Cortisol and Stress

Stress causes many unpleasant and debilitating symptoms, from headaches, irritability and diarrhea, to insomnia, sweaty palms and an inability to concentrate properly.

Although symptoms and triggers can vary widely from person to person, one thing's for sure. In today's fast-paced world very few of us remain immune to its negative effects.

In the short term, stress isn't a problem. Your body is equipped with the hormones to cope. However, prolonged periods of stress can have serious health consequences, increasing your risk of heart disease, ulcers and emphysema. One of the lesser-known side-effects of stress - but one that can have dramatic health implications - is weight gain.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress

  • Increased appetite
  • Cravings for food (i.e., chocolate, sweets, pastry, breads, caffeine, alcohol)
  • Mid afternoon slump
  • Low immune system
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Hair loss
  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Reduced mental awareness
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Slow metabolism
  • Low sex drive
  • Tiredness, fatigue, lethargy

One of the main ways stress contributes to weight gain is by increasing your appetite. In particular it produces cravings for high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods, which provide your body with an instant energy boost.

In evolutionary terms, this makes perfect sense. Our ancient ancestors would become stressed when they saw a dangerous animal or found themselves in a new and threatening environment. Their bodies would be primed for 'fight or flight' and there would be huge outpourings of stress hormones to prepare them mentally and physically for action, including the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol stimulates appetite and promotes fat/carbohydrate conversion into glucose - the aim being to boost your energy reserves for that urgent 'fight or flight' response. Cortisol is what is known as an “energetic hormone” and is produced at times when our bodies require an extra boost for immediate action. Unfortunately modern man suffers from a constant undercurrent of stress akin to a pressure cooker running without a valve. How often have you felt stress literally rising through your body as you are stuck in bad traffic, dealing with deadlines, worrying about the mortgage, or listening to the late night doom and gloom that passes for news nowadays.

All of this means that you can’t switch off at night and have trouble falling and / or staying asleep. We all then turn to sugary foods or pastries to keep our energy levels up the next day. The result? Weight gain.

Also, during stressful periods, it is very common to skip meals altogether as the hormonal status can blunt hunger pangs temporarily. You know that when this happens you almost always end up binging on all the wrong foods.

The stress we typically experience in modern life - sitting in a traffic jam or problems at work - does not require this extra energy (unlike running away from danger). Our lifestyles are predominantly sedentary. We consume extra calories because our bodies think we need them but they are not actually being used. The result is weight gain.

Another main issue with Cortisol it that it encourages fat deposits to accumulate around your stomach.

Cortisol trains your body to store fat more effectively, particularly in your abdominal area. It is now accepted by doctors that those who store excess fat in this area are more vulnerable to heart disease. This risk is made worse by the fact that cortisol also increases cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels.

In addition, too much cortisol depletes levels of serotonin (the 'happy' hormone) in your brain - which can soon leave you feeling emotional and depressed. Cortisol also weakens your immune system and leaves you vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections and, over time, cancer.

We can see that prolonged periods of exposure to this hormone really can have far reaching negative implications for you body fat storage and your overall health. We need to look at reducing this exposure to the cortisol hormone and start balancing this response to create improved sleep quality, better moods, increase overall energy levels, reduce fat storage and enhance health.

This is essential to rid your body of damaging excessive cortisol. The resulting fat loss and improved feeling of health that follow will amaze you. To help reduce the fat storage on the stomach its essential to take Omega 3 (x2) and multi-vit, with every meal is essential to all weight loss and using magnesium to help reduce the stress caused by high cortisol on the nervous system.

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