This is our stress hormone released from the adrenal glands. It helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function, as well as the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Going back to our “paleo” evolution idea, we found cortisol important because it prepares the body for action and protects it in the event of traumatic injury. This would have been important when running for your life from a bear/tiger/lion/enemy/etc, or when wounded during a hunt. However, evolution dictated that cortisol should be an acute hormonal response (levels should quickly return to normal). The problem now a days is that we are constantly under chronic stress (bills to pay, mortgages, deadlines, car trouble, traffic, babysitters, the economy, health care, sickness/disease) which leads to chronically high cortisol levels. If bad enough, the adrenal gland will eventually get tired (adrenal fatigue) and will cease the production of cortisol (sort of like type 1 diabetes and the pancreas). Another important function of cortisol is its role in fat metabolism. Cortisol is special in that it is the only hormone that can both put fat into a cell and take it out. The main contributing factor that decides what cortisol does with the fat is the level of another hormone: insulin. If insulin in the blood is low, cortisol will work to get fat out of the cell for energy; if insulin is high, it will work to get fat into the cell for storage. This is why some people get stressed (high cortisol) and gain weight, while others get stressed (high cortisol) and lose weight. It’s all about the insulin – which we will learn about later. Now, let’s find out what we can do to try and tame this cortisol beast.
1: Find a way to live more of a stress free life
2: Eat a cleaner, healthier diet that reduces inflammation (inflammation perpetuates physiological stress)
3: Get plenty of sleep
4: Don’t overdo long drawn out bouts of cardio (like running for 45+ minutes)