Posted by Dr. Ian Bier on Aug 17, 2020 5:47:58 PM
“Adrenal body type.” It’s a newer buzz word, especially in the diet and fitness industries. What is an adrenal body type? Is it actually a thing?
Yes and no.
If that answer seems vague or ambiguous, it’s because I don’t believe in one adrenal body type. However, prolonged activation of the adrenal glands does cause the human body to change, but what that looks like will depend on the body you start with.
People are always on the lookout for new information, and practitioners want to help their patients. This results in the birth of new concepts like the adrenal body type. So, let me elaborate by first explaining traditional body types.
Traditional systems of medicine that studied bodies over many years recognized that there were distinct types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In Eastern Indian Ayurvedic medicine, you have the three doshas, Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, you have the five elements, Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Metal, although metal isn’t really used as a body type. In ancient Greece, there was the idea of the four humors - blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.
Although they don’t specifically speak of genetics, each of these ancient concepts is related to the body you are born with, and the types stretch across the spectrum from lean and thin, think of Pop Eye’s, Olive Oil, to short and stout and everything in between. Although they each use different languages and were developed in different places and cultures over thousands of years, each of the traditional systems say remarkably similar things.
Unfortunately, modern society has created a visual idea of a healthy body type and healthy weight. However, if we are perfectly honest, millions of people are born with a body type that will never be thin and lean, no matter how healthy their diet is or how much they exercise.
With this said, it’s essential to recognize that these diagrams we see online about the adrenal body type are trying to cram everyone into a similar physical category. However, not everyone fits into this category. In fact, many don’t.
The depiction of an adrenal body type is a person with relatively healthy-looking arms and legs who has saggy lower-belly fat. The problem with this depiction is only naturally skinny people, like a Vata body type, are going to express adrenal dysfunction in this manner noticeably.
The problem with the new adrenal body type concept is that someone who isn’t naturally thin, such as an earth type, will express adrenal-related fat storage differently from the leaner, air body types. So, this person may look at the commonly accepted examples of an adrenal body type and not realize they have adrenal issues, because they see the images and think, ‘that is not me, so I don’t have a problem.’ Even if the fat is deposited in the same areas, it won’t be as noticeable or look slightly different because they’ll carry it differently.
Fixing an adrenal body type starts with understanding basic adrenal function.
The definition of stress is any time the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated. Acute adrenal activation is normal and healthy. However, we run into cascading health challenges when our adrenal glands are over-activated for long periods. An unfortunate aspect of modern society is our way of life lends to over-taxing the HPA axis.
Initially, most people don’t realize it is happening. A perfect example is plugging away all night on a work project, and to get through, your body releases extra cortisol. Then you wake up early for work tired, and to get you through the day, the body releases more cortisol. When this becomes a perpetual cycle, the body is essentially in a constant state of fight-or-flight response and goes into a state of emergency. Your body doesn’t know it’s not a true emergency, so, it starts storing fat in case you need to drop everything and run. It just so happens that people who are naturally on the skinnier side of the spectrum tend to store the fat around the lower belly and waist, which is where the idea of the adrenal body type comes from.
How to fix this problem is more about balance than anything else. We need to break the cycle of constant mental-emotional stimulation and stress and get our bodies out of an adrenaline fight-or-flight mode.
Here are a few simple things we can do to regulate adrenal activity:
Unstable blood sugar is the most common dietary aspect that impacts the HPA axis.When our blood sugar crashes, our bodies' only option is to kick our adrenal glands into high gear. A lot of our modern-day stress is psychological, but this is physiological.
While in a long afternoon meeting or sitting in traffic on the way home from work, we run out of energy. To keep you alert, your body hits you with a big spike of adrenaline to pull you out of the crash and releases stored glycogen to bring your blood sugar back up. If you've ever almost fallen asleep driving, or while studying and then snap awake with your heart rate elevated, and think, "OK, I'm focused and alert now," that's your adrenal glands hitting you with a shot of adrenaline.
Constant protein intake is the best way to regulate your blood sugar and the resulting adrenal activations. Nuts, seeds, dried meats, tofu, and fish are excellent sources of protein that can help you regulate your blood sugar. Taking in organic protein without any preservatives every couple of hours is ideal. You probably can't eat salmon at work, but you can snack on jerky or almonds and walnuts to keep your energy levels optimal. A nutritional supplement like protein shakes are another excellent source of protein while in your daily work environment.
In short, eat well-balanced meals made up of whole organic foods and make your mid-day snacks protein-based.
In conclusion, the term adrenal body type can be misleading because it's just a depiction of how the human body stores fat while in emergency mode on a specific constitutional body type. Because we are all different and can't be pigeonholed into one shape, it's better to consider how you felt and what your body type naturally was while at its healthiest. This way, you can determine if the challenges associated with an adrenal body type are affecting you. If you have any concerns regarding your adrenal function, be sure to visit your functional medical practitioner as soon as possible.
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