Adrenal fatigue is when your adrenal glands become depleted from being overworked and overstressed. Prolonged exposure to stress can cause excess production of stress hormones, which can deplete the adrenal glands.
Many people are aware of the connection between adrenal fatigue and symptoms like tiredness, brain fog, and body aches, but can adrenal fatigue cause weight gain as well? This article explores the connection between adrenal fatigue and weight gain.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Essentially, adrenal fatigue, also known as adrenal exhaustion, adrenal insufficiency, or adrenal burnout, refers to a state that occurs when the adrenal glands are overworked and overstressed. Prolonged exposure to stress causes excess production of stress hormones that drain the adrenals, leading to a depleted state. (1)
The body releases a DHEA hormone to neutralize the cortisol and adrenaline hormones. DHEA, often referred to as "the precursor hormone," is the most abundant hormone in the body produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA converts or stimulates the production of estrogens, testosterone hormones, and many other steroid hormones (especially those associated with aging). The constant depletion of DHEA to counteract cortisol and adrenalin affects the body's hormonal balance. Add to this the adrenal fatigue, and not only will your body age faster, but you can become more susceptible to metabolic and immune-related disorders.
To learn more about adrenal fatigue, read our article "What Is Adrenal Fatigue?"
Does Adrenal Fatigue Cause Weight Gain?
The primary symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Brain fog
- Food cravings
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Low mood
- Depressive mood
- Compromised immune system
- Cardiovascular issues
But can adrenal fatigue cause weight gain as well?
While not commonly described as a symptom of adrenal fatigue, there is a connection between adrenal fatigue and weight gain.
How Adrenal Fatigue Causes Weight Gain
Adrenal fatigue can contribute to weight gain in several ways. The primary ways adrenal fatigue can impact weight include:
1. Hormonal Imbalances
The adrenal glands play a vital role in our endocrine system. The hormones produced by these glands contain the chemical languages used to communicate throughout the body. The adrenal glands produce hormones that regulate blood sugar and reduce allergic and inflammatory reactions. The adrenals also control involuntary functions such as heart rate, digestion, and respiration. (2)
The hormones released by the adrenal glands also influence energy expenditure or the number of calories you burn daily. A fluctuation in hormone levels may alter how well your body burns calories, leading to weight gain, weight loss, and more fat accumulation.
Two major hormones released by the adrenal glands are adrenaline and cortisol. These are two hormones released in times of stress that trigger a range of physiological changes in the body—such as faster heart rate, dilated pupils, more blood distribution to the extremities, increased rate of breathing, and many more. (3)
If someone is under chronic stress, it will cause excess production of these stress hormones, which can eventually deplete and exhaust the adrenal glands. To counter the stress response, the body releases the hormone DHEA. However, the constant release of DHEA to counter stress hormones further depletes the adrenals.
Since DHEA is a precursor to many hormones in the body, including testosterone, estrogen, and steroid hormones associated with aging, the depletion of DHEA can interfere with essential body processes and lead to accelerated aging, weight gain, and a host of other health issues. (4)
When someone has overworked and depleted adrenal glands, they commonly suffer from a lack of energy and enthusiasm and often feel tired and low in energy. This constant struggle with low energy can make it, so one lacks the motivation to exercise and stay fit. As a result of not exercising, one may also gain weight and excess body fat.
3. Food Cravings
Food cravings are a common symptom of adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalance. If your hormones are imbalanced, it can affect the hormones that tell your body you are full and may cause you to eat more food than usual.
Additionally, when estrogen levels are low and progesterone is high, one may also feel less satisfied after eating—which can, in turn, cause food cravings. The brain has estrogen receptors, and higher estrogen levels are associated with fullness and satisfaction after eating, whereas lower estrogen levels are associated with hunger and food cravings. (5)
The increased food cravings and lack of feeling satisfied after a meal may cause binge eating, overeating, and other eating habits that can lead to weight gain.
Adrenal Fatigue Weight Gain Treatment
There is only one scientifically proven way to lose that weight: maintaining a calorie deficit through adequately managing your diet and exercise. However, some things can make weight loss easier or more difficult. If your adrenal glands are depleted, you are suffering from a hormonal imbalance. As a result, it will be much more difficult to lose weight unless you correct that hormonal imbalance.
So, to support weight loss, it is ideal to treat adrenal fatigue and restore proper hormonal balance. This can be done through holistic methods of diet, exercise, specific herbs, and healthy sleep routines. To learn more about recovering from adrenal fatigue, read our article "What Is Adrenal Fatigue?"
Testing for Adrenal Fatigue: What Is Adrenal Fatigue Testing?
So, how do you know if you have adrenal fatigue? What testing is done to check for adrenal fatigue?
Many people have adrenal fatigue and do not know it. Many people that suspect they have it also often do not get tested. If you suspect you have adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency, it is recommended to consult with your doctor for proper adrenal fatigue testing and treatment.
Often, people can determine they have adrenal fatigue by recognizing symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, dark circles under the eyes, etc. Additionally, people may connect these symptoms with certain lifestyle habits, such as drinking caffeine, constantly feeling stressed, staying up late, excessive exposure to blue light from electronics, etc.
Still, it is important to get testing for adrenal fatigue to determine the actual state of your adrenal glands. Blood and urine tests may be used to help measure the number of adrenal hormones, which can also detect a functional tumor in the body. (6)
The ACTH Stimulation Test is considered the most specific test for diagnosing adrenal insufficiency. Blood cortisol levels are measured before and after a synthetic form of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), a hormone secreted from the anterior pituitary is given by injection.
Saliva testing for adrenal fatigue is another way that people often find adrenal fatigue testing and treatment. To perform an adrenal salivary test, one is usually given an adrenal fatigue testing kit that provides small vials used for collecting saliva samples throughout the day. Once the saliva samples are collected, they are sent to a lab that does saliva testing for adrenal fatigue. The lab analyzes the saliva for cortisol levels and determines how much cortisol you produce in the morning, afternoon, and evening. This can give you more insight into the specific things that may be causing you stress throughout your day and may be causing excess cortisol production.
The most important thing you can do to repair overworked adrenal glands is to reduce your stress levels and get proper sleep so your body can recover. Stress is often called the "silent killer" because chronic stress can wreak havoc on your physical health, and often, we do not realize the effects that it is having until we have a severe condition like adrenal insufficiency.
If stress has affected your adrenal health, you must first reduce the stress leading to excess adrenal activity. Then you can focus on restoring proper adrenal function through good-quality sleep, proper diet and exercise, adaptogenic herbs, and specific nutritional supplements.
L-theanine may be beneficial for managing stress levels, as it blocks the production of stress hormones and helps the body experience a more calm and relaxed state. In addition, adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha may help the body better adapt to stress and may prevent or help recover from adrenal fatigue.
To learn more about steps you can take to prevent or recover from adrenal fatigue, read our article "What Is Adrenal Fatigue?"
If you are concerned that you may have adrenal fatigue or are seeking medical treatment for adrenal insufficiency, it is recommended to speak to your doctor for proper adrenal fatigue testing and treatment.