Cortisol and Fat

salmonAs Christmas approaches, it is easy to become stressed and anxious about all the things you have to do -on top of your normal workload. Its worth taking time to consider how stress can actually impact upon your weight – almost as much as what you eat. See the article below for an explanation as to what happens – and how to deal with it

How Cortisol can make you fat

When you’re stressed, you feel the positive effect of cortisol – the rise of energy, the focus, and control.  Cortisol is the main stress hormone made in your adrenal glands and it’s designed to get you out of danger. It has 3 main jobs:

  • raise blood sugar to feed muscles so you can run or fight,
  • raise blood pressure, and
  • modulate immune function.

However, if the cortisol tap is constantly set to ‘on’ our body ceases to register the positive aspects of cortisol, and you switch to the negative aspects of cortisol

Initially, as cortisol is secreted from the pancreas you feel great. Then you become jittery and anxious, and your thinking can become fuzzy. Your blood sugar will drop as the pancreas secretes insulin to get the energy into your cells.

Over time, high cortisol, when sustained, is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, increased belly fat, brain changes such as shrinkage of the hippocampus the memory centre of the brain, depression, insomnia, and poor wound healing. Fat cells in the abdominal area have four times more cortisol receptors than fat cells elsewhere, so fat storage increases as your cortisol climbs and stays high. A vicious circle.

Most people suffering from weight gain and leading a highly stressed life will find that conventional medicine can’t really offer a cure. People are often told to just to exercise more. That is probably the worst advice you could give to someone with high cortisol, as it causes the body to produce even more cortisol.

What you can do about the problem of cortisol.

Here are some ideas to adopt as regular practices – make them a part of your way of life

  1. Eat nutrient dense food – plants like vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts and seeds are the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. Avoid refined carbs and sugar like the plague. Craving sugar or alcohol could be a symptom of high cortisol. Try not to give into this craving – it won’t make you feel better. Instead eat some nuts and seeds, a piece of fruit or some hummus with chopped vegetables as a snack
  2. Eat oily fish 2-3 times a week or take fish oil. 2000 mg per day can lower your cortisol level. See the recipe from Dale Pinnock – the Medicinal Chef, below
  3. Mindfulness/mediation . This is especially true if you are struggling with weight. A study from The University of California at San Francisco, showed that obese women who began a mindfulness program and stuck with it for 4 months lost abdominal fat. If you can’t do any of these then just try closing your eyes and listening to calming music for 15 minutes a day
  4. Change, or at least mix up your   Running raises cortisol. Switching to yoga and Pilates makes all the difference. Or just  try a daily walk outside, especially good if you can walk away from city noise and traffic
  5.  Try rhodiola. Rhodiola is an adaptogen herb from the ginseng family, and a proven botanical treatment for lowering cortisol.

Try this tasty and simple recipe – a great way to boost your Omega 3 intake

Salmon foil parcels with sweet potato wedgessalmon

Serves 1

1 sweet potato, skin on, cut into wedges
Olive oil
1 salmon fillet
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
1 cm piece of fresh root ginger, sliced
Juice of half a lime
2 tsp soy sauce
Small handful of fresh coriander, coarsely torn

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

Place the sweet potato wedges on a baking tray and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until soft and turning golden at the edges.
2 While the wedges are in the oven, make the parcels. Using tin foil or grease proof paper, create a boat shape. It needs to be big enough to hold the salmon fillet and leak-proof so the liquids don’t escape. Place the parcel on a baking tray.
3 Place the salmon fillet in the parcel, along with the garlic, chilli, ginger, lime juice and soy sauce. Seal the parcel by scrunching the edges of the foil or paper together.
4 Move the sweet potato wedges down a shelf if necessary and place the salmon parcel in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Both the salmon and the sweet potato wedges should be done at the same time. The salmon should be lightly cooked and sitting in a well-flavoured broth. Scatter over the coriander just before serving.

This would also work well with a firm white fish like cod. Cod has less anti inflammatory Omega 3 but is a great source of iodine.