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Is Adrenal Fatigue Causing Weight Gain? Here’s How To Fix It, Say the Experts

Address your adrenals to feel your best.


Ever felt so stressed and irritable in the afternoon that you reached for a snack pouch of salty chips… then another… and another… only to get caught UP in a cycle of more cravings, restless sleep, groggy mornings, and unwanted weight gain? Us, too! And we’re not alone. Those exhausting symptoms are telltale signs of adrenal fatigue, which affects many women. Tired adrenal glands are making us gain weight, but new science reveals some easy ways to speed healing. Here’s what you need to know.

What is adrenal fatigue?

“Untreated adrenal fatigue is becoming an unnecessary modern-day disaster for women,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic (Buy from Amazon, $16.21). He notes that women are more likely than men to suffer.

First, a biology-class refresher: When we’re stressed, our adrenals — glands that sit on our kidneys, responsible for producing adrenaline — snap into action. They release the hormone cortisol to help us power through difficult situations. Conventional wisdom was that our stress glands could get worn out from decades of use and stop working. But Dr. Teitelbaum says, “our understanding has increased quite a bit since then.” Research now shows these glands work as a team with the brain’s hypothalamus, which controls the adrenals’ day/night cycle, releasing cortisol in the morning when we can use it, not in the evening when it triggers belly fat. What’s more, everything from stress, toxins, nutrient deficiencies, to infections may disrupt the adrenals’ cycle. The result, according to Dr. Teitelbaum: “This can send your body and life into a tailspin.”

adrenal graph
Courtesy of First for Women Magazine

When the adrenal glands’ circadian rhythms get out of whack, we may gain weight. For starters, our glands have trouble firing up in the a.m. to give us the energy and blood sugar stability we need to launch our day. So we turn to sugary drinks and carbs that trigger belly fat. Then as we prepare for bed, our wonky adrenals spit out the cortisol we needed earlier, leading to mood swings and metabolism-slowing insomnia.

“I call this adrenal glitch the ‘cortisol roller coaster,’” says Izabella Wentz, PharmD, a leading voice in women’s hormonal health. It’s common in women carrying unwanted weight. “You’re almost a unicorn if you don’t have this issue in midlife.”

How can I tell if I have adrenal fatigue?

Many doctors miss the signs. Dr. Teitelbaum explains, “current tests can only distinguish between a healthy adrenal and an adrenal with total failure to the point that it is life-threatening — nothing in between.” That’s why he uses his own gauge: whether patients feel “hangry.” He says, “I would not trade that symptom for any test.”

How To Fix Adrenal Fatigue

“Your symptoms are 100 percent real and reversible,” says Wentz, who healed her adrenals and has taught her secrets to thousands with her book, Adrenal Transformation Protocol (Buy from Amazon, $22.67). “My plan helps people build resilience to stress so they’re not getting into adrenal dysfunction time and again.” Read on to discover how to transform your health.

Take vitamin supplements.

Vitamin B. Reset your slimming circadian rhythms with a few key supplements, including vitamin B. In an animal study published in Current Medical Science, rats who were given vitamin B supplements lost more weight than those who weren’t, which may mean potential health benefits for humans. B vitamins boost energy by keeping the power stations in our cells running. Wentz says you can find Bs in meat, seafood, and leafy greens, or you can supplement with a product like Pure Encapsulations B-Complex (Buy from Amazon, $35.70).

Vitamin C. This vitamin may also be beneficial, since it helps regulate the amount of cortisol in the body. That’s key, since research suggests that people who experience high levels of cortisol may be more prone to weight gain. According to Dr. Wentz, “Vitamin C gets depleted when we’re under stress.” To get those levels up? Eat oranges, which provide adrenal-supporting vitamin C and energizing glucose. Wentz also advises supplementing with 500 to 3,000 milligrams a day.

Herbal Supplements

Ashwagandha. This adaptogenic herb regulates cortisol levels, increases energy during the day, and improves sleep at night. And research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests that Ashwagandha is safe and effective for helping with chronic stress, anxiety, arthritis, diabetes, and more. A good daily dose? 100 to 500 mg. a day. (Ashwagandha should be avoided for those with a nightshade sensitivity.)

The new ginseng. For women with adrenal fatigue, Dr. Teitelbaum swears by a potent form of ginseng called HRG80 Red Ginseng, like Terry Naturally Red Ginseng, (Buy from Amazon, $24.76) for restoring energy. In his study, published in Pharmaceuticals, folks taking it experienced a boost in stamina, mental clarity, and overall well-being. Tip: Take it in the morning for best results.

Dietary Supplements

Protein powder prevents a blood sugar spike and prepares the body for smooth energy throughout the day. Choose a powder free of sensitivity-triggering dairy, soy, grains, fillers, and artificial sweeteners, like NOW Sports Pea Protein (Buy from Amazon, $23.64).

Coconut milk boosts satiety to halt cravings, which can help with weight loss, especially in the belly.

Salt’s electrolytes support the adrenal glands and helps you feel energized throughout the day.

Positive Lifestyle Changes

Tap into love. To seal in success, Wentz encourages oxytocin-boosting practices that calm the body’s stress-response system. This “love” hormone, which the body produces when we cuddle a loved one, pet, or stuffed animal, is known to reduce stress, which in turn, may reduce cravings that lead to weight gain. Research published in PLoS One shows that getting extra doses of oxytocin may aid in weight loss.

Unplug and unwind. Exposure to the blue light emitted from electronic devices in the evening can impact our hormones and sleep cycles. So try reducing your use whenever possible after 7 p.m. or consider wearing blue light–blocking glasses (Buy from Amazon, $15.98 for pack of two).

Soak up some sun. “Summer is the best time to heal the adrenals because getting a little sunlight promotes healing and resets circadian rhythms,” says Wentz. How? Sunlight helps the body create more pregnenolone, the building block to adrenal hormones. Aim for a dose of sunlight in the morning, ideally within the first hour of waking. Wentz says, “Even a few minutes a day can help.”

With these easy changes, adrenal dysfunction resolves naturally, claims Wentz, who has seen many of her testers drop stubborn weight. “Many women on my protocol feel a change within three days and can heal within a month.”

Speed Up Healing With These Simple Tips

Want to make adrenal health a part of your routine? Learn from Wentz’s plan, outlined below.

Build Strong Meals

As a foundation, you’ll enjoy healthy low-carb or Paleo-style meals that quiet the irritable cravings caused by strained adrenals. You’ll exclude body stressors like excessive caffeine, alcohol, gluten, and soy. You’ll also avoid hard-to-digest fare like legumes, refined sugar, processed oils, grains, dairy, and high-starch veggies. That means you can enjoy hearty helpings of nourishing foods like meat, eggs, seeds, nuts, healthy fats (like avocado), and low-starch veggies like asparagus and green beans, plus low-starch fruit like berries. For sweeteners, try stevia or maple syrup.

Eat at The Right Times

A typical day unfolds like this: Enjoy an fruit and veggie shake upon waking at around 7 a.m. Get some sunlight early in the day, and have a protein smoothie at around 8 a.m. Next, eat beef soup or salad for lunch around noon, sip a caffeine-free tea at around 3 p.m., and enjoy a dinner like pulled pork at around 6 p.m. Reach for protein-rich snacks as needed, like Wentz’s favorites: nuts and deviled eggs sprinkled with electrolyte-rich sea salt. To calm your system, get to bed as early as possible.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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