01.07.2006

Stress Less and Lose Weight - by Narelle Stegehuis

Did you realise that stresscan lead to weight gain, not to mention a minefieldof other problems? Naturopath Narelle Stegehuis exploresthe little understood condition of adrenal burnout.

Doyou remember how you used to feel? You were happy andwell with steady energy and emotions. You slept soundlyand woke up feeling rested. Your recovery from illnesswas fast. You maintained a healthy weight without dieting.Now your energy lags during the day, you feel emotionallyunbalanced and you sleep poorly. You can't lose excessweight even while dieting. You use caffeine or carbohydratesas pick-me-ups. The message is clear - your adrenalsneed help!

Everyone experiences mood variations - grumpiness, anxiety,or feelings of dejection. But adrenal imbalance createshavoc with moods.

One thing that won't rescue your mood is simply puttingon a happy face and trying to will yourself into happiness.In fact, you may drive your darker feelings underground,
re-emerging later as anxiety, anger, depression, orstress-related illness.

Life stages contribute greatly to stress levels. Inour 20s and 30s, we are focused on career, startinga family and juggling financial burdens. In our 40s,life throws us the wild cards of ageing parents, relationshipseparations, career changes and challenges and, of course,raising children. It is little wonder by the time wereach our 50s dealing with loss for one sort or another,and children leaving home - we start to feel tired,frumpy and burnt out!

It is important to understand how stress affects ouradrenals and ultimately our health. Adrenal Hypersensitivitysimply means our adrenals have been, and perhaps stillare, working overtime. Unlike our ancestors, we livewith constant stress. Instead of occasional demandsfollowed by rest, we're constantly overworked, exposedto environmental toxins and worrying about others -with no let-up. The effects of adrenal hypersensitivitycan be profound.

It is important to change the way we think about ourhealth. We can't just slap bandaids over your achesand pains, mood changes or ill health. This approachonly leads to future health issues.

Ask yourself if you experience any of the following?

Suppression of the immune system - always gettingcolds and flus?
Fatigue and weakness
Stubborn weight especially around your tummy andlower body?
Moodiness, anxiety or depression
Hormonal imbalance- irregular periods, skin problemsor hair loss?
Muscle and bone loss
Autoimmune disorders
Heightened menopausal symptoms - hot flashes

Unfortunately, modern living can steal your sleep,slow your metabolism even harm your personal relationships.
Every challenge to your mind and body creates a demandon your adrenal glands. The list of challenges is endless:lack of sleep, a demanding boss, the threat of losingyour job, financial pressures, personality conflicts,yo-yo dieting, relationship turmoil, death or illnessof a loved one, skipping meals, reliance on stimulantslike caffeine and carbs, digestive problems, over-exercise,illness or infection, unresolved emotional issues fromyour past or present.

Your adrenal glands provide you with crucial hormonalsupport needed to get through the day with energy, enthusiasmand efficiency. Adrenal hypersensitivity means you aremuch more likely to suffer from fatigue, forgetfulness,mood swings and sleep disturbances. Living in the "fast"world of today exposes you to unavoidable levels ofstress - and with that stress comes elevated cortisollevels.

When functioning normally, cortisol helps you meet thesechallenges by converting proteins into energy, releasingglycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a shorttime, that's okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisolgradually tears your body down.

Sustained high cortisol has a range of insidious effects.It destroys healthy muscle and bone; slows down healingand normal cell replacement; co-opts biochemicals neededto make other vital hormones; impairs digestion, metabolismand mental function; weakens your immune system; andinterferes with healthy endocrine function contributingto conditions such as heightened menopause, poor fertility,thyroid imbalance and ovarian imbalances such as PCOS,fibroids and endometriosis. The fact that we have heardof so many of these conditions - and maybe even suffersome of them ourselves - indicates the prevalence ofhigh cortisol levels in our super-stressed world.

In our 20s to 40s, stress can interfere with our menstrualcycle.

Many women consider PMS to be just part of life, asit affects an estimated 75 per cent of menstruatingwomen. For some, this "time of the month"actually rules their lives - and the lives of theirpartners and families. Others are unaware that theymight be experiencing it. Despite its prevalence andthe awful symptoms this syndrome can bring, traditionalmedicine falls far short of providing successful remedies.

Contributing factors to PMS are ovarian imbalances suchas Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS, fibroids, cysts,endometriosis or oestrogen dominance. And yes, suchconditions are all influenced by stress.

Some symptoms to look for are:

Lowly moods or mood shifts
Weight gain and fluctuations
Anxiety or tension
Feeling "out of control"
Irritability, anger
Lowered libido
Concentration difficulties
Lethargy, general loss of energy
Appetite change, food cravings
Sleep problems (too little or too much)
Physical symptoms (bloating, breast tenderness,pain)

Your adrenals can even change your body shape! If youhave been under stress, it is most likely that you havegained weight and experienced a change in your bodyshape. You may also have noticed your waistline thickening.One of the underlying reasons for this change, particularlyin your 40s, is that women in their midlife period experiencea slowdown in metabolic rate of about 10-15 per centcompared to when they were younger. Your body also becomesmore efficient at taking energy into your cells andstoring it in the form of fat. In addition, as oestrogenlevels fall, your appetite increases!

To make things even harder, by the time you hit menopauseyour adrenal glands have had it! Absolutely hit thewall! Let's face it - you have heard it all, seen itall and experienced levels of stress you never thoughtpossible - and survived. But through all this, youradrenals have taken a hiding.

So what's the concern? Your adrenal glands are importantin the long-term maintenance of your hormone levels.They increase production of androstenedione (the precursorto oestrogen and testosterone) and progesterone. Therefore,the systematic functioning of your adrenal glands isimportant.

One of the main ways you can support your adrenal glandsis by ensuring your diet is completely meeting yourbody's needs. Which brings us to that persistent anddepressing Tummy Bulge!

One of cortisol's many functions is that it stimulatesthe release of glucose, fats and amino acids for energyproduction. It will also keep your appetite stimulated.In addition, the type of fat that accumulates becauseof this stress-induced appetite will typically locateitself in the abdominal region of your body. Stresscontributes to weight gain primarily because of an excesssecretion of the key stress hormone cortisol, alongwith a reduced secretion of the key hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone,or DHEA. DHEA is a steroid hormone synthesised fromcholesterol and secreted by your adrenal glands.

Adrenal hypersensitivity is often a critical factorin many related conditions including:

Polycystic ovaries (PCOS)
Lowered thyroid function
Fibro myalgia
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Arthritis
Premature menopause
Impaired fertility

It's time to value your health
Many of us tend to regard stress as a normal part oflife we simply have to deal with as well as we can.It is important to learn how to incorporate stress management,exercise, nutrition and dietary supplements into a realisticapproach to controlling cortisol levels.
I am certain that once you gain insight into the relationshipbetween modern stressors, your cortisol level and itseffects on your long-term health, you will be motivatedto get your cortisol levels under control.

Often over time we lose interest in food. It becomes"just another thing to do". Reassess yourrelationship with it. Try not to worry about food, orfeel guilty about what you've eaten or what you areplanning to eat.

It is important to adopt and achieve a diet that supportsyour lifestyle - one that doesn't eliminate food groupsbut focuses on a formula that works for you! It shouldfoster a passion in you to cook and take pleasure infood - choose flavoursome meals that are spirited andnourishing.

Dietary changes such as reducing MSG, excess sugarsand cola drinks can greatly improve adrenal performance.Even the reduction of coffee and alcohol can substantiallyassist with a symptom like anxiety.

Targeted nutrients prescribed by a practitioner, alongwith dietary changes can do wonders. Herbs such as Wintercherry, Licorice and Ginseng and the amino acid Tyrosine,along with Vitamins B5 and B6, are well documented tosupport healthy adrenal function.
Remember, your health reflects the way you live - soisn't it time you started making some healthy changes?

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