June 22, 2024

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Understanding Cortisol: The Hormone’s Vital Functions and Weight Impact

Cortisol, also known as glucocorticoids, is a critical hormone produced by the adrenal gland, playing essential roles in various physiological processes. Some key functions of cortisol include aiding in metabolic processes by breaking down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, regulating blood pressure, maintaining fluid balance, and contributing to hormones controlling sexual and growth functions.

The adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, release cortisol, which is closely associated with the body’s circadian rhythm. Approximately 50–60 percent of cortisol is released during 30–40 minutes of walking, and its levels fluctuate throughout the day.

Despite their crucial functions, elevated cortisol levels can have adverse effects, particularly on weight. High cortisol levels, often associated with stress, can contribute to excess belly fat, especially visceral fat. Visceral fat is linked to health issues such as insulin resistance, inflammation, and cardiovascular problems. Nutritionist Marina Wright highlights the challenges of losing fat when cortisol is high.

Several factors contribute to the weight-related impact of high cortisol levels:

Abdominal Fat Storage: Fat cells in the body have more cortisol receptors, making abdominal fat more susceptible to the effects of cortisol.

Increased Appetite: High cortisol levels can disrupt sleep patterns and affect hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased food consumption.

Insulin Resistance: Elevated cortisol levels contribute to consistently high blood sugar levels, promoting fat storage and inducing insulin resistance.

Muscle Loss: Cortisol can break down muscle tissue for energy, leading to a reduction in basal metabolic rate. This decrease in muscle mass and metabolic rate can contribute to weight gain.

Understanding cortisol’s functions and its impact on weight highlights the importance of managing stress and adopting lifestyle practices that support hormone balance. Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm, engaging in stress-reducing activities, and promoting adequate sleep are crucial for overall well-being and weight management.