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Can we have a proper discussion on cortisol and its role in sabotaging our WOL?

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  • Can we have a proper discussion on cortisol and its role in sabotaging our WOL?

    Hello friends,

    As the title says, I would like a proper discussion on the role of cortisol in fat gain and any tips to combat its effects.

    The reason I wish to discuss this is I keep ballooning (but, usually, I deflate again, and I put it down to normans and fluid retention).

    Not so this time. I have actually DROPPED 3lbs, yet GAINED 2 inches - and have done so in the space of less than a month. Clothes I bought less than a month ago (when they were a perfect fit) are now far too small, and I've had to get out my larger bras again.

    Note: - IT'S NOT MUSCLE!! It cannot possibly be, because the inches have been gained in places which usually garner fat, not muscle (specially on lasses) namely my chest, belly/abdomen and hips. I got out the tape, and measured everywhere and everywhere else measures the same as it did 3 weeks ago.

    I can see the differences in the mirror and in photos I take to document my progress (or lack thereof). I used to be able to see my ribs (okay in a good light!) now I can't even FEEL them, my belly flab used to dimple under my ribcage; I used to be able to push my fingers under my ribs - now? No chance! I'm developing a double chin again and my clavicle's missing, presumed swallowed by a load of fat.

    Now, obviously, this is a vicious cycle: - I'm stressed because I'm gaining inches and I don't know why, which is going to cause me more stress, then I start stressing about my diet, so I gain even more. How do I counter and break this...?

    I bought something called Mood Support ( but I don't like taking it - and I'll tell you for why (and this is going to make me sound REALLY f*cked up) when I take it, I start thinking that things aren't as bad as they are and I carry on with the bad eating habits that probably got me into this mess in the first place. It's called COMPLACENCY - and I cannot afford to become complacent.

    I'm fasting at the moment, but now I'm too scared to break it in case I binge.

    I've tried meditation, herbal teas (valerian's brilliant for getting me to sleep, but it doesn't keep me asleep) 5-HTP, trytophan, exercise, reading, aromatherapy, roseola - you name, it I've tried it!

    I have a morbid fear of becoming the obese blimp I was just 18 months ago once again.

    I need to beat cortisol somehow, but I don't know how.

    Your input would be most gratefully received.

    Yours, in tears,

    Sarah xxx
    La tristesse durera toujours...

  • #2
    Don't cry, Sarah. We all have reverses, the whole human race. You'll figure it out, you really will.

    Okay, here are two hints: try "magnesium oil" (rubbed onto your skin, the bigger the area the better -- wait a half hour and you can wash it back off, because it's sticky.) Helps with anxiety and sleep problems, good for lots of things.

    Second, check out an Ayurvedic plant called ashwagandha. It's fun to Google and see what's out there. I tend to give more credence to the medical experiments done using it, but then I read some of the ("ommmmmmm") Indian sites just to see what they say. I find that the tincture works better than the capsules of powdered herb.

    Anyway, I'm using it because it helps mend myelin, and I had a medical meltdown called Miller Fisher Syndrome last spring, so mending myelin is the name of the game. But one place I checked mentioned that ashwagandha lowers cortisol levels, and many called it "Indian ginseng" and "Queen of Ayurveda" but said that unlike Panax (Chinese ginseng) it gave a calm energy, not riled up and overheated, which I found consistent with lowering cortisol.

    Good luck ... if you find something calm which you really like to do (for me it's gardening) that can help a lot.

    And ... this too shall pass.


    • #3
      Cortisol is a stress hormone and, you are right, it will absolutely sabotage your weight loss goals. If you are putting on fat and losing muscle... that sounds just like cortisol. It happens to the extreme when people go on prednisone (cortisol receptor agonist).

      First, get a full thyroid panel. If your thyroid is not producing adequate thyroid hormones, you will gain fat despite your best efforts.

      Second... get adequate sleep. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Chronic sleep deprivation is chronically stressful (sleep deprivation is used as torture for a reason). Chronic stress increases cortisol. Sleep apnea is probably the most common cause of sleep deprivation. It causes all sorts of hormonal imbalances from increased cortisol to decreased leptin/ghrelin ratio. It also decreases growth hormone output (peak secretion is stage 3/4 sleep).

      Also, I am not sure I would fast if I was in your shoes. Maybe when you are over this hump and your body is functioning optimally, but right now you are fighting your body by fasting. Fat loss occurs when your body wants to lose fat not when you force it to (at least not long term). Fasting sends a powerful signal to the body that food is scarce. And your body knows just what to do when food is scarce - slow down metabolism and conserve all it can. Jon Gabriel is an inspiring guy who has lots to say about stress, cortisol, and fasting/famine (I know you are not actually in a famine situation but your body may not know that). Check out his website and listen to what he has to say.


      • #4
        I see why that supplement would make you "complacent," it's a sedative! All that Valerian will make you SLEEPY!

        (also, watch out for St. John's Wort, while it's commonly touted as a great way to deal with depression, it can be VERY dangerous if mixed with prescription meds such as antidepressants.)


        • #5
          Avoid grains, dairy and legumes (if you aren't already). Make sleep a priority. Avoid things like coffee, with caffeine. Keep meditating. Ommmmmm
          Heather and the hounds - Make a Fast Friend, Adopt a Greyhound!


          • #6
            here's what i do to battle sleeplessness. i drink moderate amounts of caffeine, stay awake for 24 hours or more and pass out when night finally comes round

            that's why i'm not the smart kid

            if it were me i'd read just for enjoyment, walk, talk to my favorite relative, and/or write ina journal
            yeah you are

            Baby if you time travel back far enough you can avoid that work because the dust won't be there. You're too pretty to be working that hard.


            • #7
              Use less stimulants to avoid over-cranking cortisol output, don’t eat food you don’t tolerate(dairy, nuts etc)
              Eat more naturally sodium rich foods to nourish the adrenals.
              The following nutrients also nourish the adrenals, so you may wish to dabble with them: Vit c and bioflavinoids, vit B5 + B6, tyrosine, zinc
              try and make half hour a day to go for a walk somewhere quiet and clear your head
              Rhodiola rosea.
              Taking ZMA and 5-htp before bed is a smart move as well.
              Zinc Picolinate... zinc is a very effective for lowering cortisol, and while many zinc products will work, picolinate has the highest bioavailability
              Avoid high spiking foods…- the sudden drop in blood sugar, whilst it very rarely does lead to a true hypoglycemic state (that unfortunate condition is mostly reserved for diabetics and long duration aerobic exercisers), it can cause a state that leads to blood sugar getting a little too low, and this is where the cortisol comes in - when blood sugar is low cortisol does several things; it temporarily decreases insulin sensitivity to spare blood sugar for the brain, mobilizes fatty acids in response to the energy shortfall, and breaks down some protein for transport to the liver for gluconeogenesis to eventually redress the blood sugar imbalance.
              In respect of what it does, it's function is actually important for energy homoeostasis, but ideally of course you wouldn't be pushing your body into this state too often in the first place as prolonged hypercortisolemia this cuases leads to the development of several negative health implications including increased deposition of abdominal fat and increased muscle catabolism. Fortunately lower GI carbs don't cause this blood sugar dipping problem, and a small quantity of protein or high GI carbs can suppress cortisol when it is raised. Evolution has decided upon certain levels and bands of chemicals and hormones in our bodies to keep us functioning, therefore trying purposely to create an environment of hypo or hypercortisol can only do something to the body that is deemed irregular and unwanted.

              Keep workouts short- Cortisol is not the enemy and we could not survive without it. It is merely the chronic and acute elevations that must be avoided. Cortisol secretion, post-workout (resistance), is a vital stage in the adaptation process - damaged muscle tissue first must be broken down before it can be rebuilt and augmented. So trying to reduce it, in this instance, is not necessarily the wisest step. On the other hand, long duration, endurance activity, when overdone, likely does result in more cortisol secretion than is healthy. It is true that cortisol inhibits protein synthesis (making new proteins) and can stimulate proteolysis (breaking down proteins) in your muscles, but remember the literature suggests that lowering cortisol won’t help you build muscle any faster because cortisol appears to break down certain proteins preferentially. This means it does not break down functional proteins of muscle or nerve cells. It has also been shown that damaged tissues can use the newly acquired amino acids from the labile proteins to synthesize new proteins for tissue repair. As briefly mentioned earlier, after a workout, cortisol levels can be elevated for up to several hours. Factors that can influence cortisol release are the intensity of the exercise, the amount of muscle mass being trained, the length of the workout and calorie levels in your diet. It is normal for cortisol to be released during and after a workout. It stimulates hepatic detoxification by inducing tryptophan oxygenase (to reduce serotonin levels in the brain), glutamine synthase (reduce glutamate and ammonia levels in the brain), cytochrome P-450 hemoprotein (mobilizes arachidonic acid), and metallothionein (reduces heavy metals in the body).
              At this point you may wonder, “Is this is good or bad?”
              Let’s say you just did a heavy chest workout. Damaged muscle cells (fibers) in your chest and assisting muscle groups send out chemical signals. These signals attract special white blood cells called neutrophils. Neutrophils travel to the injured fibers and start breaking them down. In addition, specialized compartments inside of the injured muscle cells called lysosomes rupture and release proteolytic enzymes. These are proteins that will break down your hard-earned muscle. The combination of the neutrophils and enzymes degrading your muscle contribute to the muscle soreness you feel a day or two after training.
              Cortisol helps to reduce the accumulation of neutrophils and stabilize the lysosome compartments so that they don’t rupture. Now remember when we mentioned that cortisol stimulates amino acid release into the blood? Well these amino acids can be used to repair the injured muscle fibers.
              Therefore, dramatically reducing cortisol after a workout may increase muscle soreness and delay muscle recovery.

              So, summing it all up, make sure you are NOT in a catabolic state which sets you up for an inflamed and stressed body which sets you up for abnormally long and high cortisol levels. Understand that evolutionarily speaking, cortisol is occasionally a good thing. DEALING and ACCEPTING what it is that is stressing you if it is outside your control(not something like diet and working out) is really the only thing you can do. Artificially trying to lower cortisol because you can’t deal with your problems and face them is not a good idea. Good sleep, good meditation, even a good sprint to an abandon hill and screaming at the top of your lungs…whatever works for you do it. There is no ‘magical’ cure to make you stop stressing if you allow yourself to do it, ie, you don’t accept your problems or situations. It took me a long time to realize this. Oh, and organ meat and lots of fat helps too haha, keeps me even keeled.
              Last edited by MalPaz; 09-28-2010, 08:59 AM.
              Get on my Level


              • #8
                one more snipett

                High volumes of exercise combined with not eating enough is a recipe for Bad Things (TM). And that’s not even accounting for other factors in your life. So tell me why exactly you’d want to train with high volumes of intense work, while not eating enough, and expect not to collapse from pure exhaustion? Don’t have a good answer for that one?

                It’s been a strong hunch of mine that the quack syndrome “adrenal fatigue” is actually this phenomenon. It’s paraded around under another name that can make people money by convincing you that you’re sick. And that only they have the answers, for just $29.99 if you act now.

                Chronically high levels of cortisol tend to mess up insulin sensitivity and can help to kill appetite; same idea with adrenaline. Your body can only stay in the alert condition for so long before it runs out of gas. Feeling like crap is a defense mechanism in the body. It’s caused by inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and IL-1beta, if you give a damn) that interact with the brain (Smith, 2000; 2004). You feel like crap because you’re supposed to, you know, stop the behavior that’s making you feel like crap.

                It’s fairly obvious that this isn’t a pathological condition. There’s no disease state or dysfunction of your adrenal glands. What there is, though, is people that refuse to cut back on the exercise and eat enough food. Of course, that won’t stop the Guru Business Model from capitalizing on it.

                Cortisol isn’t bad. It’s essential for our bodies to work properly. In the muscle, it helps increase the rate of protein turnover, which can in turn help with tissue remodeling (growth). Increases in protein breakdown will occur along with increases in protein synthesis, and this is normal. What really makes a difference is the net balance between protein synthesis and breakdown. The rate of protein breakdown on it’s own is meaningless without knowing the overall trend.

                Being in a catabolic state is more a function of inactivity and poor diet than it is of hormones. Cortisol on it’s own isn’t likely to cause you problems, but with a poor diet or poor training it can make matters worse. If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it won’t be an issue.

                Hormone spikes that happen in response to exercise are more likely to be an indicator of stress than the cause of adaptation. The blood levels of testosterone and cortisol seem to be directly related to the difficulty of the workout. The spikes are too brief and too low in dose to have any substantial effect on adaptation, although the possibility that they can contribute can’t be ruled out yet. The spikes do seem to correlate with positive gains from training.

                When dealing with net adaptation, it’s the chronic changes in resting levels of the hormones that are relevant, and these long-term changes in hormonal status can be used as an effective monitor for overall stress. If you’re getting sick and burned-out from training too much, chances are you’re doing too much work, not eating enough, or both. Chances are that backing off and eating a little more will fix what ails ya.

                And adrenal fatigue is a quack syndrome. If you give them money, you help the terrorists win.
                Get on my Level


                • #9
                  Originally posted by MalPaz View Post
                  And adrenal fatigue is a quack syndrome. If you give them money, you help the terrorists win.
                  I don't agree with this statement. All adrenal fatigue means is that your adrenal glands have been overworked to the point where they're not functioniong properly. I'm not sure what's "quacky" about that. I don't think it makes any sense that we can stress out and work ourselves crazy and get no sleep for years and have our adrenal glands producing loads and loads of stuff indefinitely without them running out of steam. It's just an overworked organ. Much like when your liver gets overworked... you don't go straight from healthy to cirrhosis. Your liver gets fattier, and unhealthier and eventually it doesn't work properly because you've shoved too many toxins through it. I believe your adrenal glands are the same way. If you overwork them too much, they stop working properly. This happens a lot to chronic cocaine users, actually.

                  I do believe you can heal it, but mostly that's by avoiding the behaviors and stressors and toxins (too much caffeine, etc), so that they can rest up and restore themselves (a lot of the suggestions given actually). And there are herbal things you can add (like PDL said) that can help soothe and effectively curb your stress so that you can heal.

                  I've had adrenal issues for several years. Tested and everything. I'm still working on getting it regulated because it's tied in with my thyroid which is still all over the place and we can't seem to get them reined in just yet, but are working on it (me and the doctor).

                  Yes, Adrenal Fatigue gets paraded about by some people wanting to make money off of it with questionable cures. So does every other disease, problem, diet in existence. Whenever there's an issue people seem to have problems with, someone will be there trying to make money off of it. But to call it a quack syndrome because of that does a disservice to people who are suffering from stress-induced endocrine disorders and keep getting told there's no such thing.
                  sigpic "Boy I got vision and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals" - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


                  • #10
                    Just skimming, quick note to OP - you mentioned drinking liquorice tea in another thread; I drink it also, and adore it, but beware that there are potential side effects, and some of these are specifically related to cortisol and adrenal function. IOW, you can easily overdo it. I'm not an expert, but: and

                    Regarding licorice ingestion, the effect is understood to be entirely due to increased renal sodium retention. The active compound of licorice, glycyrrhizic acid (GA), is hydrolyzed in the body to form glycyrrhetinic acid, which inhibits renal 11beta-HSD2 (a steroid metabolizing enzyme) and by that mechanism increases access of cortisol to its receptors to produce renal sodium retention and potassium loss (4).