How To Deal With the "Stress Hormone" Before It Deals With You
I think an apology is in order. On my part.
I've dropped the "C" word on and off, and mentioned how it can lead to stress, inflammation, disease and more.
And I've mentioned that it can especially lead to excess belly fat.
But I haven't actually explained it more in depth, or explained how it works.
And I haven't given you some simple strategies to reduce it.
Let's get in to it now, and end any confusion.
As you've realized if you read the chapter title, the "C" word is Cortisol.
Cortisol is better known as the "stress hormone", which your body produces to help with certain necessary responses.
Before we get into the "bad side" of cortisol, let's discuss its merits.
One of the more well-known cortisol-related responses is the "fight or flight" reaction you have when you're in danger. In this scenario, cortisol plays a vital role in telling your muscles and liver to release certain enzymes, acids, fats and glucose, in order to give your body the energy it needs to fight or flee.
This response was crucial just as much in evolutionary times, when faced with a life-threatening bear for example, as it is these days, when you may sense danger on a dark, empty street in a bad part of town.
Beyond the fight or flight response, cortisol is known to help metabolism glucose, fats, and protein, it is an anti-inflammatory, and it regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular function.
Lastly, it is the main component of the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR), which refers to the slightly elevated cortisol levels we have in the morning. These levels gradually drop down as the day progresses. The CAR is thought to be an evolutionary mechanism that helped us wake up, and go on waking the rest of the day.
Now that we've covered the "good", let's get to the "bad".
The main idea to understand here is: beyond the acute, helpful cortisol functions (fight or flight; helping with recovery post-workout) and the morning awakening response, cortisol can get very chronic, very fast.
And when it gets chronic, research shows we're faced with everything from unmanageable stress levels to a wide variety of major diseases (heart disease, Alzheimer's, depression, and various cancers immediately come to mind).
Let me elaborate.
For starters, there are many different reasons that people have excess cortisol in their system.
There are a few recurring themes, though - namely, diet quality (or lack thereof) and stressful life situations (long-term pressure at work, financial issues, relationship or spousal tension, caring for elderly parents, etc.). And from a genetic perspective, many are naturally prone to anxiety or depression., and the stress/cortisol output that comes with it.
There are some "unknown" causes of chronically-elevated cortisol, too.
Besides chronic stress, the top 2 hidden causes are:
1. Excessive gym time followed by under-eating
a. High intensity, long duration exercise (especially "chronic cardio") training is proven to increase cortisol significantly
b. Basically, any time spent over 60-75 minutes ramps up cortisol like nobody's
business, and it's made worse when we're too hard on ourselves decide to eat next to nothing after a tough workout
c. Follow the workouts in the "6 Weeks to Lean" manual and you'll be outta the gym before you need to worry about cortisol building up.
d. Essentially, weight lifting, cardio, and any other high intensity workouts deal with 4 main hormones:
ii. Growth Hormone,
iii. IGF (insulin-like growth factor)
e. The first 3 are the anabolic hormones that build muscle (more muscle = less fat = healthier body and healthier 'look'). The last one, cortisol, is useful in certain circumstances but can also become very detrimental.
f. The key here is output of the anabolic hormones (testosterone, GH, and (IGF) stops after about 60 minutes of workouts, but cortisol keeps going and becomes chronic (and damaging to the body)
g. So, if you're working out for 2 hours, that's 1 hour or more of muscle-ruining, fat storing Cortisol permeating through your system. So, work hard and fast during workouts, and then stop!
h. Cap workouts at 1 hour, or 1 hr and 15 minutes including warm-ups. Then get adequate rest and recovery!
2. High levels of caffeine and sugar, which keep you "on edge" 24/7.
a. High cortisol in the blood stream often correlates with the morning coffee...and
the brunch coffee and post-lunch coffee, and the subsequent sodas and energy
drinks consumed throughout the day.
b. But let's not be hypocritical - I have my morning cup of coffee, and most people
c. It's not unhealthy to have a bit of caffeine in the morning, and a few cups of tea
throughout the day. However, it's important not to overdo it. (A surefire way to
overdo it is drinking 3+ cups of coffee, plus sodas or energy drinks all day, like
many people do.)
Basically, having too much cortisol can have a highly negative impact on your body in the long term.
Too much cortisol means your body enters a catabolic state, whereby your body starts
cannibalizing its own tissues (including bone, muscle and even brain matter) to get energy. Too much cortisol also signals your body to store excess fat, particularly in the midsection region (stomach, love handles, and butt/hips).
The reason for this is that your body thinks it's in mortal danger (the "fight or flight" response), so it's suddenly willing to use whatever resources it has available at its command to survive.
And when the body is spending time trying to fight off this perceived "danger", it doesn't give a rat's you-know-what about burning fat. On the contrary, any food at or above your limit will be stored as fat in the exact place you're trying to avoid putting it on!
You see the problem here: You drank that second cup of coffee because you like the way it tastes with those little hazelnut creamer packets they have at 7-11, and you inadvertently released a bunch of cortisol in the process.
And this chronically elevated cortisol levels mean increased stress, and increased stress causes mood swings, anxiety, depression and flat-out shrinkage of brain cells.
If your cortisol has been elevated for a long time, it's also possible your brain isn't even
producing healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine anymore - causing you to enjoy pleasurable feelings less, and feel down in the dumps more often.
As mentioned, your cortisol levels are supposed to be naturally high in the morning - one of the actual good effects of the stress hormone is to help you feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when you first wake up. But they're supposed to drop off during the day - which means you have to be careful about the amount of caffeine you take into your system, and most importantly, when you take it into your system.
It's pretty simple: No caffeine after 12 PM (2 PM is OK if you go to bed around 12), except for a cup of green tea if you really need it. Generally, you want to have your last bit of caffeine at least 10 hours before bedtime, since cortisol levels are so closely correlated with our sleep/wake cycles. So for most people who go to bed around the 10-11 p.m. hour, it's best to stop drinking soda, energy drinks or coffee by noon. It's also best to have a daily "goal" of no more than one soda/energy drink/cup of coffee per day, and 1-2 cups of tea at most.
You want to max out at 400 mg. of caffeine per day (most coffee has between 150-200 mg already!) Your body doesn't really get much benefit after one, anyway - and you're just maxing out your stress levels!
While you're taking a long-term, nice and easy approach to reducing your caffeine consumption, here are some other methods by which you can naturally reduce your cortisol levels.
Interested in losing weight? Then click below to see the exact steps I took to lose weight and keep it off for good...
Moving forward, there are several other articles/topics I'll share so you can lose weight even faster, and feel great doing it.
Below is a list of these topics and you can use this Table of Contents to jump to the part that interests you the most.