Often times what prompts us to commence an exercise regime is the extra few inches round the waistline or a tightness when we try to get into a certain pair of jeans or trousers that we haven’t worn for a while. This tends to be where men store excess body fat, whilst for women it is around the hips and buttocks. The wardrobe epiphany can then precipitate a rush to exercise too intensely or perhaps more dangerous to huge caloric restriction. But although excess calorie intake does have a huge impact on our weight and fat accumulation there are reasons why we deposit fat in specific areas and the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate how two hormones determine how much and where we lay down body fat.
The Endocrine System and Hormonal Response.
The endocrine system plays a part in where we lay down fat and the two hormones that determine how much and where you will lay down bodyfat are insulin and cortisol. By management of these two hormones you can limit the amount of bodyfat you lay down around your stomach area. In one respect cortisol is a vital hormone because it helps regulate the metabolism of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Cortisol however is also responsible for telling your body to store fat, for increasing your appetite and for despositing fat around your middle.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that can be traced back to our evolutionary response to danger. When your brain thinks that your life is under threat it stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline helps you become alert and focused and the cortisol increases levels of fats and sugar in the bloodstream to fuel your physical response. Our busy modern lifestyles and long work hours with little rest has resulted in us becoming stressed and this often results in a constant low-grade release of cortisol. Stress comes in many different forms and cortisol can be produced by emotional and dietary stress resulting from poor eating habits, lack of sleep, excessive intake of alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and tobacco.
When we produce excess cortisol we end up with a surplus of fat and sugar in the bloodstream, we then produce insulin in response to the increased sugar in the bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for sending sugar to fuel the brain, stowing sugar into cells and helping decrease blood sugar levels. Fat cannot be stored in cells without the presence of insulin. The reason why fat targets your middle is because it is close to your liver where it can be quickly converted to energy if needed. Abdominal fat cells also have four times more receptor cells for cortisol then anywhere else in the body so you are naturally programmed to lay down any excess fat here.
When the body is consistently producing too much cortisol and insulin then the cells begin to respond less effectively to insulin, the result is consistently high blood sugar levels. This is known as insulin resistance and is the first step towards developing type 2 diabetes. Stress leads to high levels of cortisol, high levels of cortisol lead to insulin resistance and insulin resistance can lead to diabetes and heart disease. If you hold fat around the middle then you have a higher chance of becoming insulin resistant and should take the necessary dietary and lifestyle measures to lose that fat. In part 2 of this two part blog we shall turn to measures that will help reduce this hormonal yo-yo effect and help reduce the fat around your middle.