What The Fat? Will Your New Year’s Resolution be Enough?

 

Something I’ve seen relatively often are signs of a broken metabolism. See if these statements hit home at all.

  • “I’ve tried every diet known to man and if I lose any weight it’s only temporary.” 
  • “After I had my last child I feel like my metabolism is broken.”
  • “Diet and exercise don’t work like they use to for me. Is this just part of aging?”
  • “I work out 8 days a week and eat clean and still can’t drop any significant weight.”

Ok, I wish I heard this more often from patients which would at least point to effort but I do hear this all too frequently.  Though this has become part of the normal aging process for quite some time, it should not be “normal” and it does not have to be you. Take heart, if you’ve tried every diet and exercise program on the planet with little to no results - your metabolism may indeed be broken and need a little jump start. Let me explain further.

This is not normal but in my current patient population 100% are in what’s called Stage III Adrenal Dysfunction.  This is determined by testing the free cortisol levels in the urine 4x/day at specific times along with an average DHEA level. The sum cortisol and average DHEA level is used to stage the person as either normal, Stage I, II, or III Adrenal Dysfunction. Some label this HPA dysfunction or Adrenal Exhaustion or Fatigue. Traditional labs usually only measure a serum cortisol when the extreme of adrenal gland issues is suspected called Addison’s Disease or at the other end of the spectrum Cushing’s Disease. This is neither of these diagnosis but entails a large percentage of the American population. The million dollar question is “Why?” But first let’s look at the adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands are small pyramid-like glands that sit on top of the kidneys and have multiple responsibilities. The one we are examining today regards the stress response. The body is built to handle acute stressors like escaping from a wild animal, a viral infection, or a musculoskeletal injury. The body is flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline to escape the stressful event and cortisol then to balance the inflammation and increase blood sugar. This is a beautiful process God built into our amazingly designed bodies to help us survive. However, this system was not created to live with the chronic stress of 21st century life: TVs in every room, social media always beeping at us, work days that last into the night, shift work, cell phones next to the bed, processed food daily, and overall sedentary lifestyles due to most having to work at a desk. Just one or two of these chronic stressors can disrupt the whole system. Then throw in a big acute stress like divorce, giving birth or losing a loved one and if you weren’t already hormonal, you will be. Just take a quick glance at how many body systems can be disrupted if your HPA (stress response) system is off.

Leptin is the big talk now in the realm of weight gain and though leptin is an important hormone to get in balance, it’s near impossible to get under control if your metabolism is broken and blood sugar is unstable. Cortisol, made by the adrenals. is a glucocorticosteroid. This is a long fancy name but anyone can see from its name that it helps regulate glucose levels. Once your blood sugar is unstable and you’ve developed some insulin resistance, leptin resistance will follow leading to uncontrollable cravings and difficulty knowing when to stop eating. It’s a vicious cycle that you can see from above not only affects metabolism but numerous other body systems.

The good news is that changing the diet can help significantly as can proper exercise and learning to manage stress better. Sadly though, many have been given horrible dietary advice consisting of calorie counting and portion control and food quality was a distant recommendation. And to make matters worse, most were also just told to exercise more and that leaves many on treadmills for hours a week leading to more chronic stress and the cycle continues. Stress management, however, cannot be “stressed” enough. More blogs will follow about this. Unless we are going to all be teleported to a less stressful location, then we have to learn to manage and minimize the chronic stressors much better. Any strong healing protocol for the adrenals will contain a large focus on mindfulness, meditations, and prayers.

Some in the early stages of adrenal dysfunction and disrupted metabolism can dig out in 6-18 months with hard core diet, exercise, sleep and stress modifications. But many cannot. If you have been stuck in this vicious cycle and feel like your hormones and metabolism are broken it is highly recommended to get your cortisol and DHEA levels tested asap. Make sure it is someone who has years of experience with salivary hormones or is learning from someone who has years of experience. This would be the first step even in women or men with significant imbalances in other sex hormones like Testosterone and Estrogen/Progesterone levels. Take a look at the final image below to see how a chronic stress response will divert pregnenolone (your master hormone) down the cortisol pathway preferring survival over reproduction and disrupting all other hormones! 

 

Once your HPA axis is balanced, your metabolism will come back online and a healthy body habitus will naturally follow. It will not be an overnight fix but most lasting things are never quick fixes. We usually don’t arrive in stage III adrenal dysfunction overnight and it will take time and dedication to dig out but it can be done! So, get your adrenals tested ASAP so that every time you step on the scale you aren't cursing it.