What is Cortisol?
The adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys, secrete hormones in response to stress. Most notably, cortisol and adrenaline are hormones which help mobilize quick energy for a ‘fight or flight’ response. Cortisol is designed to let you know that you are in danger.
How Does Cortisol Work?
Cortisol initially helps break down fat for energy, increases blood sugar and blood pressure. Adrenaline production increases alertness, energy level, and metabolism (releases energy from fat cells). These functions are crucial for survival in the face of danger. For example, this response was essential for our ancestors who were faced with threats such as running from a lion. When the immediate stress ends, adrenaline quickly returns to normal and cortisol takes over to get the body back into balance. One way cortisol aids the body in returning to equilibrium is by increasing appetite. Increased appetite and food intake allows carbohydrates and fats burned during the flight or fight response to be replenished. Therefore, this leads to cravings for simple carbohydrates like sugar as well as for fats.
More About Cortisol
Cortisol is known as “the stress hormone” because it’s secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress and prepares the body for “fight or flight.” Cortisol functions to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, metabolism, and inflammation. Small increases of cortisol produce positive effects like improved memory, reduced sensitivity to pain, increased immunity, and increased energy. However, elevated cortisol levels from prolonged or chronic stress can cause decreases in thyroid function, bone density, muscle mass and cognition. In addition, it can also lead to increased blood pressure, abdominal fat, and blood sugar imbalances.
High levels of cortisol can also lower immunity and inflammatory responses as well as slow down healing processes. Sustained high levels of cortisol will gradually tear down the body (called catabolism). Excessive acute or chronic stress can impair the functioning of the adrenal glands, eventually causing a decrease in the output of cortisol. This leads to adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion. The main symptom of adrenal exhaustion is overwhelming fatigue that is not relieved with rest.
All forms of stress produce the same physiological sequence of events as mentioned above. The body reacts the same way to emotional or physical stress so, fat and glucose get released into the blood stream along with everything else from the ‘fight or flight’ response.
In modern society, this response is not necessarily beneficial if the stress is emotional, i.e. an unhappy relationship, worry about paying bills, work pressure, sitting in a traffic jam, smog, worrying about children, to name a few. These stressful events do not require flight or fight and we don’t need all those calories our body makes available. Therefore, the extra calories get deposited as fat.
More must know tips about cortisol and weight loss in Los Angeles
In today’s world, the stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t always have a chance to return to normal. As a result, this leads to elevated circulating cortisol which continually releases glucose into the system. Next, insulin rises to drive the glucose into the cells. If this is not needed for extra energy it gets stored as fat. Stress induced cortisol weight is usually gained around the waistline and is known as belly fat. This is because fat cells in that area are more sensitive to cortisol. This is a perilous place to gain weight, as it can lead to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease. Paul Chek refers to belly fat as Syndrome X
Prolonged physical and emotional stress causes elevated cortisol. Elevated cortisol causes high blood sugar, increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and muscle loss. While undergoing chronic episodes of prolonged stress, adrenal glands continue to pump out cortisol. This happens many times at the expense of other hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). In peri-menopausal and menopausal women, this further disrupts hormones that are already out of balance. As a result, this can cause even more weight gain issues. Sleeping disturbances, which are common in peri-menopause and menopause can elevate cortisol levels. That being said so can drinking too much caffeine.
Here are a few tips about cortisol and weight loss
- get regular exercise, cardio for 45 minutes daily
- Eat frequent small meals with protein at each meal
- Find stress reduction techniques that work for you, such as meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.
- Improve time management skills so life won’t be so hectic
- Wean off caffeine
- get 7 to 8 restful hours of sleep each night