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Adrenal Body Type and Adrenal Hormones

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg November 23, 2012

The Adrenal Body Type, in addition to BELLY FAT has several issues:


Why is my weight loss slow?

This is because your problem is DIFFERENT from other body types.

When your body becomes overwhelmed by stress, it starts to pump out excess cortisol; that belly fat hormone. Fat then builds up in the mid-section more than in any other place. But the question is why?

Interestingly, the body gets stuck into a stress mode and starts storing potential energy (fat) around the most vital organs, which happen to be around your mid-section– for survival purposes.

Your body is going to make sure that it has enough food (stored fat fuel), around the liver, kidneys, and heart to keep alive and doesn’t care about appearance. It is just for survival.

To clarify, the REASON why regular dieting and exercise don’t work is because….


The problem is not really a weight problem! 
It’s a hormone problem! 


The adrenal hormone, called cortisol, will drive fat to your belly despite what you eat. This is exactly why traditional ways of losing weight make your body type worse. To find out your body type take this adrenal body type quiz.

Dieting is starving to the adrenal body type; too much of the wrong exercise is stress to the adrenal body type. Anything that adds STRESS makes it worse.

This is why even those sit-ups never worked - because contracting your abdominal muscles does NOT lower cortisol. We need to refocus your efforts on LOWERING CORTISOL!


The Three Stages of the Adrenal Body


Stages of weight loss

The adrenal body type starts to see fat accumulating in your mid-section first, then the top of your upper back will develop a fat pad because your body is trying to compensate from the belly fat pulling you forward. Adrenal types start craving chocolate and salt, and even carbs.

If you can envision being chased by a lion and the body reactions that would occur over time, it will make sense. For example, digestion and reproduction slow, causing constipation and a decreased libido. You might start feeling bloated or even experience acid reflux as this stems from a stress response.

The heart even works harder - this is one of the reasons why sleep is poor - your body never rests. And your memory will suffer because stress depletes oxygen to the brain.

By Stage 3, your muscles in your legs start to be used as fuel. Actually, this fuel is turned into fat around your belly. So over time, your legs get smaller and you eventually lose your butt. Where does all this protein fuel go? The fat goes to your belly, of course. Your adrenals don't care what you look like. It's all about after survival.


What are these adrenals?

You have two adrenal glands, each located on top of each kidney (see figure below).



Kidneys and Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands

One of their main functions is to counter stress. The adrenals don’t know the difference between physical or mental stress. They treat both with the same stress hormones.

Every type of stress influences these glands—injury, infection, divorce, financial stresses, job-related stress, irritable people, drugs and medication, surgery, pain, illness, poison ivy, excessive cold or heat, giving birth, menstrual cycle, staring into computer monitors for hours at a time, eating junk foods, starvation diets, excessive exercise and babysitting fifteen small children under the age of five for over thirteen hours without proper ventilation.


More functions

The adrenals have many other functions, from anti-inflammatory actions (ridding the body of pain and swelling) and immune system protection to balancing fluid and salt levels, and controlling minerals (such as potassium), rapid heart rate and sleep and awake cycles.

They even act as backup organs for the ovaries during menopause. In other words, they make the same hormones as the ovary does.


A positive adrenal hormone test does NOT always show up abnormal until 90% of the adrenal becomes dysfunctional.

(The CIBA Collection of Medical Illustrations, Vol. 4 Endocrine System, by Frank Netter, M.D. page 101)


Overweight woman

Excess fat in both the mid-section (buffalo-like torso) and the face can occur from overreaction of this gland.
In the mid-section, the fat forms primarily in and around the abdominal organs and sags downward over the belly. This is called visceral fat and cannot be safely extracted with liposuction.

Another term for this stomach is pendulous, meaning loose, hanging, and sagging.

This is different from the liver body shape, which is a potbelly or a protruding stomach like a water balloon, while in the ovary body shape, the person has a small bulge below the bellybutton.


Sagging, hanging mid-section weight with thin arms and legs

A common problem with the adrenal type is the inability to fit into clothing around the waist.

Some people even wear elastic bands to suck it back in, but this can constrict vital organs within the abdomen - pressure around the waist irritate the adrenal glands.



Mid-section weight

Fat accumulation in the face gives a round or “moon face” appearance. The face also has redness because of weakened blood vessels.

Gaining weight

A fat pad can develop in the lower neck and upper back area, called a “buffalo hump”. I believe the reason the body creates this is to anchor the belly so you don’t fall forward.

Reddish purple striations (strips or bands resembling stretch marks) can appear on the stomach, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts as well. This is because the person loses collagen, the protein glue that holds the body together.

The pictures below show the changes from a normal body shape through the progressive stages of the adrenal type:

Stages of weight gain


Adrenal cases don’t necessarily have to have a belly – it all depends on if the hormones are increasing or decreasing.

The face and eyes become puffy, a double chin and wrinkles ensue. You say this is aging. I say it’s the adrenal hormones being pumped too much. The adrenal hormones are the aging hormones.

Facial swelling

Swollen face and eyes


Why can’t I get six-pack abs?

In order to get into fat burning, there must be NO extra sugar present in the blood. The problem is the adrenals are constantly releasing sugar, either through breaking down its own tissue or releasing stored sugar from the liver. And in the presence of sugar or refined carbohydrates, your body CANNOT and WILL NOT burn fat.

In fact, sugar triggers the fat-storing hormone, Fat Storing Hormone, which will override all other fat-burning hormones and turn them off. The body will ALWAYS burn sugar in place of fat.

Inflammation, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia

The ONLY anti-inflammatory hormone in the body is cortisol. This is why doctors use it as a popular treatment for every type of inflammation condition from poison ivy to arthritis.

This includes itching from hives (excess histamines and infections). You may have heard of prednisone or cortisone shots - which are adrenal hormones. They also work for allergic reaction, sinus, asthma, and so many other conditions.

Every condition a steroid is used for also means the adrenals could remedy or fix too if they could work properly.  My question has always been, “Why is no one improving the adrenal function?”

Exhausted adrenals keep the body in pain, inflammation, and stiffness in different parts of the body because the adrenal hormone, cortisol, (the anti-inflammatory hormone) is becoming dysfunctional.

If the “on-off switch” within the adrenals gets stuck, a person can go into a chronic pain and inflammation stage for years. Sore muscles that don’t seem to recover after exercise is a classic finding.

As this situation worsens, fibromyalgia develops, which is a systemic (overall) condition of muscle pain and inflammation throughout the entire body. This is merely the adrenals running out of its own anti-inflammatory hormone.

Having pain and inflammation and losing weight don’t mix; in fact, it is one of the top reasons for people not losing weight. Stress hormone triggered by pain can also block fat-burning hormones.

Knee pain is probably due to cortisol creating the loss of strength of the connecting muscles – thigh.

Knee pain

Pain and inflammation not being solved


Chronic fatigue

Typically, a person with burnt-out adrenals has darkened circles under their eyes as well as a very tired appearance. They feel tired, drained, and have brain fog.

The brain fatigue can greatly affect concentration. Due to the lack of quality sleep, mid-afternoon naps are desperately needed. Cortisol also destroys the relay switch in the memory database of your brain.

This causes short-term memory problems and location problems as we’ll talk about more later. You often lose your keys or your words or even say, “What did I come in this room for again?”

Forgetting things are

Brain fog or dullness


Sleep and fat burning

Certain adrenal hormones are responsible for making you feel awake mentally. Others are responsible for the sleep cycle. And by the way, did you know that most of the fat burning in the body occur only during the deep sleep cycles?

So if you’re not getting into deep high quality sleep, there would be no fat burning even if you exercise.

Each night, our bodies are supposed to go through four 90-minute cycles of sleep from superficial to deep… but not if the lion is chasing you. You might be thoroughly exhausted but your body just can’t fully let go and turn off.

Many times a person will just wake up at 2:00–3:00 a.m. for no reason and end up lying there for an hour (or hours) thinking, thinking and thinking. Some people get anxiety in the middle of the night.  But the worst thing about this is not being able to function the next day.


Caffeine, from adrenal stimulation to burnout

Adrenal types need coffee to wake up—strong Cuban coffee. Europeans use very small cups for coffee; Americans have humongous jugs of coffee.

Caffeine is also in chocolate, sodas, and tea. Caffeine stimulates adrenal hormones, which gives you mental alertness for one or two hours until it wears off.

However, over time, there are fewer highs and more lows. In college, I would drink pots of coffee at a time, trying to stay up at night and study.

At that age, most people can get away with it, but at age twenty-eight, it caught up with me—stomach ulcers, insomnia, inflammation, and severe fatigue. Over the years, a person can feel depressed and very lethargic from this. Most people don’t have depression. They just don’t sleep!

The stimulation from caffeine acts like an artificial energy booster. If you ever measured body stress, in these cases, the person is either in total burnout or in full hyper mode. In either case, adding caffeine to stimulate or boost the body when it’s already overly boosted burns out the adrenals even more.       

Lady feeling depressed

Fatigued and dragging the body around


Running out of oxygen?

If the adrenals do not work properly, this can affect oxygen levels, causing you to feel out of breath, particularly when the body is stressed, such as while climbing stairs.

The lower legs will also feel heavier, as if you were carrying around lead ankle weights, especially when you try to exercise on inclined surfaces. Restless legs syndrome when your legs are nervous at night is merely and adrenal problem.

Walking up stairs

Out of breath while climbing


Hair loss and facial hair – not a pretty picture for a female

In women, excess adrenal hormones can result in a deeper voice, facial hair, and male-pattern hair loss (receding hair line)—but other than that, the person is totally fine. I’m kidding. It can really mess with a person’s body.

Female facial hair

Facial hair


Acne and the adrenal

Acne occurs due to enlargement of the oil glands on the face, especially during women’s periods. Since both the adrenals and ovaries make androgens (andro- means man). both can be involved in acne.

If the female gets acne on the left side of her cheek during her period, then only one of the ovaries is involved since the ovaries take turns each month releasing eggs. Acne can occur at any age but if it is not involved with the menstrual cycle, it is coming from an overactive adrenal.

Atrophy (shrinkage) of the breasts can also be present. The above symptoms are due to excessive male hormone production by the adrenals—androgens


Calcium and the adrenal

When excessive adrenal hormones are produced, the person has problems with the mineral calcium as well as others. In order to absorb calcium your blood needs to be on a certain pH level. This term pH refers to the acid/alkaline levels.

The body has many fluids, which need to be either acid or alkaline, so when someone tells you your body needs to be acid or alkaline, you have to clarify what body fluid they are talking about. The salvia should be alkaline, the urine slightly acid, the stomach extremely acid, and the blood just slightly alkaline.

Overactive adrenals make the blood too alkaline, preventing calcium from being directed to the bones and muscles, so one gets not only thinning of the bones (osteopenia and osteoporosis) but also muscle cramps in the calves at night. Cramps in the calf muscles come from calcium or potassium deficiencies.

But behind that is an adrenal problem. Instead of calcium going into the body, it accumulates on the body tissues.

I have observed these cases to have excessive tartar on their teeth, calcium on the eyes as early cataracts, on the bones as heal spurs, on the joints as arthritis, on the bursa (joint sac) as bursitis, on the tendons as tendonitis, in the arteries as arteriosclerosis, deposits in the kidneys, on the toes as bunions, and twitching under or on top of the left eyelid.

Without this balanced body calcium, a person will have a difficult time getting to sleep, not to mention staying asleep. Their body will be exhausted but their head will be awake, thinking lots of thoughts and solving yesterday’s problems – can’t wind down easily.


Sinus and the adrenal

As the adrenals wear out, the person gets sinus problems. This can happen all year around because the mucus membrane swells due to the several lack of immune anti-inflammatory effect on inner body membranes. This can also be interpreted as sleep apnea.

Sleep and the adrenal

The adrenal hormones are on a timing mechanism (clock), which is controlled by the circadian rhythms—waves that affect sleep and awake cycles. With adrenal problems, everything is backwards; you are tired during the day yet despite being exhausted, you can’t sleep through the night.

The body just won’t let you get into the deeper sleep cycles. The adrenal hormones make it impossible to attain the deep, restful sleep which you need to properly rejuvenate the body for the coming day.

Person unable to sleep

Unable to get restful sleep at night

So here lies the main problem, sustained stress, and the loss of enough recovery sleep. If the body can’t recover, it wears out. Fatigue comes from poor sleep.

Sleep apnea is an adrenal problem. High levels of stress hormones shrink nerves to the muscles in the back of the throat and sinuses. These muscles atrophy and restrict oxygen intake through the nose.

In the diagram below, you can see normal cortisol (adrenal hormone) levels. Notice that cortisol is supposed to be very minimal during sleep.

They have a hard time getting out of bed, get tired after lunch, need a nap mid-afternoon, and they have a hard time winding down to go to sleep. 

The best sleep for the adrenal cases is a half an hour before the alarm goes off. With weak adrenals, the person is more awake in the middle of the night than during the day which can be a sign of adrenal fatigue.

Sitting in front of computer

Can’t stay awake mid-afternoon

I remember one night I experienced torture laying there all night long, not able to even sleep for one minute. As I was counting down the hours from 12:00, 1:00am, 2:00am, 3:00am…hoping I would drift off - it was terrible because the next day, I had to be at my best and to work all day long.


Tolerance to stress

It’s how your body handles stress that tells you the condition your adrenals are in. People who have weak adrenals do not deal well with stress. The littlest things seem to irritate them rather easily.

This physical adrenal problem can definitely affect your mental state just like when having a low blood sugar issue. Try to go shopping with your kids when they are hungry and tired.

Since the adrenals are survival glands, and survival is a logical and rational thing, anything opposite to logic will be intolerant to a degree. Adrenal cases sometimes have a low tolerance to people making mistakes and errors, incompetent people, etc. They might come in a room and spot something “out of order”.

They might have a great day, but that ONE small bad thing would engulf their attention.

They say they are multi-taskers, but in reality, they are just dispersed with their attention all over the place. They don’t feel as productive because the incomplete projects lack the follow-through. 

Their thoughts come in like popcorn, not linear sequitur thought patterns. They have a hard time concentrating and feel a bit elsewhere. The reason they procrastinate and do things out of necessity is because they lose their focus and concentration mojo. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: As my disclaimer, I am not attempting to diagnose you with any mental problems at all. I am merely telling you my observations made from what a physical problem can do to a person mentally. You’re not going crazy. You just need your adrenals rejuvenated so you can sleep and recharge.

Excessive worry and anxiety are common with adrenal weakness due to the adrenaline stress response (fight or flight).

Flight or fight is a reaction to a stress situation, but when you’re stuck in stress, you feel the flight (running away) or fight (attacking) too often even when there is no tiger in the room.  


Feeling overwhelemd

Stress: Excessive worry and anxiety are common.


Mental stress and the adrenals

Our bodies have not yet developed in the evolutionary chain to handle sustained mental stress. Exposure to long-term stress without recovery kills brain cells, especially a part of the brain called the hypocampus.

This brain structure is the relay switch to your memory file cabinet. It’s also your brain GPS (that device in your car that helps you locate where you’re going). So it’s not that the memories get lost, but you can lose access to these files. You’re driving somewhere, then suddenly say, “Hhhmmm… where am I going again?”

You’re talking to someone but then go blank.  You look for something, then have to backtrack and try to find out what you were looking for. The hypocampus helps locate your position in space and time – birds have a huge hypocampus, which is needed to fly home in the winter and be guided.

People with Alzheimer's will walk aimlessly in the parking lot, trying to find their car or maybe they would just wander around and forget they have a car. They lose their mental mojo because their hypocampus is shrinking.

When the adrenals decrease in function, the inability to handle life’s stress increases. One patient of mine couldn’t even sit through a movie that had any suspense; it would keep her up all night long. I had another patient who didn’t have the patience to stand in line at the grocery store.

The adrenal-deficient case is usually worrying 24/7. This is very draining and leads to the need for stimulants - coffee, soda, tea, and chocolate. These might give them an hour of clarity or feeling up, but the rest of the day would be dull and lacking sharpness.


Vitamin D

Over time, as the adrenal get burnt out, vitamin D becomes depleted and it becomes difficult to hold vitamin in the body. Many adrenal cases show low vitamin D in the blood.

The doctor puts them on high vitamin as much as 50,000 IU,– not understanding the whole picture. Any time you take vitamin D3, you must take the vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 works with D3 to keep the calcium out of the wrong places and ensure it stays in the bone.


Acid reflux and the adrenal

A person with adrenal issues tends to have a higher stomach acid which is acid reflux and indigestion. This overproduction of acid can even cause burning through the stomach – this is called an ulcer.


Urinary bladder and the adrenal

The urinary bladder is very active at night in adrenal situations. The valve of the bladder is highly influenced by the adrenals. Some people with very little urine in their bladders have to go. They might even feel the urge to go but very little volume comes out.


High blood pressure and the adrenal

High blood pressure could also stem from a calcium buildup in the arteries, since with adrenal problems a person tends to get arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Initially, the top number (systolic) will increase before the bottom number (diastolic).



Cravings for salt in the form of cheese, pretzels, nuts, popcorn, or chips in the evening are common. People search the cupboards late at night for something crunchy and cheesy. This is because the adrenals regulate salts in the body.

Eating junk food

Cravings for salt or cheese at night

With salt and mineral imbalances, fluids can get out of balance, causing you to retain fluid (outside the cells) yet be dehydrated (inside the cells) at the same time.

Water never properly hydrates an adrenal case. In fact, none of your body use pure water. It’s a combination of salts and water - we call these electrolytes (electrically charged minerals). Without the right minerals, water cannot move through the body.

This leads to water retention, especially in the ankles. This puts a lot of stress on the heart, having to push blood through your feet.

Sore foot

Ankles swelling at night

Wherever sodium goes, water will accumulate. So when sodium gets lost through the urine, dehydration can occur. Drinking more water will dehydrate the cells because it washes out the minerals. Also, make sure you ONLY drink when you are thirsty.

FYI: Never consume table salt. Consume good quality sea salt. Sea salt has 84 minerals and table salt has only 2.


The rumor that you need 8–10 glasses of water per day is just a myth. Also, drinking water does not flush the fat out of your body.



Chocolate cravings and the adrenals

A deficiency of adrenal hormones can also create cravings for chocolate. This is because some of the body’s serotonin is produced by the adrenal glands.

Serotonin creates a “sense of well-being or comfort” and chocolate stimulates serotonin. People who crave chocolate are really craving the adrenal hormone, serotonin.

If you take the combination of salt and chocolate, you get chocolate-covered pretzels. In fact, this is how I diagnose adrenal problems—I simply hold up a chocolate-covered pretzel in front of a person’s face and see if they go for it.

Eating dairy products

Chocolate cravings


Cholesterol and the adrenals

Your adrenal hormones are made from cholesterol and you may find that it’s hard to keep your cholesterol lowered even with diet.


It is because the body needs this raw material to make more hormones, especially under stress. Cutting your dietary cholesterol will not make much difference. Also, restricting cholesterol can starve the adrenals the raw material it needs to make its hormones.


Bones and the adrenals

These hormones can be very destructive on the body’s proteins, especially bone tissue, leading to “thinning of the bones”, which starts out as osteopenia (mild bone loss) then progressing to osteoporosis.

They steal these body proteins and convert them to sugar using them as fuel, and during stress mode the body will go after any type of fuel, even after your own body tissue. Severe adrenal cases need to eat protein every few hours.

This is due to a breakdown condition known as “catabolism”, which is excessive destruction of body proteins – muscles, skin, joints, etc. It’s almost as if they are diabetic.


Causes of having the adrenal body type

There are several things that worsen or burn out the adrenal glands. The biggest of these is taking adrenal hormones. This could be in the form of prednisone or steroids (same thing).

When you bypass the body and give it straight hormones, the adrenals don’t have to produce their own. As a side effect, this severely weakens the adrenals. I’m not recommending avoiding steroids if your doctor has advised them. I had a patient who was a swimsuit model; she developed a heel spur and received a steroid injection for pain.

Four years later, she developed a huge mid-section with lots of stubborn weight. Steroids tend to make you put on weight by affecting the adrenals.

The second cause of adrenal problems comes from taking too much synthetic ascorbic acid (known as vitamin C). Vitamin C in nature comes in a whole complex form and consists of ascorbic acid, organic copper (tyrosinase), riboflavin, and K and J factors.

The ascorbic acid antioxidant element is only one part. Taking this one part in huge dosages can severely aggravate the adrenals, since the adrenal glands are a storage system for vitamin C. Man-made vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is often made from cornstarch and sulfuric acid.

You could even feel good taking these synthetics for a while, because they act as a stimulant. However, I’ve had patients take grams (one gram is 1,000 milligrams) of the stuff and end up with adrenal problems down the road. Always take vitamin C in its whole form from food. In its whole form, you rarely see the ascorbic acid part over 100 milligrams.

The third cause of weak adrenals is overwhelming stress to the body. Years of not sleeping, living with stressful people, a stressful environment, experiencing the loss of a loved one, going through a divorce, etc., can drain the adrenal glands.

The fourth cause of trouble with the adrenal glands is infection, especially from fungus, unfriendly yeast, and viruses. The adrenals get a major amount of blood flow because they are above the kidneys. These microbes travel through the blood and get trapped in the adrenals and create problems later in life.

The fifth source of adrenal problems stems from a combination of taking stimulants and having nutritional deficiencies. Stimulants include caffeine, appetite suppressors, sugar, nicotine, synthetic vitamins, herbal stimulants (ma huang), drugs, etc.

These items deplete vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals (particularly potassium and calcium). Add in poor eating habits and lots of refined sugars and grains, and you can end up with exhausted adrenals.

Below is a list of symptoms the adrenal type can experience from poorly working adrenal glands:


Adrenal type symptoms

  • Pendulous abdomen (sagging and hanging)
  • Mid-section weight
  • Buffalo hump (fat pad) at the upper back, lower neck area
  • Thinner legs and arms
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Need for mid-afternoon naps
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety (worry); frequent feelings of stress
  • Can’t tolerate stress
  • Thinning skin
  • Acne or poor skin
  • May have white or discolored patches on skin
  • Reddish purple stretch marks on the stomach, thighs, buttocks, arms and breasts
  • Red cheeks
  • Round or moon face
  • Puffy face and eyes
  • Dark circles around eyes
  • Double chin
  • Facial hair
  • Full eyebrows
  • Receding hairline
  • Deeper voice
  • Sparse hair on forearms and lower legs
  • Atrophy of breasts
  • Tightness in chest, or chest pains
  • High blood pressure
  • Lax ligaments—weak ankles and knees
  • Weak or brittle bones (due to a loss of calcium and protein)
  • Difficulty absorbing calcium
  • Needs coffee to wake up
  • Salt, cheese, chocolate, and sugar cravings, late afternoon and evening
  • Inflammation or pain in joints, back, neck
  • Heel spurs
  • Overreactive immune system—allergies, chemical sensitivities
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Asthma
  • Increased susceptibility to viruses
  • Dehydrated (intracellular) despite amount of water drunk
  • Fluid retention in between cells
  • Pitting edema (especially in ankles)
  • Gets out of breath when climbing stairs
  • Legs feel heavy, especially when exercising
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Brain fog or dullness
  • Ringing in ears
  • Low sex drive



Understand body types and see more Adrenal advice from Dr. Berg Video Blog.




The information contained in this e-book is provided for your general information only. Dr. Eric Berg, DC does not give medical advice or engage in the practice of medicine. Dr. Eric Berg, DC, under no circumstances, recommends particular treatment for specific individuals and in all cases recommends that you consult your physician or local treatment center before pursuing any course of treatment.All information and content on this website are protected by copyright. All rights are reserved. Users are prohibited from modifying, copying, distributing, transmitting, displaying, publishing, selling, licensing, creating derivative works, or using any information available on or through the site for commercial or public purposes.



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