Cortisol, known to some as the enemy, dubbed the “stress hormone”.
Cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to physical and mental stress. The fight or flight response is a physiological loop that prepares for the “attack” that our body is recognising, so we can fight against danger and run for our life. Cortisol has three main jobs 1. To raise blood sugar (to feed muscles so you can run or fight) 2. To raise blood pressure 3. To modulate immune function. This is when cortisol is your best friend as it is vital when faced with immediate danger, however it becomes the enemy when your body recognises “attack” as a response to chronic and everyday stress, which in this day and age can be on a daily basis for some people.
The problem with the daily occurance of cortisol release in our bodies, is that when our levels are too high for too long it can increase the amount of fat we store in the belly area, in other words our visceral fat, which is particularly dangerous because it surrounds our vital organs and releases fatty acids into our blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes.
Over time, high cortisol, when sustained, is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, brain changes such as atrophy of the hippocampus (where memory is synthesized), increased belly fat, depression, poor wound healing and insomnia. In fact, fat cells in the belly have four times more cortisol receptors compared to fat cells elsewhere, so you just keep reinforcing the muffin top as your cortisol climbs and stays high. Its a vicious cycle.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE CORTISOL PROBLEM?
HERE IS SOME TIPS THAT MAY HELP!
- Unfortunately we all know we cannot avoid the daily stressors of life, however we can change how we cope with them. Daily meditation can work wonders to our cortisol levels. If you are not comfortable with this then take a gentle stroll on the beach, even if its just 20 minutes a day, focus on the sound of the waves and clear your mind completely of your daily stressors. Ensure no technology during the time.
- Take 2000mg of fish oil per day.
- Switch your long steady state cardio to shorts 20 minutes bursts of interval training, such as 1 minute sprint 1 min rest or slow walk. 20 minutes only.
- Rhodiola, a form of ginseng is a fantastic herb to lower cortisol levels. Take it daily and reap the benefits.
- Eliminate alchohol altogether, just dont go there at all, it will keep you spiralling downwards.
- Avoid refined carbs completely, remember we must try to lose the belly fat as our belly fat has four times more cortisol receptors then any other fat on the body creating the vicious cycle.
- Eat nutrient dense foods in every meal.
- Carbs at night!!! Avoid carbohydrates at breakfast, eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates at night. And I mean the “good carbs” sweet potato, pumpkin, quinoa. Not potato, pasta or bread!!! Cortisol is a natural fat-burning hormone, so then it makes sense that we need to time our food intake with the natural highs and lows in cortisol production in order to capitalise on this. Cortisol starts to increase at about 2am and peaks just after we wake in the morning, then it should decrease naturally throughout the day. Insulin and Cortisol have an inverse relationship. That means that when cortisol is high, insulin is low and vice versa. Consuming carbohydrates spikes insulin levels, thus suppressing cortisol. Therefore consuming a bowl of cereal or toast in the morning will lower your morning cortisol levels which is there to give you your get up and go!!
Opting for high protein / high fat is your best bet as this keeps the insulin response low, and cortisol high (as it should be), essentially enabling cortisol to naturally decrease a few hours after waking. Consuming your carbs later in the day will spike insulin, lower cortisol and allow our hormones to follow their natural rhythm.
- Eliminate or cut down coffee, next time you’re under stress, choose decaf. When you combine stress with caffeine, it raises cortisol levels more than stress alone. In a study undertaken by the University of Oklahoma, subjects who consumed the equivalent of 2½ to 3 cups of coffee while under mild stress boosted cortisol by about 25%—and kept it up for 3 hours. When subjects took 600 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 6 cups of java) throughout the day, the hormone went up by 30% and stayed high all day long. You’ll experience these effects even if your body is accustomed to a lot of lattes.