Unlike testosterone, growth hormone and insulin, which are anabolic
hormones, cortisol is a steroidal hormone of the catabolic variety. Cortisol is
released by the adrenal glands at times of physical exertion or mental stress,
as well as first thing in the morning upon waking.
Cortisol Effects: The functions of cortisol include:
– Fight or flight response that floods the body with glucose.
– Temporary increase in energy production.
– It inhibits insulin production.
– It increases the heart rate.
– It reduces protein syntheses.
– It breaks down muscle protein into glucose for energy.
– It balances blood sugar at times of stress.
– It governs inflammatory response.
Cortisol Effects: Adrenal Fatigue
With today’s hectic, stressful lifestyle, problems relating to the adrenals are
all too common. Because cortisol is a catabolic hormone that predisposes you
to losing muscle mass and putting on body fat, for any would-be bodybuilder,
this is especially problematic.
There are many stressors that can bring about the release of cortisol from
the adrenals, including: depression/anxiety, caffeine, systematic inflammation
and excessive aerobic exercise and over training. Long-term elevated
exposure to cortisol can give rise to adrenal fatigue and a variety ailments
that are all too symptomatic of modern living.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue:
– Anxiety, irritability, depression and bipolar disorder
– Autoimmune diseases such as eczema or arthritis
– Chronic fatigue syndrome
– Cravings for high-calorie foods
– Dark circles under the eyes
– Dependency on stimulants such as coffee
– Elevated blood sugar
– Food allergies and intolerances
– Frequent urination
– Gastrointestinal problems and poor digestion
– Hypertension and cardiovascular disease
– Increased abdominal fat, weight gain and inability to lose weight
– Insulin insensitivity
– Impaired immunity and susceptibility to colds
– Impaired memory and brain fog
– Lethargy during the day, but high energy levels in the evening
– Lower back pain
– Numbness in fingers and poor circulation
– Reduced glucose utilization
– Reduced growth hormone, testosterone and muscle mass
– Reduced libido
– Thyroid disorders
– Type-2 diabetes
– Water retention
Cortisol Effects: Managing Cortisol Levels
If stress is a problem, try to manage this as best you can by avoiding stressful
situations. Limit caffeine intake and avoid any psychological stressors,
including newspapers and TV news. Instead engage in relaxing pursuits and
get adequate sleep.
If systematic inflammation is a problem, this can be helped by a change in
diet. Avoid inflammatory foods such as: genetically modified foods,
processed foods, high-glycemic foods, saturated fats, trans fats, microwaved
foods, excessive animal protein, excessive alcohol and any food known to
cause gastrointestinal irritation.
Though caffeine is an anti-inflammatory, caffeine raises cortisol levels and
should not be overindulged. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and
aspirin may temporarily alleviate symptoms, but long-term use of these drugs
can exacerbate systematic inflammation.
If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, maintaining blood-sugar levels is
important to controlling cotisol. Eating first thing in the morning and directly
after a workout are important, as well as regular consumption of protein or
low-glycemic carbohydrates. Though if you supplement adequately, you will
still be able to utilize the low-insulin and fasting modes.
Cortisol Effects: Supplements for the Adrenals
There are a variety of supplements that can help the adrenals of which the
most effective include:
– Ashwagandha, up to 2 g (powdered form) per day in divided doses.
– Vitamin B3, 500 mg per day.
– Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal 5-phosphate, the biologically active form), up to 100
mg per day.
– Vitamin C complex, up to 5 grams per day in divided doses.
– 5HTP, 200 to 400 mg per day.
– Licorice root, 450 mg twice a day.
– L-glutamine, up to 20 grams per day in divided doses.
– Magnesium, up to 5 mg per pound in body weight.
– N-acetyl L-tyrosine, 500 mg up to twice a day.
Other supplements that may be helpful include: vitamin B complex,
benfotiamine, CoQ10, vitamin E, holy basil, Omega 3, phosphatidyl serine,
rhodiola rosea, RNA, ginseng and the minerals zinc and copper.
Cortisol Effects: Exercise and Cortisol
Aerobic exercise is especially noted for increasing cortisol production,
though this is offset to a degree by the release of endorphins. If you already
suffer from adrenal fatigue, your symptoms are likely to be compounded.
Aerobic exercise may expend energy and burn body fat, but it will also
burn muscle tissue due to the increase in cortisol. By contrast, weight-training
gives rise to a relatively smaller cortisol response, and this is offset by a large
increase in growth hormone.
Weight training is therefore the preferred option for those wishing to not
only gain muscle mass but also to lose body fat. Keep weight-training
sessions under an hour and allow adequate resting periods between training
sessions to avoid over training.