Popular supplements promise to reduce your cortisol and help you lose weight. In everyday conversation people talk about stress skyrocketing their cortisol. Many understand that cortisol has some ties to belly fat. What is cortisol and how does it related to your health?
Cortisol is an adrenal hormone that manages your body’s daily rhythm. Think of it as your build in coffee pot. You wake up in the morning because your adrenals just made a fresh batch of it. You fall asleep at night because they shut it off.
Besides just being awake or asleep, you’d be amazed at how much of your body is run on a 24 hour schedule. Regulation of fat, digestion, immunity, blood sugar regulation, hunger, mental focus, and upkeep on your skin, hair, and nails all are controlled by the rhythm of cortisol.
Before modern life, we had lots of cues that kept our cortisol rhythms in sync. The most powerful were the bright bluish light of dawn and the orange light of sunset. Feeling cold at night was another cue as was having a larger meal in the evening. Today we have many fewer cues to correct our cortisol rhythm and many new factors that throw it off. These include:
- Sugars, especially fructose
- Emotional stressors
- Pollutants including lead and plastic compounds
- Shift work
- Noise pollution
Cortisol Myths That Affect Your Health
Now that you understand what cortisol is, lets bust some of the top cortisol misconceptions so you can keep your energy high, your sleep good, and your metabolism strong.
Myth #5: Cortisol is Not Your Highest Health Priority
A study of British civil servants showed that bad cortisol rhythms killed more people than smoking, heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.
Never assume that your sleep or stress levels are minor factors for your health.
Myth #4: You Can’t Fix Cortisol Because Stress is Unavoidable
The stress of life may be unavoidable, but steps as simple as timing your food strategically can keep you resilient and on track. In a study of 42 women with weight loss resistance, diet alone was shown to correct cortisol rhythm by over 50% in 30 days. The diet in the study used carb cycling and avoided fructose and indigestible proteins like gluten and soy.
Myth #3: High Cortisol Causes Weight Gain
This one is half right and half wrong. High cortisol can cause weight gain but so can low cortisol or cortisol made at the wrong times. Simple steps like getting ½ hour of sunlight within an hour of waking can help cortisol if it is too high or too low.
If this is not possible for you during certain seasons, a light-box that generates 10,000 lux of light can work as a good substitute.
Myth #2: Exercise Lowers Cortisol
Oddly enough, exercise is a type of stress. It serves us best when it is challenging but not overwhelming. The biggest factors determining if it is good or bad include: how stable your adrenals are now; and how much exercise you are already used to. The most adrenal-friendly types of exercise are light exercises like stretching and pilates. The least adrenal-friendly activities include triathlon training or back to back days of high intensity training interval training.
Myth #1: Carbs are Bad for Cortisol
Your body uses cortisol to rescue you from low blood sugar. This makes carbs a tool you can use to help regulate your cortisol. Start your day with 25-35 grams of protein and finish it with 20-50 grams of high-quality carbs. Great options include paleo-friendly sources like sweet potatoes, turnips, squash, beets, and rutabagas. Having them later in the day helps not only cortisol but a whole host of weight regulating hormones like leptin, ghrelin, and adiponectin.
Your body is made to be healthy and thriving. If your health is not where you want, please know it can improve. Never give up on yourself!
-Alan Christianson, NMD
Author of The Adrenal Reset Diet
1. Kumari M, Shipley M, Stafford M, Kivimaki M. Association of diurnal patterns in salivary cortisol with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: findings from the Whitehall II study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 May;96(5):1478-85. doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-2137. Epub 2011 Feb 23.
2. Christianson. The Adrenal Reset Diet. Chapter 4. Random House. 2014.
3. Hasegawa Y. Arita M. Circadian clocks optimally adapt to sunlight for reliable synchronization. J R Soc Interface. Mar 6, 2014; 11(92): 20131018.
4. Tzanis G, Dimopoulos S, Agapitou V, Nanas S. Exercise intolerance in chronic heart failure: the role of cortisol and the catabolic state. Curr Heart Fail Rep. 2014 Mar;11(1):70-9. doi: 10.1007/s11897-013-0177-1.
5. Sofer S, Eliraz A, et al. Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases (2013) 23, 744e750.
–Healing Hashimoto’s – A Savvy Patient’s Guide
-The Adrenal Reset Diet (available in December)Read more from Dr. Christianson on his Integrative Health Blog.
Have you ever struggled with cortisol issues such as hormone imbalance or trouble sleeping?