Sugar, Insulin and Cortisol – affecting fat, sleep and energy

Sugar, Insulin and Fat
Hopefully most of you know that we need energy to function. In the body energy is derived, through many chemical processes, via GLUCOSE which is released from the digestive system into the blood.

When glucose is released into the blood, the hormone INSULIN is then released. Insulin transports the glucose around the body and

  • to the muscles and liver where it is converted into GLYCOGEN and stored for when energy is required
  • to fat tissues where it is converted to TRYGLYCERIDES or as we call it FAT

Insulin also, not surprisingly, also inhibits the release of energy from FAT tissue.

Therefore it seems clear that too much sugar in your system will raise your insulin levels higher and higher. The liver and muscles can only store limited amounts of glycogen, so therefore any excess sugar will end up as fat.

In addition, the high levels of Insulin and glucose in the blood will reduce the amount of energy released from fat tissue when you exercise.

Too much insulin could lead to insulin resistance where the insulin becomes less effective at clearing the glucose from the blood, and can eventually lead to TYPE 2 DIABETES.

Cortisol and Stress
Before I mention Cortisol, let’s discuss stress. Stress is quite an ambiguous word, but essentially it is any situation that takes the body out of its natural equilibrium

  • Lack of sleep
  • Mental pressure
  • Physical exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Danger
  • Pain

When under stress, the body releases CORTISOL into the blood stream. Cortisol helps the body to release energy from the muscles and liver in order to provide energy to combat the stress the body is under. It also diverts energy from low-priority functions such as the immune system!

The problem is, that this system was designed to combat short, sharp periods of stress such as attack by animal etc. Modern day stresses tend to be chronic, or long lasting so cortisol levels can remain high for long periods of time. No wonder prolonged periods of stress lead to illness.

On top of this Cortisol is known to aid short term memory retention, but prolonged exposure can directly affect the hippocampus which is responsible for long term memories.

So we have lots of glucose swishing around the system with no need for it. We know now that excess glucose gets turned into cells, and what’s worse is that many of us turn to sugary snack foods at time of stress, further compounding the problem.

There is a lot of research to indicate that high levels of cortisol are linked to excess fat specifically around the belly

Cortisol affects sleep
Sleep is the bodies time to rebuild damaged cells, replenish nutrients and generally give the body a daily service so it is ready for the following day. Naturally, we start the day with high levels of cortisol so we have energy to get going and do what is required of us. As the day progresses those levels reduce until we are low on energy and need to sleep.

However, if under chronic stress throughout the day those levels remain artificially high, and therefore we can be “tired and wired” at the end of the day with excess glucose in the system but we are now trying to go to sleep.

The result, a bad nights sleep. High Cortisol levels at night inhibit the immune system so we don’t repair effectively while the body fights to lower glucose level by releasing insulin. So by the time morning comes, Cortisol levels have dropped and despite having slept we start the day feeling slow and sluggish. Then we reach for the sugar…..and it all starts again.

So, if you are struggling to lose fat, despite exercising, and counting calories ask yourself how much sugar you are eating. Remember this includes cereals, pastas, bread, grains and anything from the sweetshop.

Cut the sugar, eat more veg for the carbs, eat fruit sparingly (high sugar) and look at ways of reducing stress (another post to come), and get plenty of sleep.

Please add any comments below, or if there are any errors above please say so.

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