7 Steps to Improve Your Adrenal Function
Friday, October 13, 2017
LifeTime WeightLoss in Anika Christ, adrenal fatigue, adrenal stress, cortisol

I’ll never forget that period of my life. I was 24 and I had just transitioned from working 70 hours a week at a club in Arizona to a 9 to 5 job in the corporate office as a dietitian. I was experiencing very disrupted sleep, low energy (all day) and sugar cravings (all the time). And for the first time in my life, I had gained weight in my midsection. Let me tell you, women know their body type. I never had a stomach before — I was always lean and had abs — so I knew something was off.

Ironically at the same time, our company launched lab testing (assessments members can purchase to understand their metabolism better). Because I would be one of the few dietitians to interpret lab data and offer personalized protocols, I was able to go through the entire experience as a member would.

One of the tests I completed was our four-point cortisol test. If you’re not familiar with cortisol, it’s known as your stress hormone and it’s produced by your adrenals, which are two small glands that reside above your kidneys. Not only does cortisol help with your body’s response to stress, it’s also involved in metabolism.

After reviewing my labs, the naturopath who worked with us at the time said, "What’s going on with you? You are 24 years old. You're too young to have such disrupted cortisol levels." He proceeded to tell me that I had really low cortisol levels. Generally, cortisol rises and falls with the sun. An individual usually has higher cortisol in the morning and gradually decreased cortisol throughout the day. But mine was low and flat all day long.

When your cortisol is consistently low all day, you start to see what many people refer to as adrenal fatigue. Because cortisol increases your blood sugar and your energy, low cortisol can lead to low energy and blood sugar, which leads to craving sugar all day. That’s why no matter what time it was or what I did, I had almost no energy — and why I was having those sugar cravings. It’s also why when people are stressed, they’ll have specific cravings. 

Whether or not you buy into adrenal fatigue, if you have low (or high) cortisol you’ll definitely feel it. Here’s a list of symptoms you might be experiencing1,2:

As dietitians reading lab work at Life Time, many times we don’t know why a client has low cortisol. Some would say it’s caused by too much stress, and an MD might say there’s inflammation going on. For me, in retrospect, although I loved what I did — and I still do — I experienced a big transition in my work schedule. Even before my 70-hour work week, while working on my degree in dietetics and my dietetic internship, I was in school full-time and worked full-time. For years, I had been used to long days and little sleep — and I kind of thrived off of it. 

But at some point, my body must have gotten stressed which led to the symptoms I was having, like fatigue, sugar cravings and a little extra around my midsection. It was frustrating to be in my early 20s, doing everything “right” with my eating and training, yet still dealing with weight gain.

I can now look back and am grateful to have had the opportunity — at such a young age — to have my eyes opened to this type of metabolic disruptor, and to get accurate testing and solid advice about what to do to heal and improve my cortisol levels. It’s something I’ve taken into account over the last seven years when transitioning into new roles at work and motherhood. Life tends to continue to create stressors which can hamper our health. But if you learn how your body responds to stress and find healthy ways to cope, you can absolutely turn it around. Take it from me: healing your adrenals is not an overnight fix —  it takes a while. 

Since that time, I’ve interpreted almost 2,000 lab reviews for our members. I know it’s been incredibly supportive for them to know that even though I’m a dietitian (who’s perceived as always getting the eating part right), I too, have dealt with such an imbalance. 

The first step for most was being given the reassurance through lab data that something "was up" and that it wasn’t just in their head, or their inability to track calories perfectly. Some of my clients went through the four-point cortisol test (as I did), and others completed an even more comprehensive blood test. No matter which test, or what the results, each individual was — and still is — given their own unique protocol based on their metabolic challenges and current lifestyle.

I will tell you at this point in my life I feel amazing; I sleep well, eat well, and feel toned and lean again. Also, as with any other challenge in life, I’ve learned a ton, and I want to share the steps I took to improve my adrenal function with you.

 

7 STEPS TO IMPROVE ADRENAL FUNCTION

1. Get Labwork Done  

Do this first, because that’ll give you a place to start. Adrenal function can vary from person to person, and although my cortisol was low throughout the day, other individuals may have high levels or peaks at certain points in the day. Looking into food sensitivities is also a good plan.

2. Make Sleep a Priority

I was lucky enough to have a boss who helped to change my schedule so it was more conducive for sleep, and for a while I got 10 hours of sleep a night. I knew it was important and one of the first steps I took to heal. I also took melatonin to help with sleep.

3. Focus on Low-Intensity and Restorative Exercise 

Prior to learning about my low cortisol, I was doing high-intensity boot camp 4 days a week. I learned high intensity workouts could exacerbate low cortisol and it may have been increasing my sugar cravings. Instead, I would go on a bike for 20 minutes at the club and I did more yoga. I forgave myself for not working out hard and just let my body heal.

4. Increase Protein and Fat

I went on a 40/40/20 diet where I consumed 40% protein, 40% fat and 20% carbs. My focus wasn’t on losing weight; it was on feeling better. But because every body is different, I suggest talking to a dietitian about what your individual intake should be. Email us at lifetimeweightloss@lt.life if you’re interested in getting an individual assessment.  

5. Supplement Right

I always tell people every cell in your body has a foundation of an omega-3, so make sure to take an omega and get in good sources through your diet, like fatty fish. I’d focus there first so the cells can take in the nutrition you need to heal. Because it’s hard to get in enough protein with food sources, I used our Vegan Protein All-in-One. It has 30 grams of protein, plus added vitamins, minerals and a probiotic. And it’s great for an individual who might have dairy sensitivities. I also took Adrenal Complex (it’s a multi for your adrenals) and melatonin to help with sleep.  

6. Cut Out Caffeine  

Although some days you may feel like this is the only thing keeping you going, it will only stress your body even more. Work on drinking more water. Long term, you’ll feel so much better. If you have trouble getting in enough, try adding lemon or frozen fruit, or drinking mineral water. 

7. Manage Stress

You’ve probably heard it before, but try meditation and yoga. Even if you don’t feel stressed, your body may be, and these tools can be extremely helpful — and they have the research to back them up. Research has also shown that acupuncture may help with cortisol levels.  

If you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms I listed above and you’re interested in finding out more about our lab testing options, reach out to us at lifetimeweightloss@lt.life. We’re here to help!

 

In health, Anika Christ – Director – Digital Programming & Events – Life Time Weight Loss 

 

References: 
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730359/
2. https://3cw7s82ga3g81v96yh9wfdht-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/myZone_SimpleSheet_Zone4_LLCO170385.pdf

 

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

 

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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