Cortisol is released in larger amounts during times of stress, producing the "fight or flight" response. Since it is a survival hormone, cortisol stimulates glucose production and triggers a hunger response in the brain, while signalling cells to store as much fat as possible. Weight gain due to excessive cortisol levels tends to accumulate in the belly. In order to lose belly fat and reduce cortisol levels, some changes in lifestyle might be required.
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Get eight hours of sleep. Lack of sleep is a common stressor that can be easily rectified. Those who get less than eight hours of sleep are far more prone to produce higher levels of cortisol. If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, natural remedies like chamomile tea, valerian root or melatonin might help.
Reduce or eliminate stress from your daily life. This might require you to delegate some of your responsibilities to other people or reduce your workload in other ways. If emotional stress is a factor, seek counselling to help resolve or alleviate those issues.
Eat healthy foods. Reduce or eliminate caffeine, since it stimulates cortisol production. Ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of protein, fibre and greens. This is important since cortisol promotes cravings of fat and sugar, which might limit intake of healthy foods and increase belly fat.
Avoid a calorie-restrictive diet. Too few calories will stress the body, which will produce more cortisol and trigger a fat-retention effect.
Exercise. Regular exercise, four to five times a week, can naturally lower cortisol levels and maintain a healthy weight. Excessive exercise, however, can increase cortisol levels. This is often seen in highly trained athletes.
Supplement with herbs. Herbal therapies such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and magnolia officinalis can help reduce cortisol levels and anxiety. Siberian gensing, an adaptogen, is also valuable for reducing stress and anxiety. The supplements L-theanine and phosphatidylserine are highly beneficial. L-theanine aids in reducing stress and anxiety by increasing alpha waves in the brain. Phosphatidylserine reduces stress and cortisol levels.
Nourish the adrenal glands with vitamins B and C. Especially important are vitamins B-6 and pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), which are easily depleted when cortisol levels are high. Other vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium, are necessary for proper cortisol regulation.
Tips and warnings
- Test your cortisol levels periodically, especially if you are taking supplements to lower them. Supplementation could allow cortisol levels to drop too low.
- Some drugs, such as spironolactone, and oestrogen hormone therapy might cause an increase in cortisol production.
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