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All you need to know about cortisol

Right now we live uncertain and stressful times due to COVID-19. We have been forced to change our routines. Our bodies have already paid the price… have you gained weight during quarantine? This new situation can cause discomfort and anxiety. Lately I have come across clients who had gained a lot of weight during quarantine. They blame lack of exercise and/or overeating, but in many cases there is another reason. I have had to explain to many clients how cortisol may be affecting their lives and their bodies. Today I will explain everything you need to know about cortisol, the stress hormone. I hope you find it useful.
 

Cortisol: what is it, function, normal values and alterations

 
Above the kidneys we have the adrenal glands, whose function is to release different hormones. The outer part of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, makes the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. The inner part of the gland, called the adrenal medulla, produces the hormones adrenaline and norepinephrine.
When you are facing a threat, your hypothalamus, a small region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. This system prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises blood pressure, and increases energy supplies. Cortisol, the main stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream and improves glucose use in the brain. Cortisol also reduces functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a “fight or flight” situation (immune, digestive, reproductive, and growth processes). This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of the brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.
 
Back in the day, this survival mechanism served us to flee from some dangerous animal. Nowadays, we face stressful situations a little different: not being late for work, finishing projects on time, meetings, not missing the bus to meet friends … In all these situations, our body reacts by becoming alert, hoping to overcome adversity and threats. In the short term, the release of cortisol is very helpful and serves as a form of protection for your body. In combination with adrenaline, the two hormones perform many important tasks in your body. Iin stressful situations, they prepare you to be on top of your game. Cortisol works to improve your performance. Essentially, cortisol activates you in demanding situations. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume normal activities. So far so good.
The reference values for cortisol levels in the blood are:
  • Morning: 5 to 25 µg / dL;
  • End of the day: less than 10 mcg / dL.
  • At very high levels it can reach 80 μg / dl.
 
When stressors are always present and you constantly feel in danger, that fight or flight reaction stays on. Long-term activation of the stress response system and overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that act accordingly can disrupt almost every process in your body. This increases the risk of many health problems, such as:
 
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Insomnia
  • Increase in blood sugar
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased thirst and urinary frequency
  • Memory lapsus
  • Difficulty in learning
  • Little growth
  • Decrease in testosterone
  • Decreased libido
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Increased probability of suffering from osteoporosis
Fortunately, it can reduce excess cortisol production. How does this work?

7 science-backed ways to lower cortisol

 
1.- Cut on sugar: One of the easiest ways to fight high cortisol levels, stress, and weight gain is to cut down on the simple sugars found in cakes, candy, soda, or white bread. Cortisol regulates the level of sugar in the blood. If you eat foods with a lot of sugar, your blood sugar level and consequently your cortisol levels will rise. Ironically, many people eat sugary foods to relax. However, sugar causes an increased release of cortisol. The combination of sugar with white flour, which is used in many cakes and sweets, raises cortisol levels even more. Choosing complex carbohydrates, rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats (whole grains, dairy, legumes or vegetables) will help you lower cortisol levels.
2.- Eat foods rich in phenylalanine and vitamin C: Phenylalanine is an amino acid that helps release dopamine. Dopamine will reduce the urge to eat carbohydrates and sugars and therefore wiil help reduce stress. Phenylalanine is found mostly in protein foods like dairy, eggs, red meat, fish, and some whole grains. Vitamin C, like dopamine, also helps to secrete dopamine and reduce stress. Vitamin C is found in vegetables and fruits.
 
3.- Cut or reduce caffeine intake: It is not just sugar, caffeine also greatly increases the production of cortisol. Coffee, energy drinks, and the like stimulate the adrenal glands, causing them to release more cortisol. Regular caffeine consumption can double the blood cortisol content. A good alternative is green tea. It only contains about a quarter of the caffeine, but at the same time the tea has a relaxing effect thanks to a special amino acid. A study from the Ben-Gurion University School of Health Sciences recently found that the amino acid L-theanine counteracts the production of cortisol and reduces its levels in the blood.
4.- Avoid or limit alcohol intake: A study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that men who only had one drink a week saw a 3% increase in their cortisol levels, and those levels can be even higher if they are under tremendous pressure. Since it is a depressant of the nervous system, it can also cause depressive states.
 
5.- Adequate hydration: Drinking enough water a day – around eight glasses – is essential to better regulate cortisol levels. According to a 2018 study of young soccer players, even mild dehydration can lead to an increase in cortisol levels.
 
6.- Moderate-intensity exercise: We are not talking about training as long or as hard as possible. High intensity sport for about 15-20 minutes can stimulate cortisol production. The reason for this is again anchored in the human “fight or flight” response. For example, sprint can trigger a complex stress reaction. Your brain receives the message that you are fleeing danger and proceeds to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. However, if you want to lower your cortisol levels, you should do moderate-intensity exercise. A study published in The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation  has investigated the best ways to lower cortisol levels. The results indicated that relaxing sports, such as yoga or meditation, are the most appropriate. That said, other more active types of sports are definitely appropriate as well. 20 to 30 minutes of light physical activity – such as walking or biking – will reduce your stress and therefore consume excess cortisol.
In addition, including relaxation and meditation exercises in your routine will reduce the risk of experiencing chronic stress, a study from Ohio State University has concluded.
 

7.- Dark chocolate!!!

Believe it or not, dark chocolate keeps cortisol levels stable. A 2019 study published in the journal Antioxidants suggests that consuming just 25 grams of dark chocolate each day may lower overall cortisol levels.

Stressful events are part of life. And you may not be able to change your current situation. But you can take steps to manage how these events affect you. You can learn to identify what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in stressful situations. The reward  is peace of mind and perhaps a longer, healthier life.
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9 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

9 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

It takes a lot of effort and determination to get on the path towards losing weight. Depending on how badly you want it, it can mark a line in the sand of your life, a decision that changes your direction. So it would understandably be pretty disappointing if, despite your efforts, you didn’t end up losing weight. This is a problem that many people face. They think that they’re on the right path, yet they have nothing to show for it. The good news is that this happens as a result of one or more errors, which can be changed. Below, we take a look at some of the common reasons why you may not be losing weight, all of which can be changed and/or managed.

9 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

Source: Pexels.com

You’re Phoning It In

Most people understand that some physical exercise is required if you’re going to lose weight. So they join the gym, or buy running shoes, and go about the strenuous business of getting into shape. Only there’s an issue: they’re not doing anywhere near as much as they should be doing. They may be physically at the gym, but they’re not pushing their bodies. You don’t begin to magically get into shape just by walking through the front doors of the gym; it’s what you do while you’re there that counts. If you’re spending an hour at the gym, but only twenty minutes on the machines, and forty minutes on your phone/walking around, then you’ve only done twenty minutes of worthwhile work. You’ve got to push yourself.

You’re Not Mixing It Up

Similarly, you should also look at what types of exercising you’re doing. It’s best to have a varied routine. It’s fine to have your favourite routines, but make sure you’re throwing some others in there, too. You’ll make more weight loss gains from swimming, weights, and running, than you would, say, just running marathons.

You’re Eating the Wrong Foods

You could have the most varied workout routine in the world, yet still struggle to meet your weight goals, all because you’re simply not eating well enough. If motivating yourself to visit the gym is one of the main obstacles that you need to overcome, then the other should be cooking healthy meals. It’s much easier to eat quick to make, unhealthy meals, but they’re not going to help you. You might need to change how you think about cooking if you’re going to make long-lasting changes. Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be fun. Get some music playing, open a glass of wine, and go into the flow.

And Too Much Of It

As well as what you’re eating, you also need to take a look at how much of it you’re eating. There’s little value in cooking a relatively healthy meal, if you’re then going to eat the equivalent of three portions. If you can’t keep yourself from eating larger portions or snacking even after you’ve finished your meal, then look at eating smaller portions and then supplementing with shakes. Weight loss shakes can be a great way to avoid snacking throughout the day, and are also a good source of the nutrients you need. Plus, they’re simple enough to make, so don’t take up any time in your busy day.

Poor Sleeping Habits

There’s an often overlooked of losing weight: you need to sleep well. It’s when you’re at your most restful that your metabolism does the bulk of its work, and also, maintaining sleeping habits is an integral part of keeping stress at bay (which also affects weight loss, but more on that later). If you’re finding that you’re not getting a full night of rest as often as you’d like/need, then look at making some changes. Things like avoiding screen time before you hit the hay, and having an all-around relaxing evening — including drinking tea and listening to music — can help.

Source: Pexels.com

Underlying Medical Issues

If you’re finding weight especially difficult to shift, then it’s recommended that you visit a doctor, to see if there are any underlying reasons why it might not be coming off. An underactive thyroid and diabetes, amongst others, can cause weight gain/make it difficult to lose. You may need to work towards actively managing these conditions before you’re able to lose weight.

You’re Stressed

Stress is something else that makes it difficult to lose weight. This works in various ways. First, when you’re stressed, you’re more likely to have unhealthy eating habits. You’ll be less likely to cook meals, and instead opt for fast food options. It can also wreak havoc on your body, which will mean that it won’t work as well as it could do. Fortunately, stress is a medical condition which is, more or less, in your control. There are things you can to keep stress at bay in the first place. If you’re in the middle of a particularly stressful period, then you can look at meditation and yoga, two activities that have been shown to lower our stress levels.

Sneaking Foods

By far and away, the most common reason why people don’t reach their weight loss goals is that they lack discipline. If you’re going to shift those extra pounds, then you need to recognize that you can’t have it all; those snacks and treats will have to go. People can convince themselves to eat just one sugary snack, but it’s the same as sneaking just one cigarette; it’s never just one. There might be a time in the future when you can eat more unhealthy foods, but in the early days, it’s best to have a “total ban” approach.

You’re Not Patient

Finally, remember to be patient! You might not have lost weight because you’re expecting results too quickly. You wouldn’t expect to have muscles the day after visiting the gym for the first time. It’s only when we commit to living our good habits that the results eventually begin to show. So stick with it — it’ll happen!

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tips to drop your last 5 pounds

5 tips to drop your last 5 pounds
Summer is coming and you may still want or need to lose a few pounds to look perfect. Here are some overlooking tips to drop your last 5 pounds, reach your goal, and look stunning.
 
You´re trying to reduce your body fat to the minimum so you´re fighting a natural survival mechanism. Food shortage has been a constant threat throughout human evolution. Without fat as a powerful energy store, humankind would have been extinct long before Stone Age. Body fat serves as:
  • an energy store,
  • a padding against mechanical impacts,
  • a coating against heat loss,
  • a construction material for tissues and organs,
  • and as a carrier substance for vitamins and other important components of metabolism, just to name a few.
(The beneficial effects of of body fat and adipose tisue in humans: https://www.nature.com/articles/0800473.pdf?origin=ppub)
 
When we get to this point, we usually forget the basics and complicate our lives. So, I’m going to remind you some things that people usually overlook.

1 – Stay focused.

This may not seem a tip because we use to think we only need the motivation at the beginning but, we need motivation all the time, and at this point, motivation is key.
You have been training and dieting and now you´re so close to your goal. It´s not time to drop the ball. Stay focused!
The finish line is ahead, few weeks ahead, few workouts ahead, few meals ahead. Don´t skip your workouts, no more cheat meals these last weeks… You didn´t come this far just to stay 5 pounds away from your goal.
5 tips to drop your last 5 pounds
5 tips to drop your last 5 pounds

2 – Drink plenty of water.

Drinking enough water is crucial to your overall health, but it’s also an important tool in successful fat loss. Many studies support this statement, showing a positive correlation between increased water consumption and fat loss. 
Without water, the body cannot properly metabolize stored fat or carbohydrates.
The process of metabolizing fat is called lipolysis. The first step of this process is hydrolysis, which occurs when water molecules interact with triglycerides (fats) to create glycerol and fatty acids.
Drinking enough water is essential for burning off fat from food and drink, as well as stored fat.
When you aren’t taking in enough water, your body cannot do its job efficiently. If the only liquids you consume are coffee, tea, sodas, artificial fruit juices and the like, you will become mildly dehydrated, forcing your body to slow down its metabolism to compensate. A slow, water-starved metabolism may not burn fat efficiently.
In a 2014 study ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4121911/ ), 50 overweight females drank 500 milliliters (ml) of water 30 minutes before breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in addition to their regular water consumption, for 8 consecutive weeks. The participants experienced a reduction in body weight, body fat, and body mass index. They also reported appetite suppression.
A mini-review from 2016 ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4901052/) found that increased water intake led to increased lipolysis and a loss of fat in animal studies.

3 – Outdoor activities.

At this point, more hours in the gym may bring you more stress than benefits. You already train hard enough and you deserve to explore life beyond the gym.
Outdoor activities help you lose fat because you burn many calories in just a short time.
(Read: https://chape.fitness/calories-burned-by-activity/ and pick your favorite outdoor activity).
In addition, outdoor exercise provides a mental health boost beyond that of indoor gyms. Moving outdoors has been shown to reduce anger and depression and improve mood. Exposure to sunlight enhances vitamin D production, which may be partially responsible for this mood-enhancing effect.
(Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25791903)
You don’t have to run a marathon or crush an outdoor boot camp to reap the benefit. Even low-intensity activities, like walking or gardening, will do. Personally, I love these two activities:
5 tips to drop your last 5 pounds
5 tips to drop your last 5 pounds
Interestingly, low- to moderate-intensity physical activity shows greater improvements in self-esteem than high-intensity outdoor exercise. Activities shown to improve self-esteem include walking, cycling, horseback riding, fishing and gardening. A regular dose of outdoor activity can help boost the already powerful esteem-enhancing effect of exercise.
If you prefer high-intensity outdoor activities, these are my suggestions:
  1. Hiking is an activity that requires little or no equipment and gets you into the great outdoors. The big advantage to hiking is it naturally spikes the intensity level of your workout which helps you to burn three times the body fat of a flat walk. A combination of cardio, endurance, and strength-building exercise, hiking requires minimal equipment, and you can adjust the workout pace based on trail difficulty, fitness level, and personal preference. Hiking targets glutes, abs, and leg muscles. For maximum effects, choose a hilly terrain and keep up a brisk pace.
  2. Cycling is a wonderful way to burn a handsome amount of calories and get the body back into shape. It helps increase heart rate which in turn burns fat. The best part about cycling is that it involves all major muscles, builds lung capacity and endurance. Depending on skill and fitness level, you can bike in the park or out in the street, or even try conquering rocky slopes.
  3. Swimming is quite an effective outdoor activity to lose weight. It’s a top cardio workout and helps improve muscle tone at the same time. Since swimming involves a lot of efforts and negotiation against water, it leads to muscle building and fat burning. Swimming also can help reduce blood pressure and alleviate joint pains.

Time for a true (recent) story!

My old friend Tito still competes in kayak events. We know each other since we were kids and we love to go out and have a few beers when we get together.

Last summer he participated in Guinness records, paddling for 24 hours. This summer will participate in the World Championship, senior category.

He trains in a high performance center with Olympic medalists, and the center’s trainers and nutritionists prepare them detailed and very demanding training and diets.

However, my good friend always asks me for an opinion when he is in trouble. Two weeks ago, he broke his foot and sent me a message, because he needs to lose weight for this summer’s competition. Because of this injury, he can not run, bike, elliptical … So I told him, “swimming is your only option, dude.”

Last weekend I sent him a message to ask how he was doing. He was really happy because he was losing weight. “My foot hurts a bit when I get in the pool but, in a few minutes everything is fine. I do not use my legs, as you told me and I swim for an hour. I’m losing weight and I do not hurt my foot.”

This is how your hands look like after 24 hours of paddling.

But my point is, even if you´re injured, there´s an activity that you can do without affecting your injury. As John Wooden said: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” 

You do not have the pressure of a championship this summer, you just want to look better. If you face an injury, lack of time, or whatever, look at your situation with perspective, evaluate your options and do what you can right now. Life is not perfect and we all have to deal with difficulties. How we deal with them is what will make the difference.

4 – Sleep.

What you eat and how you exercise are two significant contributors to the overall success rate you see. But after that, it’s important to not overlook some of the other contributing factors that can sway the type of progress you experience.
One specific component that very often gets overlooked is that of sleep. No one ever thinks of sleep being a factor in success since, after all, you are barely conscious while you sleep. How much damage could you really do to your progress while you are sleeping?
Cutting back on sleep reduces the benefits of dieting, according to a new study. When dieters got a full night’s sleep, more than half of the weight they lost was fat. When they cut back on their sleep, only one-fourth of their weight loss came from fat. Sleep-deprived dieters also felt hungrier, producing higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and reduces energy expenditure.  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101004211637.htm
5 tips to drop your last 5 pounds
You must not overlook the connection between the amount of sleep you get and your overall exercise performance. When you are short on sleep, it’s quite typical to find yourself struggling to maintain the usual level of exercise that you normally would tolerate quite well.
In addition to this, since sleep is the primary time the body recovers from exercise, it’s also when you will be rebuilding your torn muscle tissues. Without this recovery time, you’re going to go into your next exercise session at a disadvantage.

Try these tips to drop your last 5 pounds, I´m sure everything will be ok but, if you feel like you need more help, get in touch!