Next Level Biohacking

Cortisol and adrenal insufficiency - the root of ill health and weight loss plateaus

Uppdaterad: 20 jun 2018

In recent years, information about hormones have been put in the spot light, especially hormones related to weight loss, hunger and satiety. People who start with a low carb diet experience the magic of a stable blood sugar and low insulin, but that’s not always enough to lose weight. Especially among people who suffer from long-term hormonal imbalances.


Adrenal insufficiency or chronic stress is one of the most common roots of ill health, as stress hormones have the power to influence the gut flora and gut health, insulin, blood sugar and other important hormones. Stress can eliminate any benefits from exercise and aggravate inflammatory conditions or IBS. A body that is under biological stress has rest as its main priority, which leads to fatigue that can’t be cured with more sleep.

This fatigue is often inconvenient: because we have to work, exercise and we have social responsibilities that need our attention. I frequently get asked about supplements for increased energy, and I get the feeling that a lot of people want to do more than is physically possible. Just adding more and more caffeine and other stimulants will most certainly backfire.

Adding work and stress to an already stressed body accelerates aging and increase wrinkles by breaking down collagen and elastin, the proteins responsible for healthy skin. Stress can manifest in a number of ways and of many different causes, not only heavy workload. Feelings of loneliness can be highly stressful, as well as a sedentary lifestyle, high alcohol intake, chronic inflammation or unknowingly consuming food allergens.


What the body perceives as stress is not always clear on a conscious level as it happens on a cellular level. A simple thing as improving sleep hygiene could fix a lot of things as poor sleep and poor sleep environment can really throw the cortisol curve out of place. Wrecked cortisol levels and complete burnout is a sliding scale and there is no exact point where it becomes one or the other, therefore it is important to handle stress while it is still somewhat manageable.


Many health problems originate in the so-called stress axis or HPA-axis: Hypothalamus and the Pituitary gland in the brain constantly interact with the Adrenal glands, and they form the HPA-axis. There’s also the OAT/TAT-axis consisting of Ovaries/Testicles, Adrenal glands and the Thyroid gland.


The common denominator here are the adrenal glands and their production of adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol – which are all linked to the body's defense system. The adrenal glands also produce the lesser known hormone aldosterone that regulates the body's fluid retention. That's why you can feel extremely swollen or bloated when the body is under stress. It’s simply a chain-effect by high cortisol levels.

The pituitary and hypothalamus manage control mechanisms of various bodily functions, ranging from blood pressure, metabolism, sleep, ovulation and sperm production. The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland communicate with each other and have mutual control mechanisms for, for example, oxytocin, vasopressin and dopamine. These are all hormones linked to social relationships and activities. This is why a complicated life situation affects the hormones and vice versa.


Lifestyle-related problems require lifestyle-related solutions so forget about supplements and quick-fixes and focus on practical changes in you daily life. In spite of poor health and chronic fatigue, many people are not very keen on changing habits even when proved to be quite destructive. If you recognize yourself in this behavior, please take a step back and start prioritizing your health, sleep and well-being before it’s too late. Too many people are just waiting for a big health scare to get them to change, don’t let it be you.


Manage stress and fix adrenal glands


Many advices on weight loss, fat loss, getting in shape and so forth are given by healthy people to other healthy people. They do not take into account if any bodily system is out of order.


For example, I am a great advocate of fasting, but a person with exhausted adrenal glands should never fast because as it is perceived as stress to the body. Physical exercise is great for reducing stress and and increase well-being, but for a person with adrenal insufficiency it will have the opposite effect! There’s a lot of people that just want to lose “a few pounds” but the truth is that, that is a natural side effect of a body in perfect balance. The body doesn’t want to carry excess weight no more than you do.


Healing comes first, weight loss second. Here are some tips for healthy adrenal glands.


7 TIPS FOR HEALTHY ADRENALS

  1. Eliminate all caffeine and other stimulants, including diet soda and sports drinks. Many people with anxiety and sleep disorders are miraculously cured when they end their relationship with caffeine. It actually has a very strong neuroactive effect and also affects the intestines and intestinal flora.

  2. Let yourself have empty slots in the calendar. Avoid booking things every night and weekend. It’s okay to not “do” something every day.

  3. Is meditation or yoga something for you? Try replacing your cardio with low intense training, a stressed body will not lose any weight anyway.

  4. Begin the day with a large breakfast if you normally fast or skip breakfast. Eat within 30 minutes upon waking up; it will help your body restore its circadian rhythm. The sleep hormone melatonin interacts with cortisol, so by normalizing melatonin chances for better cortisol regulation increases.

  5. No snacking! Stick to three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. The circadian rhythm is not only linked to cortisol but also to saturation hormone leptin. If you start to eat a certain amount of meals at a certain time, your hunger and saturation will change within a couple of weeks. The more the body is balancing itself, the more natural becomes the hunger, and you will experience fewer cravings. After a few weeks, it may feel more natural to eat only twice a day or even once a day. Then you can return to intermittent fasting if you prefer that.

  6. Avoid blue screens two hours before bedtime. With screens, I mean TV, mobile phones, laptops and so on. Nowadays, blue light blocking is available as an app (your screen goes from bluish to reddish). You can even set the time so it shifts automatically at 7 pm every night. Blue light signals to the eyes' photoreceptors that it's day time, and effectively rejects melatonin even if it's way past bed time. If you watch TV in the evening, try a pair of orange or red goggles from a warehouse. You will look funny but you’ll notice improved sleep in just a few days.

  7. Do not eat too late, let 4-5 hours pass between food intake and sleep. It is because the body needs to be in the right nervous system to be able to have a restful and restorative sleep.


If you follow a low carb diet and have a few pounds left to lose, or feel frustrated about your health. Think about your overall health status.


Can you benefit from the tips above?


Start thinking about your body as an ecosystem, without zooming in on specific areas. This viewpoint is a lot more exciting and leaves a lot of room for experimentation!