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The Role of Cortisol in Your Metabolism

Cortisol is produced by your adrenal glands and is released in response to stress. It has many primary functions in the metabolism realm and basically functions to make energy available if needed for quick use, like if you need to escape from a risky situation (also known as the fight or flight response) or even to face a challenging day at the office.

Cortisol is within a class of hormones called glucocorticoid and it increases blood glucose levels:

  • It works against insulin to keep glucose around and breaks down glucose from stored fat to release energy (through a process called gluconeogenesis).

  • It reduces protein uptake (those proteins are used in gluconeogenesis) by the muscles. So, if cortisol is around for long periods of time, it can lead to a reduction in lean muscle mass.

  • The release of cortisol increases blood pressure.

  • Cortisol suppresses the immune system because those functions aren’t vital to surviving an immediate threat or stressful situation.

The problem is that over time, your stressful situations don’t necessarily require an energy release. If you’re sedentary at your job and are experiencing stress, you aren’t using up that circulating glucose that cortisol makes available for you. Therefore, that excess can get re-stored as fat, particularly abdominal fat.

The factors in your life that may be causing an increase in cortisol include the following:

  • You’re not sleeping enough or getting at least seven hours of sleep per night.

  • You’re not active enough. Regular exercise helps reduces anxiety.

  • You’re drinking too much caffeine. Stick to one cup per day or less to minimize the rise in cortisol.

  • You don’t have a balanced diet or are lacking B vitamins and magnesium, which help lower cortisol and boost your immune system.

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