Because the hormones secreted by the adrenal glands have such a powerful effect on metabolism, adrenal dysfunction can have a serious impact on body weight. The adrenal glands, located on top of your kidneys, produce hormones that regulate the way your body generates energy and responds to stress. Cortisol, aldosterone, and adrenaline are three critical hormones released by the adrenal glands. In adrenal dysfunction, the glands secrete too much or too little of these hormones, interfering with your body’s ability to process nutrients, circulate blood and vital fluids, protect you from illness and infection, and react to stressful situations.
In hormonal disorders like Addison’s disease, the adrenal glands do not produce enough hormones, primarily cortisol and aldosterone. When it’s secreted into the bloodstream in adequate amounts, cortisol prompts the body to make use of its stored energy in the liver and muscles, while aldosterone controls sodium reabsorption and maintains blood volume.
Without the right metabolic cues from the adrenal hormones, the body can’t process nutrients, vitamins or minerals, and the tissues begin to waste. People with adrenal insufficiency typically have poor appetite, muscle weakness, fatigue, poor concentration, low blood pressure and weight loss.
When you’re under stress–a physical threat, illness, or just the ongoing tension of a difficult life situation–the adrenal glands react by releasing cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones orchestrate a series of responses that allow you to survive: accelerated circulation, increased release of stored energy and heightened mental alertness. Once you’ve survived the crisis, your body resumes its day-to-day functions, and your metabolism should return to normal. But, when you’re under continual stress, your body suffers from the effects of excessive secretion of adrenal hormones and the constant spikes and plunges in your energy level.
In stressful conditions, cortisol prompts the liver to release glycogen, a stored form of glucose, to give you a boost of energy. High levels of daily stress can cause your liver to release more glucose than your body needs, and the excess is converted into fat. This fat gathers around the visceral organs and in the abdomen, creating a belly bulge and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Hormones and Hunger
Overactive adrenal glands secrete too much of the vital hormones that prompt you to take in energy in the form of food. One of cortisol’s functions is to maintain stable blood sugar. When blood sugar drops, cortisol triggers a hunger response, reminding you that it’s time to eat. But when cortisol circulates constantly in the body, it can cause ongoing cravings for calorie-loaded foods like fats and sugar, which contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. In addition, the fatigue caused by energy fluctuations makes it harder to maintain a healthy diet and fitness program.
Treatment of adrenal insufficiency may include hormone replacement to restore energy and maintain a healthy weight and a therapeutic adjustment of salt intake to prevent electrolyte imbalances. The weight gain caused by adrenal fatigue can be counteracted by reducing stress and avoiding artificial stimulants that provoke the stress response. A diet based on high-energy foods like complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats will help to prevent the hunger and energy plunges caused by adrenal hormone imbalances.