And, you likely have cortisol to blame. One of the main adrenal hormones secreted to provide energy in response to stress, Cortisol stimulates the release of protein from muscle so it can be converted to glucose, inhibits protein synthesis, increases the release of fatty acids from fat tissue and stimulates the conversion of noncarbohydrates to glucose. All of the resulting extra blood sugar provides the fuel you need to respond to an immediate stress – that rush of adrenaline you feel when you narrowly avoid a wreck while driving.
When stress becomes a constant, as is the case for so many of us juggling busy schedules, careers and family, cortisol levels remain high, as do glucose levels. When the excess blood sugar is not used for energy production, it is stored as fat, often in the deep abdominal fat cells, which have four times more cortisol receptors than fat cells found just below the skin. Consequently, cortisol is drawn into the central fat cells, where it activates enzymes to store fat. This process is what gives you that midlife tummy bulge that’s so difficult to lose.
Cortisol influences overall weight gain in other ways as well. Increased levels set off food cravings, breakdown muscle tissue, and cause a vicious cycle with metabolism and sleep. Cortisol makes it hard to sleep—and insufficient sleep releases more cortisol and decreases your body’s ability to burn fat effectively. A landmark study in JAMA shows people getting approximately eight hours of sleep a night secrete half as much cortisol as those who sleep only six and a half hours a night.
Steady overproduction of cortisol also inhibits another important hormone, DHEA. As you age, DHEA production naturally decreases, but excess cortisol can interrupt hormones with major ramifications for your health. In particular, the cortisol-DHEA connection is closely related to the insulin-glucagon connection. As cortisol levels increase, so do insulin levels which can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
So, what’s the answer to controlling cortisol? In theory, my advice is to stress less, but I can attest that is always easier said than done.
However, there are some simple things you can do to help your body’s natural defense system against stress – watch this video for my top 3 tips for controlling cortisol:
A Simple Test to Assess Your Stress Levels
Unlike the traditional blood test, a salivary hormone test can accurately measures levels of hormones that are fully active, known as bioavailable or free hormones. Wrapped in protein so they can be transported through the blood stream, bound hormones are not fully biologically active. Using a blood test to assess hormones gives you and your health practitioner a distorted picture of your biologically active hormone levels.
I personally check my own hormone levels four times a year in sync with the changes in season. Many integrative practitioners offer in-office saliva-based hormone testing. It can also be done at home without a prescription through a partnership I’ve arranged. This salivary hormone test can assess up to six hormones (cortisol, DHEA, progesterone, estradiol, estriol, and testosterone) and includes individualized recommendations for supplementation and lifestyle changes.
Stem Cell-Like Support for Balanced Cortisol
Many of my clients have found that a glandular adrenal formula is an effective way to balance cortisol and help the thyroid maintain sufficient energy levels. In addition to high-grade raw bovine adrenal gland and raw bovine adrenal cortex , and tissue glandulars from the liver and spleen, look for a product with vital nutrients like vitamins A and C, vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid, zinc (to balance copper overload), and tyrosine (an energy-producing amino acid that supports the thyroid).
The adrenal supplement I’ve found to be most effective is Uni Key Adrenal Formula. It’s based on a formula I took for many years, and when the company went out of business, I asked UNI KEY to reproduce it because I didn’t want to be without it myself!