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The Role of Stress in Weight Gain

The endocrine system put simply is your hormonal system. The adrenals glands which are situated at the top of the kidneys are part of the endocrine system. They are responsible for secreting stress hormones such as cortisol & adrenaline. Inadvertently they are also involved in glucose metabolism. Glucocorticoids are hormones released by the adrenal gland. These glucocorticoids tell the liver to covert glycogen back to glucose in the blood stream to prepare them for flight or flight.

Let’s consider how blood sugar effects hormones. The adrenals secrete glucocorticoids to prepare for imminent treats that the body perceives. These give energy to the muscles and to the heart. Non important function such as digestion, elimination, sex hormone balancing is switched off. We have no need to digest that meal if it looks like we may be eaten by a woolly mammoth. (Our bodies respond as they would have thousands of years ago). Everything is focused on keeping us alive. Most times we have not had to flee for our lives and use all that extra glucose. We are just late, or stressed about a deadline etc. No energy expended. Blood glucose (BG) has been raised so the body now secretes insulin to bring BG down. Another fact about insulin is it tells the body there is an abundance of food, (why else would blood glucose be raised) so no need to go into our fat stores, in fact lets store some more fat!!

But what does this mean long term, with this roller coaster of adrenal hormones and insulin.? Often there is blood glucose dysregulation. A person often craves sugar and carbohydrate, but when increasing the blood glucose levels, more insulin is produced. Insulin insensitivity then occurs. Weight gain is common, especially across the tummy area. More exercise seems to have little effect on weight loss, in fact higher intensity seems to make weight loss even harder. A person may show signs of pre-diabetes, (fasting bloods glucose starting to raise) fatigue, weight gain, poor sleep, & feeling dizzy if not eaten a short while. Now the body is further stressed, you guessed it more adrenal output. Stress hormones are released, because for you to feel this stressed, there must be imminent danger!!! Blood glucose raises, insulin is then released to balance it again and can you begin to see the cycle of stress and weight gain.

All this sugar and insulin drives other hormonal conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) where the excess insulin stimulates the ovaries. So now our other hormones are becoming dysregulated. With thyroid function inextricably linked to adrenal hormones, fatigue, constipation and other issues now become an issue. You guessed it, leading to more stress… I hope that this explains, how often when a woman presents in clinic for hormonal imbalances, addressing her adrenals & stress levels can often be the crucial turning point as they are the underlying driver of the hormonal issues.

Lesley Rix - Naturopath

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