By Cara Christie
We all know what stress is. We experience from day to day from different sources. The most prevalent stressor at this time is probably school for the most of us. But what exactly does that mean when you’re trying to lose weight?
There is this sneaky little hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone released into the blood stream from the adrenal gland under stressful situations. The adrenals are responsible for our built-in “fight-or-flight” mechanism in which cortisol is secreted. Cortisol in turn releases glucose into the bloodstream to provide muscles with energy (to help us run) while simultaneously inhibiting insulin release so glucose can’t get stored. This means that glucose is readily available for use by the body. Cortisol also causes arteries to narrow and epinephrine to be released, resulting in a harder and faster heartbeat. Once the stressful situation is over, the body returns to normal conditions. However, in the busy lifestyles we face, we are under constant stress. Constant stress means constant release of cortisol. So what effects does that have on our bodies?
Blood Sugar Imbalance/ Diabetes
When there is glucose in the blood stream, it is the body’s natural response to release insulin to help glucose be taken into the cells. Under stressful conditions where cortisol is in charge, insulin is inhibited and glucose has nowhere to go aside for muscle use. So when we don’t use up that glucose, there is a large build up and the cells can’t get the glucose they need. Overtime, this causes our sugar handling system to weaken through insulin resistance.
Consistent elevation of cortisol can result in weight gain. It is known to aid in fat storage during these trifling times. The body believes it is constantly being under attacked from your stressor, so it has to store as much energy (a.k.a fat) as possible in order to keep on fighting. Another reason that may further hurt your weight loss endeavors is due to the excess amount of glucose in your blood. Since glucose can’t get into the cell as well, we can’t detect satiety as well. And we all know that when were not full we feel the need to eat until we are full. Overeating under this condition causes excess glucose in the blood that will more than likely be unused by our muscles. So where does all that excess glucose go? Straight to fat storage where it can be saved for usage on another day. The fat tends to accumulate in the abdomen, around organs, which is one of the unhealthiest places to store fat. The reasoning behind this is that there a high amount of cortisol receptors located in this area along with increased blood flow, making it an ideal environment for fat to thrive.
Compromised Immune System
Have you ever wondered why you’re always sick during exam week? Cortisol is known to be a natural anti-inflammatory. However, constant work to reduce inflammation levels along with a bad diet and a lot of stress can result in a compromised immune system. With a weakened immune system, it is more important to focus on being healthy than losing weight.
Other issues that constant stress can produce include GI Problems, CVD, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia, depression, and more.
What can you do to fight cortisol?
Relax! Find something to do that keeps the stress away and keeps you calm. Try a yoga class or pick up a hobby that will take the focus off of what’s on your mind. Additionally, eating healthily and exercising makes all the difference when your body is under chronic stress. Try to exercise at least three days a week. Be sure to limit sweets and carbohydrates, they will only result in energy crashes and give you a little extra unnecessary weight around the waist. Limit caffeine as well, which has been known to increase cortisol levels. Instead of grabbing a quick cup of coffee from Starbucks, opt for green tea instead, which provides antioxidants and a natural energy boost that doesn’t produce as much cortisol. Be sure to get in enough fruits, vegetable, and lean protein to keep your immune system afloat during the long semester.