September 19, 2012

Stress isn’t just wearing you down, it’s making you fat!

And, you likely have cortisol to blame. One of the main adrenal hormones secreted to provide energy in response to stress, Cortisol stimulates the release of protein from muscle so it can be converted to glucose, inhibits protein synthesis, increases the release of fatty acids from fat tissue and stimulates the conversion of noncarbohydrates to glucose. All of the resulting extra blood sugar provides the fuel you need to respond to an immediate stress – that rush of adrenaline you feel when you narrowly avoid a wreck while driving.

When stress becomes a constant, as is the case for so many of us juggling busy schedules, careers and family, cortisol levels remain high, as do glucose levels. When the excess blood sugar is not used for energy production, it is stored as fat, often in the deep abdominal fat cells, which have four times more cortisol receptors than fat cells found just below the skin. Consequently, cortisol is drawn into the central fat cells, where it activates enzymes to store fat. This process is what gives you that midlife tummy bulge that’s so difficult to lose.

Cortisol influences overall weight gain in other ways as well. Increased levels set off food cravings, breakdown muscle tissue, and cause a vicious cycle with metabolism and sleep. Cortisol makes it hard to sleep—and insufficient sleep releases more cortisol and decreases your body’s ability to burn fat effectively. A landmark study in JAMA shows people getting approximately eight hours of sleep a night secrete half as much cortisol as those who sleep only six and a half hours a night.

Steady overproduction of cortisol also inhibits another important hormone, DHEA. As you age, DHEA production naturally decreases, but excess cortisol can interrupt hormones with major ramifications for your health. In particular, the cortisol-DHEA connection is closely related to the insulin-glucagon connection. As cortisol levels increase, so do insulin levels which can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

So, what’s the answer to controlling cortisol? In theory, my advice is to stress less, but I can attest that is always easier said than done.

However, there are some simple things you can do to help your body’s natural defense system against stress – watch this video for my top 3 tips for controlling cortisol:

1. Get to bed by 10 pm.
2. Get enough Good fat from things like Coconut Oil, Raw butter, GLA: these good fats help to stabilize the blood sugar levels and therefore reduce stress.
3. Excercise.

Check out Ann Louise's video: