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By Valerie Robitaille, PhD(c)

Research has discovered the effects of excess cortisol on weight gain and weight loss resistance. Cortisol, a “stress hormone,” is elevated in response to stress. Most initial reactions to acute stresses are lifesaving as these are powerful “flight or fight” responses, and short bursts of cortisol are good for you. However, chronic over-production of cortisol leads to excessive using up of structural and functional biochemicals and an increased demand for insulin which gets stored as fat.

Other health effects of chronic high cortisol include depletion states such as a weakened immune system, infertility, a decrease in bone and muscle mass, loss of hair, thinning of skin, inability to grow nails, and a decrease in concentration and memory.

As you read more about the damage caused by chronic high cortisol levels, keep in mind that you are not trying to eliminate this hormone – you are trying to keep it balanced. Low levels of cortisol are more damaging in the short term than high levels are because cortisol is a life-giving hormone.

Collectively, the various diet plans being promoted by a long list of diet gurus have a failure rate of approximately 93-97 percent. There are several reasons for this, one of them being the difficulty in achieving behavioral modification in the face of easy availability of the wrong kind of foods.

Our inherently sedentary lifestyles and intense media programming add to failure in our weight loss efforts. And our hormones tend to work against us in the weight-loss perspective because whenever there is a call for cortisol due to stress, insulin is not far behind.

Excess insulin is stored as fat, thwarting our weight loss efforts even though we are doing all the right things regarding food and exercise. The body, with its inherited survival instincts, knows what it needs to do biochemically to continue to function.

The adrenal glands (where cortisol is produced) are not particular; any kind of stress will do. The stress can be physical, environmental, chemical or imaginary. The human brain is hard-wired in general with automatic responses to protect the body from harm.
Why the body secretes cortisol in higher-than-normal levels includes:

STRESSORS

* Depression, mental stressors or other mental concerns – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed
* Doing too many things or keeping busy all day long – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed
* Exposure to cold – to fight off infections and mobilize energy for warmth
* Fever, illness or infections – to reduce inflammation and fight off infections
* Fright – to mobilize energy and keep your blood pressure higher for sudden movement and to reduce potential inflammation
* Pain – To reduce inflammation
* Severe burns, surgery and trauma – to reduce inflammation and fight off infections

POOR NUTRITION
* Low blood sugar levels, hypoglycemia or not enough carbohydrates in a meal – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed
* Low caloric intake or skipping meals – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed

CERTAIN CHEMICALS
* Alcohol – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed
* Marijuana – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed

EXERCISE PROBLEMS INCLUDING:
* Anticipation of an athletic competition – to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed and to mobilize energy and keep your blood pressure higher for sudden movement
* Overexercising, especially cardiovascular exercises – to mobilize energy and keep your blood pressure higher for excessive movement, to mobilize energy to keep your brain fed, and to reduce inflammation

HORMONAL RESPONSE
* In response to adrenaline and insulin – to help your body balance the actions of these other major hormones

Stress reduction is an essential part of all efforts to normalize cortisol. Each individual should explore and find the stress reduction techniques that work best for themselves. Physical activities, attitude changes, changes in diet, supplementation and lifestyle are good paths to explore. Without stress reduction, all therapeutic and support measures can eventually fail and the battle of the bulge will go on.