You’ve probably heard of cortisol, you might have even heard it causes weight gain. I’m not sure if they are still around, but weight loss ads on the internet used to be everywhere talking about cortisol over a picture of a woman with a very impressive “mushroom top.” That means her belly was hanging over her pants rather dramatically.
Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands. It regulates blood pressure and regulates the body’s use of macronutrients. Cortisol also affects the release of insulin and your body’s ability to convert sugars into energy.
Typically, cortisol levels peak in the morning, and is at its lowest level in the middle of the night. At natural, healthy levels, cortisol provides sustained energy and even improves memory. In stressful situations, extra cortisol is released to provide an immediate, easy-to-use energy supply. While this reaction is helpful in life-or-death situations, it actually becomes harmful when it occurs in response to minor everyday stresses like traffic and bills. Chronic stress, overworking, and insufficient sleep cause a chronic excess of cortisol, which is harmful in the short-term and life-threatening in the long-term.
What are the drawbacks of too much cortisol?
Most modern-day stresses are mental or emotional—not truly life-threatening. Not many of us have to run and hide from a sabre-toothed tiger these days. But our body doesn’t make a distinction between dealing with a hungry predator and getting a phone call from a debt collector or being late to work. The result of a week’s worth of minor conflicts is a body under constant stress. This provides a few immediate complications:
- Suppressed thyroid function.
- Lowered immune response.
- Imbalanced blood sugar.
Over the course of a lifetime, excess cortisol is associated with far more damaging effects:
- Loss of muscle mass, which also slows your metabolism.
- Chronically increased blood sugar, which increases appetite, cravings for harmful sweets, and can lead to insulin resistance (a precursor of type 2 diabetes).
- Accumulation of body fat from stress-eating due to an overstimulated appetite. Stress-eating tends to add fat around the abdomen. Belly fat is linked to metabolic syndrome: a group of risk factors linked with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Excess cortisol also inhibits your body from burning fat for energy. Without an optimal ability to burn fat, sustainable weight loss becomes exceedingly difficult.
Managing cortisol for weight loss
The big question is always: what can I do about it? Follow the five tips below to reduce cortisol and get all the benefits of cortisol reduction–particularly weight loss.
- Lay off the caffeine.
When you’re stressed, caffeine increases the release of cortisol. And, in patients with diabetes, coffee specifically has been shown to drastically increase blood sugar after a carbohydrate-rich meal. Kick the coffee and switch to a relaxing, caffeine-free green tea. It’s rich in antioxidants and still provides a warm, tasty morning beverage. Fun tip: if you drink your green tea cold, you get even more antioxidants.
- Exercise efficiently.
Long, slow jogs on the treadmill can actually increase the production of cortisol. Switch to Max T3: Surge-type training to reap the benefits of the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption—or afterburn effect—which burns calories long after a workout has been completed without triggering the release of cortisol.
- Get adjusted!
Tension builds up in the muscles and spinal structures. Corrective chiropractic care will relieve tension not only from muscles and joints, but from the nervous system itself.
- Schedule relaxation.
Give yourself time to unplug and unwind every day. If you don’t take time to handle your stress, your cortisol levels will remain high. Prayer, meditation, nature walks and journal-writing are all healthy, natural ways to cope with a stressful day.
- Get to sleep.
The average American misses out on 300-400 hours of necessary sleep each year. Your body needs this time to recover from a day’s worth of stress. Set yourself up with a bedtime routine. Turn off the electronics an hour before bed. Cool your room at bedtime and sleep in complete darkness.
Follow these five steps and you’ll be slimmer, less stressed and healthier. Cortisol is a truly diabolical force on our health today. And while necessary, we’ve given it so much power. Take the power back.