This is the third in a series of hormone-exercise connection blogs. In part I, I covered cortisol and insulin. In the part II of this series, I addressed ghrelin and leptin.
In this blog I open up a bigger issue, not yet fully understood by many: adrenal fatigue. It happens when you’ve been under stress for far too long and your generator already kicked in and now that too is conking out.
Your adrenal glands produce adrenalin, DHEA, and cortisol.
Adrenalin is that hormone that helps you get through a tough situation and once it’s over there is a release of endorphins and you feel good. Have you ever said, “operating on pure adrenalin” before? You don’t know how you got through but you did?
DHEA is the precursor hormone to the sex hormones. If you have too little of it things don’t go well for estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels.
Cortisol, well, by now cortisol is an old … enemy. Yet, it does have its role. We need it to be high enough at times and not too high at others. During midlife women often find their cortisol has flip-flopped and is working and vacationing at the wrong times.
When you go through peri-menopause and you think your dropping estrogen levels are the issue you need to know balancing estrogen again will never work in isolation. Estrogen and progesterone should be about equal. When they aren’t, that in part is where the term “hormone imbalance” comes in. Then to go a step further, trying to manage estrogen and progesterone without managing cortisol also will never work.
Elevated cortisol elevates blood sugar and insulin. But, did you know, that too few carbohydrates and dieting can be a major cause of this problem?
The very thing you are doing might actually be contributing to your weight gain and belly fat. Dieting, especially low carb diets, cause your body to hold onto every calorie.
Chronic exposure to stress (and the stress hormone cortisol) kills hippocampus cells – memory central – especially when DHEA is low.
If that’s true your body doesn’t have the ability to deal with daily stresses, not in the way it should, and not even switching to generator mode it’s been operating on. Women, do this notoriously. Tired, but still the energizer bunny getting stuff done.
Do You Have These Signs of Adrenal Fatigue?
You have trouble getting going in the morning. You crash during the day. Fat builds up in your abdomen.
You’re not getting enough sleep. You’re drinking coffee or caffeine to rev up and alcohol to slow down, which wears off and wakes you at wee hours in the morning, starting it all over again.
For you it may not be alcohol (which metabolizes as sugar), but literal sugar or a fix from processed foods.
Adrenal Fatigue Quiz
- You don’t handle stress well
- Morning and afternoon fatigue
- High BP and rapid heart rate
- Abdominal fat that won’t go away no matter what you do
- Brain fog
- Low libido
- Cravings for sweets or salt
- Low blood sugar under stress
- Dizziness when getting up
- Signs of premature aging
Just going home and relaxing doesn’t work. Passive is not the goal here. You actively engage in stressful events. You then have to actively engage in unloading stress and making yourself resilient.
Meditation can work. Yoga. Walks outdoors. Time with a pet or doing a hobby that makes you lose all track of time.
You only have to do stress-healing activities on the days you want to repair the damage you’ve already done (and there is some).
Yes, that was sarcasm.
Cortisol levels can be too high… you feel wired and anxious. Wired-and-tired would describe you if you try to get to sleep and can’t or wake frequently during the night or much too early to get up.
Cortisol levels can also be too low… you’re exhausted, and foggy with no mojo.
Guess what? You can have both. With many of the women I start working with initially this too high at night and too low during the day is exactly what happens. You’re putting on weight and want exercise to get it off.
You can’t get a solid night’s sleep and then hopes of getting that exercise in the morning to work on belly fat are gone when you’re exhausted in the morning. The afternoon is a struggle. It’s not a lack of discipline or motivation. It’s essentially not your fault at this point. You are trying to fix the problem with the wrong tool. Exercise is a part of the equation, but not in the way you think. The right timing and the right type of exercise will help. It’s not about more exercise. It’s about creating the situation so that you can get started and do the right exercise.
DHEA-S is one of those things that peaks (right along with muscle and bones in your thirties) and levels decrease steadily as you age. DHEA supplementation is easy and reports say that response is good. You do want to talk with an experienced hormone therapy health care provider in case you are at risk or have a hormone-dependent cancer. Different forms of DHEA available should be selected based on your risk.
Exercise and Adrenal Fatigue
So what is the exercise answer when you have adrenal fatigue? Rest is best. The old “energy creates energy” is true yet not the way you might think. Some very light and slow walks outdoors or a step away from the high intensity altar for a short time and instead substituting with exercise that honors what your body was whispering to you and now is screaming will help you feel better faster. You have to reset yourself, recover your energy, and then return to activities thoughtfully.
Self-care solutions are unique to you but remember they are active, not by accident. Plopping yourself down in front of a television with a tablet at night is not going to magically make you better.
Which of these do you do daily? You are exposed to stress daily. Do you have stress management daily?
- Deep breathing
- Regular relaxation exercises
- Restorative exercise: yoga, stretching, nature walks,
Why is it so important you pay attention to your adrenal health by offsetting stressors? If your adrenal glands are going on all cylinders for too long there’s a stronger chance your thyroid levels may be threatened. During times of hormonal changes everything is amplified.
More on that next blog.
How real do you think adrenal fatigue is for you?