Reduce This Hormone For Better Weight Loss
In the quest to lose weight, you need to be willing to look beyond calories and exercise. Another player is a hormone called cortisol, and it can make weight loss a real challenge unless you rein it in—and you can.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands, released throughout the day as part of the body’s natural rhythm, and regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain. It has various beneficial roles, including control of internal inflammation, blood pressure management, immune system support, and conversion of protein into energy during times of physical or psychological stress.
How cortisol affects weight loss
When cortisol levels are normal, they help you stay motivated, alert, and in touch with your environment. Too often, however, persistent stress and tension in life causes people to maintain a chronic high level of cortisol, which is associated with weight gain, hormone imbalances, insomnia and other sleep problems, and anxiety.
It’s been shown that people with abdominal obesity have high levels of cortisol and that stress and glucocorticoids (of which cortisol is one) control food intake and burning of calories. Research also has shown that glucocorticoids increase the consumption of fatty and sugary foods.
In a new study from Australia, a research team discovered that cortisol responsiveness is a critical factor in the body’s metabolic response to stress. How susceptible someone is to becoming obese “is associated with a distinct metabolic, neuroendocrine, and behavioral phenotype.”
In their study, the researchers reported that “In women and ewes, HR [high-cortisol responders] eat more in response to stress than LR [low-cortisol responders.]” High-cortisol responders have reactive ways of coping, while low-cortisol responders have proactive strategies. Therefore, they predicted that cortisol responsiveness could be helpful in identifying people who are at risk of gaining weight and becoming obese.
How you can lower cortisol levels
If you want to rein in your stress and cortisol levels—and help drop excess pounds at the same time--then it’s time to get serious about stress management.
Evaluate your stress levels. You may want to keep a daily diary for several days so you can identify the stressors in your life and how you react to them physically and emotionally. Ask your spouse, partner, family members, or good friends how you display your stress and how often. Someone else’s perspective can be very helpful.
Choose stress reducers you enjoy. It’s counterproductive to engage in a stress management technique you don’t enjoy. If possible, select two or more things so you can alternate and you can do them in different situations.
For example, deep breathing, meditation, and progressive relaxation are quiet, relatively inactive activities that may be done in your office or at home while tennis, yoga, dancing, or other forms of exercise require a different setting.
Practice! Stress management techniques work only if you practice them. Take time every day, twice or three times if necessary, to relax and be present.
Take balancing herbs. A special class of herbs called adaptogens have been shown to help the body better handle stress by balancing hormones, including cortisol. These herbs include ashwaghanda, astragalus, ginseng, holy basil, licorice root, and rhodiola. Choose organic herbs when possible and follow the dosing directions on the label.
Exercise. If some form of exercise isn’t on your stress management list, add one. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, which reduce anxiety and boost mood. If the E word makes you cringe, find something fun, such as Zumba, dancing, rebounding, or jazz aerobics.
Eat whole foods. Processed foods and those with added sugar can cause food cravings, anxiety, and fatigue. Cut down or eliminate alcohol and caffeine as well, since they can contribute to sleep problems and exacerbate anxiety and tension.
Hewagalamulage SD et al. Stress, cortisol, and obesity: a role for cortisol responsiveness in identifying individuals prone to obesity. Domestic Animal Endocrinology 2016 Jul; 56 Suppl:S112-20
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