This is  Part 6 of  an 8-part series about Adrenal Fatigue  (HPA-Axis Dysregulation), how it relates to your health, how to know if it’s impacting you, and what you can do to fix it!. Click here to read parts one, two, three, four, and five.

When Mary came to see me, she was extremely frustrated because, despite cooking most meals at home, and exercising most days of the week, she just couldn’t’ seem to get rid of the 10 extra pounds that she was carrying, mostly around her hips and stomach.

“I get it,” I told her.  Hey, I’m a woman too, and while my priority is to be healthy and to feel good, I’m not gonna lie, I want to stay fitting into my date-night jeans too!

In post number 3 in the series,  I mentioned how one of cortisol’s main roles in Fight-or-flight is to keep higher levels of circulating glucose in the blood for fuel. It does this by inducing a process known as gluconeogenesis, where fatty acids and amino acids are converted into useable blood glucose in the liver.

Generally, when our blood glucose levels rise, our pancreas secretes insulin to move the glucose into cells for storage, so that it can be used later during periods of activity. Having elevated cortisol long term leads to consistently higher glucose levels, which leads to consistently elevated insulin levels, as the body attempts to get glucose out of the blood and into storage. The purpose of the stored carbs is to generate a source of rapid fuel for the body. This is required if you, say,  need to run from a bear.

But what if the bear isn’t a bear, but is rush hour traffic that‘s making you late for an important presentation. Rather than running down the highway to burn off some of your excess adrenaline, you’re forced to sit there and feel anxious as the minutes tick by. Now you’re just sitting still, with high blood sugar levels circulating, and no good use for them.

After a while, your body recognizes that you’re not using the liberated glucose. Your body then pumps out higher levels of insulin, to transport the glucose into fat cells to be stored. When you have high insulin and high cortisol levels your body typically stores this energy in fat cells located around the midsection or belly. Overall weight gain, or weight loss resistance are also common. To add insult to injury, adipose tissue can actually generate it’s own cortisol, jump-starting a vicious circle of chronically elevated cortisol that makes fat just impossible to budge.

Chronically high levels of insulin can also lead to a pre-diabetic condition called metabolic syndrome (or insulin resistance) and type 2 diabetes, which also leads to increased weight gain. Because of the relationship to blood sugar regulation, anyone with diabetes, pre-diabetes, whether overweight or thin, should have their adrenals tested and seek treatment if necessary.

Chronic stress also impacts appetite-regulating hormones like ghrelin and leptin, affecting our levels of hunger and satiation, as well as food preference.

If you’re struggling to lose weight, despite your best efforts, testing your cortisol levels may provide you with valuable insights into what’s getting in the way of your weight loss, and how to fix it!

Stay tuned for the final posts in the series, where I’ll discuss different types of testing, and some simple-but-powerful steps you can take to start to heal adrenal fatigue on your own.