Here’s an awesome post from the resident Prolean naturopath, Dr. Melanie Dunn!
You hear about it on commercials and in magazine ads for new medications and supplements. Cortisol … belly fat… the latest big, bad wolf of weight loss. However, with a baseline understanding of what it is and how to manage it, there is no reason for anyone to be at its mercy.
Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Stress is a broad term here that includes a myriad of sources. Some examples of those stressors would be worry and anxiety, physical pain, illness, chronic allergies, surgery, inadequate sleep and poor nutrition, including excessive sugars and starches. Cortisol is manufactured from a precursor of pregnenolone, another hormone. Pregnenolone is a precursor for many hormones, including the sex hormones. When pregnenolone is channeled toward predominantly cortisol production, other hormone levels can suffer deficiencies.
Under the best of circumstances, the effects of cortisol include the following: It causes the liver to convert amino acids, the building blocks of protein, into glucose (blood sugar) for energy. It stimulates the storage of energy in the liver. It causes an increase in fatty acids in the blood for use as fuel. It helps the body to actually resist inflammation, allergies and stress by maintaining blood pressure and blood volume. This is true if cortisol levels are chronically normal and appropriately raised for short, infrequent bursts.
Then there’s reality… modern life can be very stressful in small, persistent, unrelenting ways. When cortisol levels become chronically excessive, a different set of effects occur which include increased blood glucose, increased muscle wasting, increased bone demineralization, decreased immune function, an over-stimulated thyroid, increased inflammation, hypertension, mild memory loss, insomnia, decreased libido, poor concentration and excessive hunger for sugars and starches. Any of this sounding familiar?
With regard to weight loss, obviously it would be desirable to maintain a normal cortisol level. Probably the most significant consequence of elevated cortisol relative to weight loss is the effect is has on growth hormone (GH.) GH is your friend in weight loss. GH is responsible for so many elements we associate with youthfulness. GH causes an increase in bone density, increased muscle mass, a decrease in fat tissue, an increase in sensitivity to insulin, increase in cell turnover and healing, proper hormone production, among other functions. Elevated cortisol interferes with a healthy sleep cycle and GH production largely occurs during the deeper stages of sleep. Therefore, as cortisol rises, GH drops. Not good.
There are many ways to reduce elevated cortisol levels back down to a healthy and optimal level. Most of them don’t even require a purchase. Moderate exercise like a daily walk will reduce cortisol. Getting a better night’s sleep will also do the job, and more easily achieved with some exercise. Different practices of mindfulness are effective, such as meditation, yoga, listening to calm and pleasing music. Nurturing your relationships can decrease cortisol through a sense of loving connection.
Other ways to decrease elevated cortisol include diet and supplements. You would want to refrain from eating and drinking excessive sugars and starches, including wine and other alcohol. Of course, all of those popular caffeinated drinks are out. Eating adequate protein will accommodate for any muscle wasting. B-vitamins and magnesium will help with the chemistry of relaxation. There are many herbal products which can help, but those would be more specific to a person’s particular case. At Prolean, we address your cortisol level with regard to your weight loss journey and address it as most appropriate for you. In the meantime… breathe.