Cortisol & Fat Loss – Why Your Hormones Matter
Gym memberships were up in America by over 3% last year! Bad news- as much as 79% of gym members only frequent the gym 2 times per month. With the average cost of a gym membership costing around $900.00 per year it's no surprise that when it comes to fitness, business is booming.
Speaking of booming, what are all the baby boomers going to do with their free time as retirement looms and purses swell? As the past would show there are 2 kinds of boomers- the ones that move and the ones that move MORE. The only trouble is that this particular generation has a “motto” that was good for them when they grew their careers but not so hot when it comes to fat loss. Unfortunately, when it comes to losing weight more is not always more. But just try to tell that to a recently interviewed 59 year old semi-retired marketing CEO who made his life's work all about hard work and heavy exercise. Did I mention he is 50 lbs overweight?
“Work hard, play hard” -Anonymous quote of the baby boomer generation
Research has shown us that exercise and diet can have a huge impact on better health when it comes to losing weight. This is especially true when it comes to those aged 55 and over. However, as the CDC polls in 2010 have shown us, the days of eating less and moving more as the “secret to weight loss” are obviously over. As a country, we have now shifted into overdrive in the efforts to eat less calories and frantically exercise without any tangible improvements in our nations waistline. In fact, we are now at an unprecedented level of over 68% of our population being overweight. Obesity now affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States – triple the rate from just one generation ago. America’s obese children are an increased risk for elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and becoming obese adults themselves. The financial cost of childhood obesity exceeds 3 billion dollars annually. UGH.
To this, I am offering a remedy! Lifestyle change and hormone regulation. Not to be insulting or make this even more simple than the two catch phrases above but with all do respect let's drop the rice cake and get off the elliptical because everyone who “hit the wall” last year has just been running into it over and over since then.
Cortisol is elevated in response to stress. The adrenal glands are not judgmental of the type of stress we encounter, any kind of stress will do. The stress can be physical, environmental, chemical or mental. The human brain is specifically hard wired with automatic responses to protect the body from these harmful threats. The most famous work on stress was done by Dr. Hans Selye, M.D. Dr. Seyle studied the physiological consequences of stress in rats and transferred that research data into a human model. A study that is referenced in major textbook across America and in Europe as well. Before I tell you to sleep more, eat better and meditate, let me back it up with the 3 phases of stress adaptation by the doctor himself!
In the activation of the stress signal or “Fight or Flight” response, the adrenal glands secrete large amounts of adrenal cortical hormones. These hormones suppress inflammatory responses and mobilize the body's energy reserves in response. This puts the body in a state of reaction to stress and diverts all biochemical resources to immediate survival. The body's self healing mechanisms are shut off, the immune system is suppressed, glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue are mobilized into circulation to raise the blood sugar level and digestion and assimilation are blocked. The stomach lining thins out and ulcerated and the thymus gland and lymphatic tissue shrinks. This “Fight or Flight” response heavily activates the sympathetic nervous system and works well when dealing with caveman threats and hunting, but it is not suited for our modern lifestyle. Battling traffic, fighting for parking spaces and watching the evening news produces the same physiological responses as literally running for your life. Plus, the stimuli don't stop and go away! This leaves the body with chronically high cortisol levels.
All forms of stress produce exactly the same physiological responses and consequences. This includes environmental stress (hot, cold and noise, etc.), chemical stress (heavy metal toxicity, pollution, drugs, etc.), physical stress (overexercise, over-training, overexertion, trauma, infection, etc.), psychological stress (existential angst, worry, fear, etc.) and biochemical stress (nutritional deficiencies, excessive high GI loads, refined sugar consumption, etc.). All of these different methods of stress are additive and cumulative in their effects to the total physiological load.
As the body responds to this cumulative stress, it goes through three stages of responses as shown below-
1. REACTION. The body experiences the symptoms from the trauma, infection, heat, cold, chemical irritation, etc. The endocrine system responds with the release of cortisol and other hormones to compensate for the trauma. The heart beats faster, the blood pressure rises, the pupils dilate.
2. ADAPTATION. After the adrenal glands have enlarged and released large quantities of adrenal cortical hormones, the symptoms disappear and the individual feels good, has energy, and is able to function in the presence of the stresses he/she is under.
3. EXHAUSTION. After an extended period in stage two, the body's reserves of nutritional elements (raw materials) and resilience becomes depleted. The symptoms return and there is now no relief. The individual may collapse physically, suffer a nervous breakdown, become dysfunctional and/or experience an organ or body system failure (heart attack, stroke, immune complications)
4. (optional) DEATH. If the stresses continue after stage three is reached and the body is no longer able to adapt, and rest, regeneration, and healing do not occur, the consequence is death.
It is vital to realize that a person in this cycle can reverse the consequences of stress by removing themselves from the stressful situation and giving themselves the proper rest, ample peace of mind, and whole food nutritional support that is necessary to restore the body's reserves!
It is also important to recognize that an individual in the adaptation phase has physiologically adapted and they feel asymptomatic, and are usually, therefore, not very concerned about or even really aware of what is going down. One of the consequences of this adaptation is the suppression of the immune system. This leave the person more susceptible to infections, colds, allergies and pathogens. In the presence of new and dangerous infectious diseases, and depending on the birth given immune health, this can be a very serious threat to life.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels lead to the accumulation of abdominal fat around the midsection and make it very difficult to get rid of it. The immune system is highly suppressed and the person becomes more susceptible to infections. It becomes clear that stress reduction is first priority in order to help normalize cortisol. Stress is the force and the initial root cause that made cortisol levels to get out of hand to begin with. Each person should explore and find the stress reduction techniques that work best for them such as meditation, physical activities, attitude changes and spirituality. Without stress reduction, all therapeutic and support measures will eventually fail.
Rest. This may sound obvious but it must be managed and scheduled as a deliberate strategy, choice and course of action. Otherwise it gets forgotten in the busyness of life.
A low glycemic diet is important. Sugar in excess will stress increases cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol, in turn, aggravates the sugar assimilation process contributing to the development of high insulin levels and eventually diabetes.
Nutritional supplementation can be extremely valuable in restoring normal cortisol levels. It is important, however, to recognize if your cortisol levels are high or low. This is done thru testing of an approved physician or FDN practitioner. Low cortisol levels are the consequence of adrenal exhaustion and lead to chronic conditions. High cortisol levels are the result of the response to chronic stress and represent the adaptation phase of the stress response. In other words, stress equals elevated cortisol
Excess responsibilities and possessions that shape our current American lifestyle are literally killing us. The old school mentality of “work hard and play hard” is the problematic root of most cumulative stress in our bodies. Most of the die-hards that live this motto usually die hard, and early.
Beat stress with the new year mantra! Turn off the TV, cancel your XBOX subscription, unplug, meditate, laugh, get outside and live! Spend quality unfiltered time alone and with others to relax from the demands of your “have to do lists.” This strong connection to yourself will give you needed rest for the mental and physical repair so you're truly able to live hard and love even harder.
Isn't that what life is all about?
Questions? Start here