Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Every dietitian we spoke with mentioned the positive impact an adequate night’s sleep can have on one’s cortisol levels. Cortisol rises and falls based on our sleep cycles: it’s highest just after we wake up and lowest right before we hit the hay. So, it’s no surprise that sleep and cortisol levels are so heavily interconnected.
“Due to cortisol levels being linked to circadian rhythm, making sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night will help keep cortisol levels normal,” explains White. “This can also help keep the fat off.” According to Wake Forest researchers, people who sleep five hours or less put on two and a half times more belly fat, while those who sleep more than eight hours pack on slightly less than that.
Get A Good Nights Sleep
Sleep deprivation increases cortisol, particularly the evening after the lack of sleep has occurred. Cortisol is produced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is also responsible for regulating sleep cycles. If the HPA axis is activated by stress, illness, or poor nutrition, it can have a knock-on effect on your sleep and subsequent stress hormone levels.
The best way to ensure you get restful sleep is to incorporate good sleep hygiene. Make your bedroom a peaceful environment by limiting things that disrupt your sleep, like noise and light. Blackout curtains, an eye mask, earplugs, or a noise machine can help.
Ways Stress Causes Belly Fat And How To Control It
Belly fat is an unwanted attribute. It not only gives you a poor self-image, but it is a symptom of an unhealthy body. It is your bodyâs way of letting you know that your cortisol levels are out of balance.
The number one cause of unwanted belly fat is chronic stress. Stress is something that your body needs, however in unfiltered amounts it can cause a lot of damage.
Think of it this way â Your adrenal glands kick into action to produce cortisol anytime you are put in a threatening situation. The release of cortisol is needed to trigger the cells in your liver, fat, and muscle tissues to release the energy your body needs to get through the threatening situation.
This release of cortisol is known as fight or flight mode. Your body will naturally reduce your appetite and shut down other processes such as reproduction and tissue repair â which are not 100% necessary for survival â so that it can focus solely on safety.
This response was great when we were running away from predators, or charging after our food. Over the centuries, society has developed in such a way that this response is not needed in such drastic measures.
Yet, it remains a natural part of our life. When stress levels remain high enough to continue producing cortisol for long periods of time, unhealthy and dangerous changes will begin to occur within your body.
That urge to eat is being caused by an excess of cortisol.
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Individual Differences In The Cortisol Response To Stress
Not everyone responds to stress in the same way. Expose a group of people to the same source of stress, and not everyone will secrete the same amount of cortisol.
This is partially due to variations in psychology. One person may find an event particularly stressful, while another reacts in a very different way.
When the source of stress is removed, their cortisol levels will return to normal at varying speeds, mainly because of physiological differences in the rate at which the body breaks down cortisol.
There are also plenty of people who lose weight when theyre exposed to stress, primarily because they seem to lose their appetite and eat less. Roughly 6 out of 10 people will respond to stress by eating more. The rest become hypophagic, which means that they eat less.
Figure Out Your Stress Triggers
Stress and cortisol are closely interlinked. A stressor is any stimuli that causes anxiety or stress. It can be something physical or psychological, like a threat to your safety or an unexpected change to your environment. It could also be pain, financial worries, relationship issues, or work-related problems.
When your body is exposed to stress, cortisol is released to keep the body on high alert and can even provide much needed energy, an important factor in the fight or flight response. Therefore, stressful situations increase cortisol production.
Understanding your own triggers is vital if you want lower cortisol levels. Keep a journal to record stressful situations. You dont have to go into detail, but make a note of what happened and consider why it made you feel bad.
You can use this information to find practical ways of managing these situations. For example, stepping away from arguments, learning to say no to extra work, and avoiding unnecessary triggers are good places to start.
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How Can I Lower My Cortisol Levels To Lose Weight
Now that we know exactly how cortisol levels affect our weight, here are 6 proven ways to make sure were able to keep our stress hormones at bay.
Hormones And Weight Gain: How To Fix The Hormones That Control Your Weight
Did you know that your weight is directly related to your hormones? This is a fact many of us forget as we travel along the often slow and frustrating road to weight loss. To maintain a weight thats healthy for our unique bodily makeup, a delicate balance of hormones is required. If certain hormones are off-kilter, weight gain often results.
In order to lose weight and keep it off we must understand the intricate inner workings of our many hormones. Once we understand the relationship between hormones and weight gain, we can take the proper steps to balance these hormones and lose weight in a sustainable, healthy way.
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Cortisol And Sugar Cravings
Cue the sugar cravings. Because sugar supplies your body with the quick energy it thinks it needs, it’s often the first thing you reach for when you’re stressed.
The downside to consuming so much sugar is that your body tends to store sugar, especially after stressful situations. This energy is stored mainly in the form of abdominal fat, which can be particularly hard to shed. And so the vicious cycle starts: get stressed, release cortisol, gain weight, crave more sugar, eat more sugar, gain more weight.
What You Need To Know About Leptin Resistance
When your body becomes resistant to leptin, leptin levels become too high. In fact, overweight individuals who get their leptin levels tested typically find their leptin levels to be as high as four times the normal level. Whats more, its really difficult to balance leptin levels once theyve become resistant.
With leptin resistance, communication between the brain and leptin is impaired, so that your brain doesnt understand that its full, and tells your body to keep eating. Its as if your brain thinks youre starving when in reality, youre just leptin resistant.
To reverse leptin resistance or prevent it from happening to you in the first place, lets talk food, drink, and supplements. Everything in your body impacted by what you put into it, and leptins no different. Sugar, in particular, can cause leptin levels in your body to skyrocket, so youll want to eat less sugar. Other ways to prevent or reduce leptin resistance include:
- Committing to a regular exercise routine
- Getting truly restorative sleep on a regular basis
How To Reduce Cortisol Naturally
Dr. Lin stresses that a big-picture approach is key to maintaining healthy cortisol levels and feeling less stressed. These go-to strategies are good for the body and the mind.
Exercise benefits health from head to toe. So its no surprise that it helps with stress relief, too, possibly by reducing cortisol levels. Studies show, for instance, that exercise can bring down cortisol levels in the elderly and in people with major depressive disorder.
Almost nothing beats a good nights sleep. When youre not sleeping well, you tend to be more anxious, irritable and stressed, Dr. Lin says. Like exercise, sleep is important for health in all sorts of ways including managing stress and keeping cortisol in check.
Sleep deprivation may increase cortisol levels. The increased cortisol can impair memory, contribute to weight gain and even accelerate the aging process. In other words: Dont skimp on shut-eye.
Spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to lower cortisol and calm your brain. The practice of forest bathing essentially, hanging out in the woods and breathing the forest air can reduce cortisol levels and lower stress.
When it comes to de-stressing, cortisol is just one piece of the puzzle, Dr. Lin adds. No one food or pill can deliver you to blissful calm. But healthy choices can set your body up for low-stress success.
Understand How Insulin Impacts Weight
Insulin is one of the most important hormones when it comes to weight loss and weight gain. Made by the pancreas, insulin is responsible for storing blood sugar, or utilizing it, depending upon your bodys needs of the moment. After you eat a large meal, a substantial amount of insulin releases itself into the bloodstream. It also enters the bloodstream as needed throughout the day, ensuring that blood sugar levels remain stable.
Another key function of this essential hormone is fat storage. Insulin decides how much fat to store, and how much to convert for energy expenditure. Chronically high levels of insulin can lead to a condition known as insulin resistance, which is linked to an uptick in blood sugar as well as continued elevated insulin levels.
Preventing this insulin imbalance is crucial, as it leads to weight gain, and eventually type 2 diabetes. When insulin levels remain high over an extended period of time, obesity and metabolic syndrome are often the unfortunate outcome.
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Causes Of High Cortisol Levels
Wondering what underlying conditions could be contributing to your high cortisol levels? Cortisol tends to go up as perceived stress goes up, so anything that triggers a negative mind states things like anxiety, worry, anger or frustration contributes to high cortisol levels. Medication use, inflammation, poor sleep and a poor diet can also trigger high cortisol levels by altering hormonal balances and negatively affecting the immune system.
Corticosteroid medications like hydrocortisone, prednisone pills or other medications used to treat inflammatory-related diseases or symptoms are common causes of high cortisol levels. Aside from corticosteroids, other major factors contributing to higher than usual cortisol production include:
- recent surgery, illness, injury or whole-body infections
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Why High Cortisol Levels Are Harmful
Before you stress out about feeling stressed, it’s important to remember that cortisol spikes can sometimes be a good thing. “Having high cortisol levels is a necessary adaptive response,” says William Davis, M.D., cardiologist and author of Super Gut. “We want a high cortisol level to wake up in the morning and deal with acute stressful situations.”
However, he adds, “when you have repetitive or long-term chronic stress this can lead to physiologic consequences.”
One of the most prominent side effects of prolonged high cortisol levels is weight gain, explains Davis, specifically visceral fat. “This is the fat that encircles the organs, intestines, and liver, and is inflammatory fat,” he says. “Visceral fat leads to insulin resistance and contributes to diseases like high blood pressure, coronary disease, and type 2 diabetes.”
Cortisol can also weaken the activity of certain cells linked to the immune system, says Heather Moday, M.D., an immunologist, functional medicine practitioner, and author of The Immunotype Breakthrough. This lowers the production of antibodies and can weaken the body’s immune response over time.
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Foods & Ingredients To Look Out For
There’s no magic food to instantly lower cortisol and stress levels, but certain ingredients can and help regulate the release of cortisol. That’s because there’s a link between high cortisol and intestinal permeability, says Davis.
“All of us have some degree of intestinal permeability. Because the GI tract is semi-permeable, things get in and out all the time,” he explains. “But when cortisol is high, that degree of permeability gets higher. When that happens, bacterial breakdown products enter the bloodstream causing inflammation, insulin resistance, and stimulates the release of more cortisol.”
There are a few foods and ingredients that can help slow this process down. They are:
How Does It Work
Your hypothalamus and pituitary gland â both located in your brainâ can sense if your blood contains the right level of cortisol. If the level is too low, your brain adjusts the amount of hormones it makes. Your adrenal glands pick up on these signals. Then, they fine-tune the amount of cortisol they release.
Cortisol receptors â which are in most cells in your body â receive and use the hormone in different ways. Your needs will differ from day to day. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes.
Sometimes, your cortisol levels can get out of whack.
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Why It’s Harder To Lose Weight After 50
Dr. Suzanna Wong. a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic and health expert with Twin Waves Wellness says, “It is harder to lose weight after 50 because your body has different requirements. It’s most notable for women who are going through the menopause, but not impossible. Their body deals with carbs differently, and the loss in estrogen means their muscles break down much quicker unless they are doing resistance exercise and eating a higher protein diet. With less muscle your metabolism falls meaning it seems harder to lose weight.”
Cortisol And Sleep: Why Cant I Get Deep Relaxing Sleep
Having trouble falling asleep? Sleeping 8 hours but still waking up feeling groggy and moody? Maybe youre dead tired but as soon as your head hits the pillow your brain starts asking WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!? Too much cortisol in the bloodstream makes it hard for you to fall asleep, and sleep deprivation leads to moodiness, fatigue, brain fog, and worse.
How to start feeling like a morning person: Check out our guide on magnesium and sleep to balance your magnesium intake and start getting deep, restful sleep.
So get thisyour cortisol levels should follow a natural arc. They should be highest an hour or two after you wake up, elevating your testosterone and giving you the energy you need to take on the world and conquer that overstuffed inbox. Then, they should decrease at night, helping you relax and drift off to dreamland where youll meet supermodels you have zero chance with.
But, when theres no variation in cortisol , your hormones, body, and brain dont know what to do or what time it is. Instead of following a natural rhythm and sleeping in the evening, you start laying in bed with racing thoughts, waking up in the middle of the night, or never achieving deep sleep.
Dont take our word for it listen to this extremely smart woman at a prestigious university. Tell them how it is, Em:
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Ways To Reduce Cortisol Naturally
1. Use cortisol reduction supplements: Holy Basil, Golden Root, magnolia, vitamin C, phosphatidylserine, glutamine, and rhodiola rosea. Also vitamin B5 and folic acid can help lower cortisol levels. They can be found in foods like fish, beans, whole grains, and sunflower seeds.
2. Eat at regular intervals throughout the day: Avoid skipping meals, as this will create a cortisol release.
3. Eat right, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Low-glycemic index foods like eggs help lower cortisol levels in the blood while whole grain products help proteins control the production of cortisol in the body. Excessive carbohydrate intake creates cortisol release in response to constantly elevated insulin levels.
4. Use stress reduction techniques whenever feeling overwhelmed: meditation, self-hypnosis, or simply lying on the floor for 20 minutes while focusing on breathing. Get outside, if at all possible.
5. Avoid stimulants: Stay away from energy drinks that contain ephedra-like compounds and caffeine. Stimulants shift the body into sympathetic dominance, ie. fight or flight. Stimulants can also disrupt your sleeping patterns. If you must have your daily coffee, be sure that you do not drink any in the afternoon.
6. Keep workouts under 1 hour: At the 1 hour mark, testosterone levels begin to decline and cortisol levels rise. Forty-five minute workouts are even better.