Stress, cortisol and weight gain

If you’ve got your finger on the pulse of health trends, it’s likely you’ve been hearing the current buzzwords “cortisol creates belly fat” and “cortisol causes muscle wasting and fat storage.” These are the type of catch phrases that gain momentum every few years. And although some of the fads and trends showing up seasonally in fitness are myths, this caution about chronically elevated cortisol is true. Cortisol is also deeply connected with the dangers of chronic inflammation, which I described in another article, “Inflammation Creates Diseases.”

Like many hormones, cortisol has an effect on a wide variety of functions in the body. Although it’s getting particularly demonized lately, cortisol serves some very important and positive functions in the body. It’s an essential component of the flight or flight response, so it gives us energy, focus, strength, motivation and courage. But, like with sugar or caffeine, it comes with a crash that feels like an emotional, psychological and physical drain. Cortisol is important for survival, but we didn’t evolve to have high levels of it all the time.

According to hormone.org, cortisol isn’t only a stress hormone: “Because most bodily cells have cortisol receptors, it affects many different functions in the body. Cortisol can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. In women, cortisol also supports the developing fetus during pregnancy. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being.”

There are many symptoms of chronically elevated cortisol levels. With that said, the way a spike of cortisol gives you a jolt of energy is by raising blood sugar. It does this by way of gluconeogenesis. This literally means “creating new sugar,” and it happens by way of breaking protein down into amino acids that are then turned into sugar by the liver. What is a large source of protein in the body? Yep, muscles. This is what is meant by “cortisol causes muscle loss.” This in turn contributes to muscle weakness. Whereas normal levels of cortisol help to regulate blood sugar levels by breaking down only a little muscle (which can be replaced with exercise), excessive levels cause muscle wasting.

Why does cortisol cause fat gain? Remember those cortisol receptors most cells have? Fat cells have four times as many, so they are particularly responsive to cortisol. Okay, remember all that glucose the cortisol surge dumped into your blood for energy? Well, that also came with an insulin response to get your blood sugar levels back down, and insulin causes energy storage. And where do you store the energy? Yep, in those hypersensitive fat cells that cortisol just turned on. And what happens when you have too much insulin over time? Yep, diabetes. Also, another reason stress can cause emotional and/or binge eating is because cortisol also fires up your sense of purpose, as well as your appetite. So now stress has made you feel motivated…to eat.

Emotionally and psychologically, chronically high cortisol can exacerbate depression, anxiety, irritability and lack of emotional control. Cortisol triggers a release of tryptophan oxygenase. This enzyme breaks down tryptophan. Tryptophan is required for creating serotonin. Serotonin gives us the ability to feel happiness, and it also affects appetite, sleep and sexual desire. Since extended exposure to high levels of cortisol inhibits the production of serotonin, all the symptoms of low serotonin become problematic (decreased appetite, insomnia, impotence, etc.). In short, prolonged stress causes depression.

Cortisol also plays a role in the circulatory system. It manipulates blood pressure by acting as a diuretic. Excess cortisol causes an electrolyte imbalance, whereby sodium is retained, but potassium is excreted. Let me take you back to your high school biology days: Muscles fire because of the sodium potassium pump. The sodium potassium pump also effects the firing of nerves, including those impulses that cause your heart to beat and your kidneys to take in water for filtration. That sodium potassium pump is important throughout the entire body, across many of its biological functions. Because cortisol increases the concentration of sodium in your body, it has a direct impact on your blood pressure. Remember why excess salt can cause high blood pressure? Because it contains sodium. For all these reasons and more, chronically elevated cortisol also causes muscle weakness (ironic, since short bursts of it temporarily increase strength).

Cortisol has other effects on minerals. According to the Hindawi Journal of Sports Medicine, “Cortisol triggers bone mineral resorption (removal) in order to free amino acids for use as an energy source through gluconeogenesis. Cortisol indirectly acts on bone by blocking calcium absorption, which decreases bone cell growth.” As you can see, excess cortisol causes osteoporosis. It also exacerbates other bone mineral density diseases, which means cortisol can leave you literally brittle with stress.

Practically anything can become a stressor in the right conditions, and fight or flight is our only biological response to stress. Some triggers of stress include conflict, worry, alcohol and drug consumption, processed foods, excess exercise (especially prolonged and repeated sessions of low-level steady-state cardio training), sleep deprivation, thirst and hunger. As much as possible, protect yourself from stress with rest, relaxation, meditation, play time and healthy foods full of antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and thus the risks for practically all diseases.

Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

Adapted from https://goqnotes.com/61597/stress-cortisol-and-weight-gain/

Rare Case of Cushing’s Disease Diagnosed in 7-year-old Boy

A recent case report describes a 7-year-old boy with Cushing’s disease who had an unusual clinical presentation, which significantly delayed his diagnosis.

The study, “A variable course of Cushing’s disease in a 7 year old: diagnostic dilemma,” was published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Rare in children and adolescents, Cushing’s disease refers to overproduction of cortisol caused by excessive adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion from a pituitary tumor. In pediatrics, early symptoms of excess cortisol include weight gain and delayed growth.

Despite being extremely unlikely in children younger than 7, some cases of Cushing’s disease in infancy have been reported.

“If undiagnosed or untreated it can lead to considerable morbidity and mortality, and the inability to detect a microadenoma [tumors smaller than 10 mm in diameter] on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can lead to a diagnostic dilemma leading to unnecessary delays in treatment initiation,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers from the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, India, described a 7-year-old boy who complained of excessive appetite and weight gain in the previous five months. The child weighed 46.8 kg, was 127 cm tall, and had a body mass index (BMI) of 29, indicating he was overweight.

The child’s excess fat was mainly in his abdomen plus he had a round, red, puffy face, which are both common features of Cushing’s disease. He had no history of acute or chronic steroid intake, mood swings, sleep disorders, or issues with eyesight.

Given his clinical presentation, the investigators suspected the boy had Cushing’s disease or pseudo-Cushing’s disease, which refers to situations where the overproduction of cortisol is caused by something unrelated to the disease, such as stress or uncontrolled diabetes mellitus.

Biochemical testing showed the patient had high levels of cortisol, which remained unchanged after a dexamethasone suppression test. In addition, his levels of “bad” cholesterol, referring to low-density lipoprotein, were extremely elevated at 194 mg/dL, where a normal range is defined as less than 110 mg/dL.

Imaging revealed no lesions in the pituitary gland.

The boy was sent home with dietary recommendations. Eight weeks later, he had lost 4 kg, while his height remained the same; he also complained of headaches and various episodes of double vision.

This confused the clinical team as hallmarks of Cushing’s disease include short stature and weight loss triggered by pharmacological therapy. Despite having lost weight, he did not take any medications to help him with it, plus the boy’s height was normal for his age.

Nonetheless, the patient was complaining of neurological symptoms, suggesting progression of Cushing’s disease.

An ophthalmologist did not observe anything abnormal with the child’s eyes that could explain his double vision episodes.

A new series of tests revealed slightly elevated 24-hour urinary cortisol levels, decreased concentration of ACTH, and mildly increased cortisol levels after a two-day dexamethasone suppression test.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed a small microadenoma in the right lobe of the pituitary gland.

Using Gamma Knife radiation therapy, a kind of high-precision radiation therapy, and surgery, doctors successfully removed the boy’s microadenoma. Six weeks post-procedure, his cortisol and ACTH concentrations returned to normal.

“MRI findings of the pituitary may be inconclusive in the beginning of the disease process and should be borne in mind during further follow-up. In cases where a clear-cut diagnosis may be difficult, a diligent follow-up is required to ascertain the course of the disease and to make timely diagnosis,” the investigators concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/10/25/rare-case-cushings-disease-diagnosed-7-year-old-boy-case-study/

Bruising easily and gaining weight? Don’t mistake high blood pressure for this syndrome

By Olivia Lerche June 30th, 2017

Cushing’s sydnrome [sic]: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressure

The condition is a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure to the hormone cortisol – which can be caused by taking steroids. Cortisol regulates metabolism and immune response in the body.

Other people develop Cushing’s syndrome because their bodies produce too much cortisol.

It is most common in adults aged between 20 and 50 although women are almost three time [sic] as likely to be diagnosed.

While the condition is rare and only affects around one in every 50,000 people – the syndrome can affect people with type 2 diabetes, obese and have poorly controlled blood sugar levels.

The condition is also more common in people with high blood pressure.

Cushing’s syndrome – also called hypercortisolism – can cause a number of symptoms.These can include:
Weight gain
Thinning skin which can bruise easily
Reddish-purple stretch marks on the arms, legs, breasts, thighs, stomach and buttocks
It can also cause the face to become rounder – causing fat to deposit on the face
Muscle or bone weakness is also a sign of the condition
A loss of libido – decreased interest in sex – is also a symptom

Cushing's sydnrome: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressureGETTY

Cushing’s sydnrome [sic]: Condition has similar symptoms as high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome

However, other symptoms can include excess hair on the face, irregular periods, severe fatigue, high blood pressure, high blood sugar irritability or depression and even a fatty deposit between the shoulders.The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases said: “Metabolic syndrome – a combination of problems that includes excess weight around the waist, high blood pressure, abnormal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and insulin resistance-also mimics the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.”Cushing’s syndrome often develops as a side effect of treatment with corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids are widely used to reduce inflammation and treat autoimmune conditions  – where the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue – such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus.

Cushing's sydnrome: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressureGETTY

Cushing’s sydnrome [sic]: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressure

Metabolic syndrome also mimics the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome

However, the condition can be hard to diagnose because of the similarity to high blood pressure.To diagnose the disease, patients will usually need to have a saliva test, urine test and blood test to measure cortisol levels in the body.To treat the condition, patients will usually have to decrease the levels of steroids they are taking.

However, there are complications if the condition is left untreated.

It can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

High cortisol: Symptoms and signs

When we become stressed out bodies release cortisol – the stress hormone – which helps us cope with challenges. Cortisol’s role is to convert protein into energy by releasing glycogen and counteract inflammation. When cortisol is released in the body temporarily, this is okay and won’t have long-lasting detrimental effects to health as it is a natural response to a stressor. But when cortisol levels remain high chronically it can eventually begin to tear your body down thus causing health complications. This is why numerous health experts recommend the reduction of stress as much as possible because in the long run it can harm our health.

High cortisol levels over the long term can destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, and weaken the immune system. Additionally, adrenal fatigue has been linked to numerous other health conditions including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, premature menopause, and many others. High cortisol levels are also associated with many unwanted symptoms which we will outline below.

High cortisol symptoms

If you’re concerned about your cortisol levels, the following signs and symptoms associated with high cortisol levels can alert you and prompt you to make the necessary changes in order to reduce cortisol levels.

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Skin symptoms including acne, skin infections, lesions, thin-appearing skin, bruising, growing facial hair, and reddish purple streaks on skin
  • Muscle and bone symptoms like a deep pain in the bones, weak muscles, chronic backaches, increased risk of bone fractures
  • Gender specific changes such as women developing male-pattern hair growth, irregular menstrual cycles, low libido, infertility
  • Neurological symptoms such as depression, irritability, headaches, chronic fatigue, and anxiety
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Poor sleep or lack of sleep
  • Swelling of hands and feet

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you may want to have your cortisol levels checked to confirm diagnosis. Living with high cortisol levels over the long term can have detrimental effects on a person’s health. Treating high cortisol as soon as possible can lower the risk of long-term health problems.

Causes of high cortisol

There are two main causes of high cortisol: Chronic stress and more rarely, Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is caused by a hormone-secreting tumor on the adrenal gland which results in the release more cortisol than required.

Living with chronic stress also leads to high cortisol because the release of cortisol is a natural response from the body when it is stressed. The hypothalamic–pituitary-adrenal [HPA] axis is what regulates the timely release of cortisol during acute stress, but when stress becomes chronic the feedback from the HPA becomes damaged and so cortisol continues to be released.

Conditions that can contribute to chronic stress and high cortisol include:

  • Depression
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes
  • Severe obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Working in shifts
  • End-stage kidney disease
  • Chronic pain

Tips to lower high cortisol

Here are some tips that can help you lower your high cortisol levels and thus prevent long-term health problems associated with high cortisol. [MaryO’Note:  These will not work if you have active Cushing’s!    You must remove  the source of your Cushing’s first.]

  • Eat a well balanced meal with plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid sugars, consume low glycemic index foods, avoid processed foods, eat a wide variety of health foods to ensure you receive all essential vitamins and nutrients
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Take time out of each day to relax – listen to music, meditate, pray, perform your favorite hobby, anything that promotes relaxation
  • Take up yoga or tai chi
  • Ensure you are getting adequate sleep
  • Drink tea
  • Watch funny videos or hang out with a funny friend
  • Go for a massage
  • Do something spiritual – attend a service
  • Chew gum
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Stretch

By incorporating these helpful tips into your life you will find that your high cortisol symptoms begin to diminish and your overall health begins to improve.

From http://www.belmarrahealth.com/high-cortisol-symptoms-signs-look/

 

Cushing’s disease best treated by endocrinologist

Dear Dr. Roach: I was told that I have Cushing’s disease, which has caused diabetes, high blood pressure, hunger, weight gain and muscle loss. I was never sick before this, and I did not have any of those things. I am told I have a tumor on my right adrenal gland. I have been to numerous doctors, but most have not been too helpful. They seem to try to treat the diabetes or blood pressure, but nothing else. They seem not to be familiar with Cushing’s. I tell them which medication works, but they still give me new medication. I have an endocrinologist and am scheduled to meet a urologist.

I have managed to go to physical therapy, exercise every day and lose over 50 pounds. I am not happy with the advice I’m getting. I was told that surgery to remove the tumor will fix everything, but that I would need to take steroids for either a short term or for life. My body is already making too much cortisol. I have 50 more pounds to lose. I work hard to keep the weight down. I feel like a science experiment. Within a week, I have had three different medications. I could not tell which was causing the side effects and making me dehydrated. I am not sure surgery is right for me, because they said it can be done laparoscopically, but if they can’t do it that way, they will have to cut me all the way across, which may take a long time to heal and may get infected.

Do you know what tests will confirm the diagnosis? Would surgery fix all these problems? I had the 24-hour urine test, the saliva test and blood tests. I want to know if it may be something else instead of Cushing’s. I’m not on anything for the high cortisol levels.

– A.L.

A: It sounds very much like you have Cushing’s syndrome, which is caused by excess cortisone, a hormone that has many effects. It is called Cushing’s disease when the underlying cause is a pituitary tumor that causes the adrenal gland to make excess cortisone. (Cortisone and cortisol are different names for the same chemical, also called a glucocorticoid.) Cushing’s syndrome also may be caused by an adenoma (benign tumor) of the adrenal gland, which sounds like the case in you.

The high amounts of cortisone produced by the adrenal tumor cause high blood pressure, glucose intolerance or frank diabetes, increased hunger, obesity (especially of the abdomen – large bellies and skinny limbs are classic), dark-colored striae (stretch marks), easy bruising, a reddish face and often weakness of arm and leg muscles. When full-blown, the syndrome is easy to spot, but many people don’t have all the characteristics, especially early in the course of the disease.

Your endocrinologist is the expert in diagnosis and management, and has done most of the tests. I am somewhat surprised that you haven’t yet seen a surgeon to have the tumor removed. Once it is removed, the body quickly starts to return to normal, although losing the weight can be a problem for many.

I have seen cases in my training where, despite many tests, the diagnosis was still uncertain. The endocrinologist orders a test where the blood is sampled from both adrenal veins (which contain the blood that leaves the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys). If the adrenal vein on the side of the tumor has much more cortisone than the opposite side, the diagnosis is certain.

By DR. KEITH ROACH For the Herald & Review at http://herald-review.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnists/roach/dr-roach-cushing-s-disease-best-treated-by-endocrinologist/article_38e71835-464d-5946-aa9c-4cb1366bcee3.html

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