energy and calm your stress response, you'll be amazed and
delighted by how the weight comes off!
1 Prentice, A., et al. 2008. Evolutionary origins of the obesity epidemic:
natural selection of thrifty genes or genetic drift following predation release?
Int. J. Obes. (Lond.), 32 (11), 1607–1610. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18852700
Speakman, J. 2008. Thrifty genes for obesity, an attractive but flawed
idea, and an alternative perspective: The “drifty gene” hypothesis. Int. J. Obes.
(Lond.), 32 (11), 1611–1617. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18852699
Speakman, J. 2007. A nonadaptive scenario explaining the genetic predisposition
to obesity: the “predation release” hypothesis. Cell Metab., 6 (1), 5–12.
URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17618852 (accessed 04.10.2009).
2 Peeke, P. 2000. Fight Fat after Forty, 31–33. NY: Viking.
3 Dallman, M., et al. 2003. Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of
“comfort food.” PNAS, 100 (20), 11696–11701. URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/100/20/11696.full
4 Margetic, S., et al. 2002. Leptin: A review of its peripheral actions
and interactions. Int. J. Obes., 26 (11), 1407–1433. URL: http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v26/n11/abs/0802142a.html
5 Talbott, S. 2002. The Cortisol Connection — Why Stress Makes You Fat
and Ruins Your Health, 25. Alameda, CA: Hunter House, Inc.
6 Wilson, J. 2001. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome,
276. Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications.
7 Peeke, P. 2000. 31–33.
8 Chakravarthy, M., & Booth, F. 2004. Eating, exercise, and “thrifty”
genotypes: Connecting the dots toward an evolutionary understanding of modern chronic
diseases. J. Appl. Physiol., 96 (1), 3–10. URL: http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/96/1/3
9 Kuo, Y., et al. 2009. Astragalus membranaceus flavonoids (AMF)
ameliorate chronic fatigue syndrome induced by food intake restriction plus forced
swimming. J. Ethnopharmmacol., 122 (1), 28-34. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19103273
Mao, X., et al. 2009. Hypoglycemic effect of polysaccharide enriched
extract of Astragalus membranaceus in diet-induced insulin resistant C57BL/6J
mice and its potential mechanism. Phytomedicine, 16 (5), 426–425. URL (abstract):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19201177 (accessed 03.10.2009).
10 Ji, D., et al. 2009. Antiaging effect of Cordyceps sinensis
extract. Phyther. Res., 23 (1), 116–122. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18803231
11 Zhou, X., et al. 2009. Cordyceps fungi: Natural products, pharmacological
functions and developmental products. J. Pharm. Pharmacol., 61(3), 279–291.
URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19222900 (accessed 02.26.2009).
Ng, T., & Wang, H. 2005. Pharmacological actions of Cordyceps, a
prized folk medicine. J. Pharm. Pharmacol., 57 (12), 1509–1519. URL (abstract):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16354395 (accessed 03.16.2009).
12 Panossian, A., et al. 2009. Adaptogens exert a stress-protective effect
by modulation of expression of molecular chaperones. Phytomedicine. [Epub
ahead of print.] URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19188053 (accessed
Liu, K., et al. 2008. Release of acetylecholine by syringin, an active
principle of Eleutherococcus senticosus, to raise insulin secretion in
Wistar rats. Neurosci Lett., 434 (2), 195–199. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18304730
13 Olsson, E., et al. 2009. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled,
parallel-group study of the standardized extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola
rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med.,
75 (2), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016404 (accessed 03.13.2009).
14 Pooja, et al. 2009. Anti-inflammatory activity of Rhodiola rosea
— “a second-generation adaptogen.” Phytother. Res. [Epub ahead of print.]
URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19152369 (accessed 03.13.2009).
15 Kim, S., et al. 2006. Antioxidative effects of Cinnamomi cassiae
and Rhodiola rosea extracts in liver of diabetic mice. Biofactors, 26
(3), 209–219. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16971752 (accessed
Kwon Y., et al. 2006. Evaluation of Rhodiola crenulata and
Rhodiola rosea for management of type II diabetes and hypertension. Asia
Pac. J. Clin. Nutr., 15 (3), 425–432. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16837437
Hays, B. 2005. Chapter 19. Hormonal imbalances: Female hormones: The dance of the
hormones. Pt. I. In Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, WA: Institute
for Functional Medicine.
adrenal symptoms today