Cortisol is one of several hormones made by the adrenal glands. The adrenals are two very small glands (4-6 grams each) that sit one above each kidney. Cortisol is often referred to as the ‘stress hormone’, although another hormone, DHEA, also has a role to play. Levels of cortisol fluctuate throughout the day. Your levels are meant to be highest first thing in the morning so that you have the energy to get up and go. There is a second smaller peak in the middle of the day and thereafter the level tapers off.
Some of cortisol’s roles in the body include blood sugar regulation, weigh control, regulation of the response of the immune system, bone and protein metabolism, your stress reaction, sleep, your mood, influence on other hormones in particular oestrogen and testosterone.
Stress is a normal reaction of the body to your environment, however, if the body is constantly stressed it can have deleterious effects. Consistently elevated cortisol levels contribute to increased appetite through its effect on another hormone, leptin and a brain chemical called neuropeptide Y that particularly causes an increased desire for carbohydrate intake. Insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels, slower fat burning, and the promotion of the deposition of fat around your abdomen in particular, can be due to an elevated cortisol level. As a result of this, constantly high stress levels can increase body fat / weight, even if you eat well and get regular exercise.
On the flip side, low levels of cortisol are not healthy either. Sometimes, after a period of stress, the adrenal glands can no longer continue the high output of cortisol and the levels can become low. If you wake up particularly tired and can’t get going until after 10 am, it could be an indication that your cortisol levels are too low. A second low may hit between 2 – 4 pm and you may feel best after 6 pm. A further low may occur at 9 – 10 pm with a second wind after 11 pm. If this sounds like you, you might just need your cortisol levels checked over a 24 hour period.
Sleep can also be affected by cortisol levels. At night time your levels are meant to be low, so if you’re feeling wide awake in the evening and have trouble getting to sleep, then this could be an indication that your cortisol is too high. Melatonin is the sleep hormone and also interacts with cortisol. Low levels of melatonin may contribute to delayed onset and low quality of sleep.
Exercising first thing in the morning and following a Palaeolithic diet that is grain and cow’s milk free will help to stabilise your cortisol levels. The worst thing you can do when you first get up in the morning is to not take advantage of the natural cortisol high by avoiding any kind of exercise and to eat a nice big bowl of cereal with cow’s milk on it. Cereals are basically just a big bowl of carbohydrates i.e. sugar! Milk protein consumption induces hyperinsulinaemia (A big rise in insulin) after eating a meal. Sugar will spike your insulin levels which in turn will increase your cortisol levels so you get a temporary increase in energy. However, the increased cortisol will then suppress your thyroid giving you even less energy for the day.
So start the day with a protein meal and a green vegetable juice or green smoothies (no cow’s milk). I would suggest spinach, watermelon or papaya, with ice and coconut water/milk or almond milk (sugar free) in the blender. You can also add some high quality pea or carob protein powder from such as the Tony Sfeir’s brand which is ultra-pure.
Adhering to this, along with the balancing of your other hormones will place you on the right path to permanent weight loss.