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Expert: If You’re Over 50, You’re Riding a Cortisol Roller Coaster — And Those Ups & Downs Are Packing On The Fat

Easy ways to heal your adrenal glands so cravings and tiredness disappear — and the weight just falls off

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 in a cycle of more cravings, restless sleep, groggy mornings and unwanted weight gain? Those all-too-common and oh-so-exhausting symptoms are telltale signs of adrenal dysfunction, a condition experts estimate affects more than 85% of women over age 40. The good news: Doctors are zeroing in on exactly how to heal adrenal fatigue naturally using easy strategies.

What are the adrenal glands?

We often hear the term “adrenals” but may not know exactly where this important part of our endocrine system is located or what job it performs in the body. So here’s a little refresher from biology class. Our adrenals are glands that sit on our kidneys and are responsible for producing important hormones, including the aptly named adrenaline. When we’re stressed, our adrenals snap into action. They release the get-up-and-go hormone known as cortisol to help us power through difficult situations.

A medical illustration of the adrenal glands
The adrenal glands are walnut-sized glands that sit on top of the kidneyswww.sciencephoto.com/Shutterstock

Can your adrenals literally ‘burn out’?

Conventional wisdom suggested that our stress glands could get worn out from decades of use and stop working, a condition known as adrenal fatigue. But hormone expert Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic, says, “Our understanding has increased quite a bit recently.”

New research reveals that our adrenal glands function as a team with the brain’s hypothalamus, which controls the adrenals’ day/night cycle. With normal, healthy function, our glands release cortisol in the morning when we can use it, not in the evening when the body will store it as mid-section fat.

The hitch: Everything from stress to toxins, nutrient deficiencies and infections like COVID can suppress the adrenals’ natural cycle, making it underperform at certain times of day and overperform at others. And “this can send your body and life into a tailspin,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.

Adrenal fatigue is a ‘modern-day disaster for women’

Women often don’t know their adrenals are malfunctioning because the symptoms are so common, they get overlooked entirely and/or written off as the everyday side effects of stress, aging or menopause. Symptoms can include cravings, irritability, poor sleep, brain fog and fatigue. And unfortunately, the perfect storm of these symptoms isn’t a rare occurrence. “Untreated adrenal fatigue is becoming an unnecessary modern-day disaster for women,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, noting that women are 300% more likely than men to suffer from it. He adds, “Low adrenal is wreaking havoc not only with people’s health, but also relationships. So often I find that people in marriage counseling or at divorce lawyers are simply there because of the mood shifts caused by low adrenal functioning.”

How adrenal fatigue causes weight gain

When the adrenal glands’ circadian rhythms get out of whack, another thing happens: We may gain stubborn weight. See, our metabolism is designed to ride a specific adrenal-function wave. But when the system gets out of balance it triggers blood sugar crashes, food cravings and insomnia, which drive fat storage. For starters, our glands have trouble firing up in the morning to give us the energy and blood-sugar stability we need to launch our day. So we turn to sugary drinks and carbs that lead to energy crashes and accumulating 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. She says, “You’re almost a unicorn if you don’t have this issue in midlife.” Women often accept that age or menopause is getting the best of them, when in reality, chronic stress has short-circuited the circadian rhythms that controls adrenal function, releasing the fat-packing hormone cortisol at the wrong time of day.

Why doctors don’t diagnose adrenal fatigue

Despite how common adrenal dysfunction can be, the diagnosis is missed by most doctors. 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 leaves a heck of a lot of people caught in the painful middle. Those of us releasing cortisol at the wrong times will still have total cortisol output over a 24-hour window of time that looks “normal” on saliva tests. That’s why Dr. Teitelbaum uses his own gauge: whether patients feel “hangry,” or the merging emotions of feeling hungry and angry at the same time. He says, “I would not trade that symptom for any test.”

If your symptoms have ever been discredited by a doctor or you’ve been told your symptoms are merely “all in your head,” Wentz wants to offer some words of support: “Your symptoms are 100% real and 100% reversible,” she says. Wentz successfully healed her own adrenals and now teaches her secrets to thousands.

 Dr. Teitelbaum, a chronic fatigue syndrome survivor himself, adds more words of encouragement. “Fortunately, this epidemic of adrenal fatigue is treatable,” he says. “And you don’t need a doctor to fix your adrenals and feel dramatically better.”

How to heal adrenal fatigue naturally

Wentz has come up with a plan, based on her new book Adrenal Transformation Protocol, to save women from glandular dysfunction and resolve adrenal fatigue naturally. As a bonus, she has seen 80% of her testers drop stubborn weight. “Old training says it can take up to two years to see a difference in adrenal health,” she says. “But women on my protocol feel a change within three days and can heal within a month.”

As the adrenals heal, the health benefits begin to multiply. According to Wentz’s test cases, 92% of patients reduced brain fog, 89% cut fatigue and 76% eased pain. The plan also healed Wentz, who shares, “As soon as I was free from headaches, joint pain, bloat, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings and weight struggles, I was able to step into the life that I was meant to live — and you can too!” Best of all, it can be a lifelong fix. Wentz says, “My plan helps people build resilience to stress so they’re not getting into adrenal dysfunction time and again.”

Ready to feel better? Start here to heal adrenal fatigue naturally.

Sip an adrenal-healing ‘creamsicle’ smoothie

This smoothie may be the single most powerful way to heal your adrenals. That’s because the blend naturally raises blood sugar and cortisol levels in the morning, when they should be elevated. How? The sweet juice provides an early dose of glucose to the system, while the protein powder prevents a blood sugar spike and prepares the body for smooth energy throughout the day. The coconut milk’s healthy fat releases feel-good oxytocin to prevent cravings, while the salt’s electrolytes support the adrenals to end the emotional rollercoaster throughout the day.

Choose a protein powder free of sensitivity-aggravating ingredients like dairy, soy, grains, fillers and artificial sweeteners. Brands to consider: NOW Sports Pea Protein (buy on Amazon, $25.54) or Wentz’s Rootcology Pea Protein (buy from Rootcology, $59.97). (Click through to learn how an adrenal cocktail can boost your energy and quash cravings.)

orange smoothie
kungverylucky Shutterstock

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¼ cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • ½ serving of protein powder
  • ¼ – ½ tsp. sea salt

Directions:

Combine in a blender until frothy. Drink upon waking, about 1 hour before breakfast.

Focus on building strong meals

As a foundation, people looking to boost their adrenal health will want to eat 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), low-starch veggies like asparagus and green beans, plus low-starch fruit like berries. For sweeteners, try stevia or maple syrup, in moderation.

A typical day unfolds like this: Enjoy a creamsicle adrenal kick-start smoothie upon waking at around 7 am, and then have a protein smoothie at around 8 am. Next, eat beef soup or salad for lunch around noon, sip a caffeine-free tea at around 3 pm and enjoy a dinner like pulled pork at around 6 pm. Reach for protein-rich snacks as needed, like Wentz’s favorites: nuts and “adrenal” deviled eggs sprinkled with electrolyte-rich sea salt. To calm your system, get to bed as early as possible and limit the use of technology screens in bed.

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.”  Mounting evidence shows that exposing eyes to natural light early in the morning helps boost energy and reduce cravings. So consider the mantra of Amy Shah, MD, author of I’m So Effing Tired, who lives by the rule, “Sky before screens!”

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 strengthen the brain’s hypothalamus to work with the adrenals to reduce cravings. Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine shows that getting extra doses of oxytocin can increase weight loss by 350% and boost belly-fat loss by 800%.

Unplug and unwind

Exposure to the blue light emitted from electronic devices in the evening can impact our adrenal glands and sleep cycles. So try reducing your use whenever possible after 7 pm or consider wearing blue light–blocking­ glasses.

The best supplements for adrenal fatigue

You can further reset your adrenal gland’s healthy circadian rhythms with a few key supplements:

Pure Encapsulations B Complex Plus

To boost energy
bottle of B complex vitamin

Buy it on Amazon, $25.30

B vitamins boost energy by keeping the power stations in our cells running. This energizing vitamin, also called folate, eases the strain on the adrenal glands by helping with the body’s stress response system. And it also helps with weight loss. In a European study, dieters who supplemented with vitamin B lost 750% more weight than their peers who skimped on the nutrient.

Life Extension Optimized Ashwagandha

To sleep deep

Buy it at LifeExtension.com, $6.75

Experts talk about healing the adrenals with the “ABC” nutrient and that started with ashwagandha. This adaptogenic herb increases energy during the day, improves sleep and is believed to speed weight loss. And findings in the journal Phytomedicine reveal that the herb has anxiety-easing actions similar to the prescription drug Ativan. The healing daily dose? 100 to 500 mg. a day. Note: Avoid ashwagandha if you have a nightshade sensitivity.

NatureMade Vitamin C 500 mg

To ease stress

Buy it at Walmart, $19.95

“Vitamin C is one of the vitamins that gets depleted when we’re under stress,” explains Wentz. It helps boost immunity, and immunity differences between the genders is one reason women are more prone to autoimmune conditions and adrenal dysfunction than men, says Dr. Teitelbaum. And again, there is a weight-loss component. Vitamin C is needed for the proper production of cortisol in the body. Vitamin C reduces fat-packing nighttime cortisol levels by 300%, according to research published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism. That change is key, since research suggests that people who rebalance their cortisol to optimal levels lose more weight. Dr. Teitelbaum has witness this transformation many times in his patients. He says, “Soothe the adrenals and 90% of cravings go away and energy increases by 80%.” Wentz advises supplementing with 500 to 3,000 mg. a day.

Terry Naturally Red Ginseng

to supercharge your adrenals
bottle of red ginseng

Buy it at EndFatigue.com, $23.96

For women with adrenal fatigue, Dr. Teitelbaum swears by a potent form of ginseng called HRG80 Red Ginseng, for restoring energy. He takes it himself to keep his adrenals working. In his study, folks taking it experienced a 72% boost in stamina compared to the placebo group.

It worked for Paulette: She lost 90 pounds!

Before and after of Paulette's weight loss

Paulette Szalay sat on a Florida beach covered shoulder-to-shin with a shawl, trying to hide her body. Looking at all the happy vacationers, she realized she was the only one stressing, not enjoying herself. That’s it, she decided. This is the first day of the rest of my life.

As a busy teacher and caregiver, Paulette admits, “I was a walking time bomb of stress. I probably gained 50 pounds in six months.” Yet she always thought weight loss would be impossible due to a thyroid condition, which can affect the adrenal glands. So Paulette began preparing for gastric sleeve surgery by cutting out heavy carbs, eating clean meals and exercising. She lost 10 pounds in 7 days. And when she dropped 24 pounds the first month, her doctor said, “You don’t need surgery. You’re losing this weight on your own!”

Although Paulette was eating more than before, she found, “My sweet tooth was gone.” She also practiced mindfulness, which dropped her stress from “a 10 to a 2.”

After ditching 90 pounds and countless inches, Paulette fulfilled a childhood dream and earned a modeling contract. Now she’s doing something that seemed impossible last year on that beach: She’s confidently strutting on fashion show runways. (See her in action on Instagram @pszalay01.) “I’m in paradise,” she says. “You really can change at any point. My new life feels like freedom!”


Lisa Maxbauer is an award-winning health and nutrition writer at First for Women and Woman’s World magazines. She is a former guest blogger with The New York Times and author of the award-winning independent children’s book Squash Boom Beet. Learn more at SquashBoomBeet.com and follow on Instagram @lisamaxbauer.

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

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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