If you always feel tense or anxious, your body remains in a constant state of heightened arousal. Constantly overproducing cortisol and adrenalin day after day because of ongoing stress, multi-tasking, skipping meals, excessive calorie restriction, insufficient carbohydrate intake, overconsumption of protein, lack of sleep or too much coffee will lead to adrenal gland burnout. In this state, your adrenal glands simply can’t keep up with the constant stimulation and outrageous demands for adrenalin and cortisol production, so they simply shut down.
When your adrenal glands go on strike, cortisol and adrenaline levels plummet, which can result in many or all of the following symptoms:
• chronic fatigue or lethargy (difficulty getting up in the morning, even after sufficient hours of sleep) • sleep difficulties
• difficulty concentrating or remembering (brain fog)
• weakened immunity or inflammation
• need for coffee or stimulants to get going in the morning
• feeling better suddenly for a brief period after a meal
• cravings for salty, fatty and high-protein foods such as chips, meat and cheese
• intolerance for exercise—you may feel worse rather than better after your workouts
• low blood pressure and blood sugar
• light-headedness (including dizziness and fainting) when rising from a sitting or lying down position
A common clinical problem with underactive adrenal glands is hypoglycemia—or low blood sugar—especially between meals or while sleeping. When your body is healthy, it releases hormones, including cortisol, to liberate glucose to maintain the functions of our brain, organs and cells when blood sugar levels decline between meals or overnight during sleep. When cortisol is depleted, however, glucose levels tend to become too low. Ultimately, this causes light-headedness, shakiness and irritability typically associated with low blood sugar. It also explains why people with low blood sugar commonly wake up during the night. (If this describes your sleep pattern, protein before bed will certainly help.)
The take-home message is clear: endurance exercise, if the sessions are too long, increases the amount of time your body is under physical stress, and combining strength training with endurance training, especially if the latter is completed first, is known to increase cortisol.
But what if high-intensity exercise is your jam? If you have adrenal gland fatigue, you should not do any other types of exercise besides strength training (that is, exercise that does not involve balancing exercises or jumping, but focuses only on strengthening large muscle groups, to avoid placing more stress on your nervous system). Cardio of any kind should be avoided completely. Yoga is a must for its strength-restoring and hormone-recouping benefits—and can replace the weights, too, if that’s your preference.
Eventually, as your adrenal glands restore (as will be seen if you monitor symptoms, as well as through blood cortisol testing and orthostatic blood pressure testing—when you are healthy, your BP will increase when you move from a lying-down to a standing position), you won’t need to keep avoiding high-intensity exercise.
Why the lengthy discussion about your internal responses to stress? Constant stimulation of your nervous system via the hypothalamus gland, either through your thoughts, your five senses or your workouts, is the major cause of cortisol imbalance. So, taking active steps to beat stress and calm your nervous system is essential for staying strong and living younger longer.
So many side effects of stress conspire to make you flabby as high cortisol impacts your appetite, metabolism and body composition in the following nasty ways:
• Cortisol depresses your metabolic rate by interfering with thyroid hormone.
• It fuels your desire for fatty foods and carbohydrates.
• It boosts abdominal fat storage.
• It depletes your happy hormone—serotonin—causing depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, memory changes and more carbohydrate cravings.
• It can cause blood sugar imbalance, resulting in hypoglycemia and symptoms of shakiness, irritability, fatigue and headaches between meals.
• It causes you to eat more than you need to by stimulating the appetite-boosting stress hormone neuropeptide Y (NPY) and blocking appetite-suppressing leptin.
• It saps testosterone, which can result in languishing libido and a host of serious health risks, as well as muscle loss, in both men and women.
• It eats away muscle and slows the repair of metabolically active muscle cells.
• Cortisol excess leads to sleep disruption, a known cause of weight gain.
• Cortisol blunts the growth hormone that helps build metabolically active muscle, aids tissue rejuvenation and slows the effects of aging.
• Cortisol and NPY both decrease cellular sensitivity to insulin, resulting in elevated insulin levels, insulin resistance and accumulation of abdominal fat.
Through a complicated network of hormonal interactions, prolonged stress results in a raging appetite, metabolic decline, loads of belly fat and a loss of hard-won, metabolically active muscle tissue. In other words, stress makes us soft, saggy, flabby and much older than we truly are. An adrenal repair supplement that combines Adrenal Cortex, Licorice, B Complex, and Zinc is helpful during times of adrenal fatigue. Try Clear Adrenal Cortex taking one capsule once or twice a day.