Weight Loss, Cortisol and Insulin Surprising Reasons for Those Unwanted Pounds
by Kimberly Pryor

Summer is a logical time to focus on weight loss. The start of the swimsuit/shorts season causes many to cringe in fear. Even so, the temptation to give into those carb cravings can sometimes be overwhelming. Even when we resist temptation and stay faithful to our diets, sometimes the extra pounds refuse to go away. This can become especially frustrating, since being overweight is far more serious than a cosmetic issue. Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol as well as ischemic heart disease,[1] cognitive decline,[2] and strokes.[3] Furthermore, according to a JAMA study, outright obesity (Body Mass Index greater than or equal to 30) was associated with 111,909 excess deaths in the year 2000.[4]

The Cortisol Connection
There is little doubt that a sedentary lifestyle and eating processed and sugar-filled foods contributes to overweight and obesity. However, researchers have stated, obesity should not be considered as a simple result of overeating and lack of physical activity.[5]

One underrecognized reason for gaining unwanted pounds is excess levels of the hormone cortisol. Researchers have shown that cortisol levels and plasma levels of the appetite-controlling hormone leptin are related to each other in a time-related negative and positive fashion over 24 hours.[6] In other words, when cortisol decreases, leptin decreases and when cortisol rises, leptin rises.

In addition, stress is the most commonly reported trigger of binge eating, and high cortisol levels correspond to both central body fat and food intake after laboratory stress.[7] After stress, increased cortisol levels have been associated with increased food intake in healthy women and increased cortisol levels have been found in bulimia nervosa.[8] One group of researchers examined waist circumference in 22 obese women (body mass index greater than 27) after a stress test where the women placed their hands in cold water for two minutes. Eleven of the subjects were binge eaters, 11 were non-binge eaters. The researchers found that the binge-eating group had higher morning basal cortisol than the non-binge-eating group. In addition, the binge eaters cortisol levels were higher after the cold-water stress test. Also in the binge eaters, waist circumference was related to cortisol levels.

Further testing on the subjects indicated a possible reason so many people who go on diets fail to achieve optimal weight loss. Twenty of the subjects (10 non-binge eaters, 10 binge eaters) were randomized into one of two groups. One group was put on a six-week program that included cognitive behavorial treatment to help them make better dietary choices. They were also placed on a diet. The other group served as a control. The researchers determined that there was a significant relationship between waist circumference, cortisol and peak cortisol stress responsivity after the cold-water test in the binge-eating group even after going on the diet.[7] This means that subjects whose cortisol levels were highest had a hard time losing weight even after dieting.

The study authors concluded in BED [binge-eating subjects], there is a hyperactive Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis related to abdominal obesity that persists even after treatment, suggesting that cortisol might be a primary factor in the disorder. In another similar study by the same researchers, the binge-eating group also experienced increased hunger and desire to binge eat after the cold-water stress test.[8]

Obesity's link to cortisol manifests itself in other ways. In obesity, cortisol generation is selectively increased within fat tissue. The enzyme 11beta-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (11HSD1) regenerates cortisol from cortisone within fat tissue and the liver. Insulin downregulates 11HSD1, but overweight people often become insulin resistant, meaning they become gradually more immune to insulin's effects. Consequently, researchers hypothesize that the reason cortisol generation is increased in fat tissue may reflect the fact that insulin resistance prevents the insulin-mediated downregulation of 11HSD1.[9]

Another researcher has stated that since cortisol promotes development of visceral obesity, and has a direct negative impact on insulin function throughout the body, even a modest sustained up-regulation of cortisol production may have the potential to increase risk for insulin-resistance syndrome and type 2 diabetes.[10]

Cortisol Control and Weight Loss
Several natural compounds have acted as cortisol-controlling substances. Relora, a proprietary blend of a patented extract from Magnolia officinalis bark and a patent-pending extract from Phellodendron amurense bark, developed by Next Pharmaceuticals, is one of these substances. In a clinical trial, 49 stressed subjects, who suffered from stress-induced overeating, were given a two-to-three-times-daily dose of Relora for two weeks. After Relora consumption, there was a 76 percent decline in high fat/sugar/salt snack eating.[11]

In another study, 50 stressed people were given 200 mg Relora three times daily for two weeks. Post-trial analysis revealed that 82 percent found Relora effective in controlling stress-induced symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, emotional ups and downs, concentration difficulties and restlessness. Seventy-eight percent reported increased relaxation, while 74 percent had more restful sleep. No significant side effects were reported, although 24 percent reported some temporary initial drowsiness, and 6 percent reported mild and transient GI upset.[11]

In a third trial, 12 stressed subjects took Relora for two weeks. Morning salivary cortisol levels (when cortisol levels are normally highest) dropped 37 percent, while DHEA levels rose 227 percent. Previously abnormal cortisol/DHEA levels returned to normal in all subjects by the end of the study.[11]

Sensoril is another cortisol-lowering substance. Sensoril is a patented proprietary extract of roots and leaves from Withania somnifera Dunn, also known as Ashwagandha. Withania somnifera has been shown in a number of animal studies to reduce the effects of stress,[12-13] indicating it may help people who are prone to stress-related eating or whose excess pounds are due to unbalanced cortisol levels.

Sensoril is standardized to contain the proper amounts of glycowithanolides, Withaferin-A and oligosaccarides that research has shown to promote optimal anti-stress activity. One animal study investigated the anxiety-lowering and antidepressant actions of the bioactive Withania somnifera glycowithanolides (WSG) isolated from Withania somnifera roots. Withania somnifera glycowithanolides (20 and 50 mg/kg) was administered orally once daily for five days and the results were compared by those elicited by an anti-anxiety drug and by a tricyclic antidepressant.

The results showed that WSG induced an anti-anxiety effect comparable to the anti-anxiety drug when the rats were forced to navigate a maze, be involved in social interaction, and endure delayed feeding in an unfamiliar environment. In addition, both WSG and the anti-anxiety drug reduced rat brain levels of tribulin, a marker of clinical anxiety. WSG also exhibited an antidepressant effect, comparable with that induced by the tricyclic antidepressant, during a test where the rats were forced to swim.[14]

Insulin Involvement
The ability of elevated cortisol to promote insulin resistance may explain why high cortisol is linked to weight gain. In one study of six normal volunteers, researchers administered cortisol infusions into the subjects, which increased the plasma cortisol concentration approximately fourfold to values observed during moderately severe stress in man. These high cortisol levels increased plasma glucose and plasma insulin concentrations. The high cortisol also increased rates of glucose production and the rate at which the body used the glucose.[15]

The Brown University Medical Student Study further illustrated the relationship between cortisol and insulin. The researchers examined students during a baseline control period as well as during two examination periods. During these timeframes, the researchers noted weight changes in self-proclaimed stress eaters compared to non-stress eaters. Stress eaters tended to gain more weight and demonstrated increases in nocturnal levels of insulin, cortisol and blood levels of total/HDL cholesterol ratio during exam periods compared to the baseline control period.[16]

High insulin is the enemy of dieters because insulin, critical for glucose metabolism, storage and maintenance, wasn't meant to occur in excessive levels. When food is consumed, the digestive process converts carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar, which is absorbed into the blood stream. The pancreas releases insulin in response to blood glucose. Insulin then enters certain cells and triggers events that cause the cells to absorb glucose from the blood. The consumption of excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar, however, can result in insulin resistance, the gradual loss of sensitivity to insulin by many tissue cells. The body responds by producing even more insulin, which results in high levels of insulin, glucose and other unabsorbed nutrients circulating in the blood stream.

Because of cortisol's ability to elevate insulin levels, when normalizing cortisol levels to achieve weight loss it is also helpful to stabilize blood sugar. A number of natural substances can be used to achieve this effect. The bioflavonoid quercetin has been shown to inhibit glucose uptake in the fat cells (adipocytes) of rats.[17] N-acetyl-cysteine may improve insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.[18]

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is another substance that has reduced obesity while lowering serum insulin levels in animals. In one study, oral glucose tolerance was improved in rats fed a high-fat diet supplemented with bitter melon. At the highest dose, bitter-melon-supplemented rats tended to have less visceral fat mass. In a subsequent experiment, rats were placed into four groups that for seven weeks consumed one of four diets: a high-fat diet, a high-fat diet plus bitter melon, a low-fat diet, or a low-fat diet plus bitter melon. Rats on the high-fat diet plus bitter melon gained less weight and had less visceral fat than those fed the high-fat diet without the bitter melon. The addition of bitter melon did not change apparent fat absorption, but bitter melon supplementation to the high-fat diet improved insulin resistance and lowered serum insulin levels. The bitter melon also lowered levels of the appetite-controlling hormone leptin when the rats consumed a high-fat diet.[19]

According to the investigators, this study reveals for the first time that bitter melon reduces adiposity in rats fed a high fat diet. Bitter melon appears to have multiple influences on glucose and lipid metabolism that strongly counteract the untoward effects of a high fat diet.

Galega officinalis (also known as goat's rue or French lilac) is also reported to support healthy insulin levels and has resulted in weight loss in animal studies and in clinical practice. One group of researchers gave mice Galega and noted that the herb caused a significant reduction in body weight in both normal and genetically obese animals treated for 28 days. This same weight loss was not seen in control animals. In normal mice, the weight loss was initially associated with a transient reduction in food intake but was then maintained even in the presence of increased eating above the control level. In the presence of increasing food intake, normal mice receiving Galega for seven days also showed significant weight loss compared with the controls.

In sharp contrast, weight loss in Galega-treated genetically obese mice was accompanied by a persistent reduction in food intake over the 28-day treatment period. Post-mortem examinations of all Galega-treated mice revealed a striking absence of body fat. Serum glucose was significantly reduced in both strains of mice receiving Galega, whereas serum insulin was significantly reduced only in obese mice.[20]

The study's authors concluded, In summary, together with its established hypoglycaemic effects, galega has a novel weight reducing action that, in normal mice, is largely independent of a reduction in food intake. The mechanism of the weight reducing action of galega is unclear but involves loss of body fat.

7-Keto DHEA
7-Keto DHEA is a brand name for the compound 3-acetyl-7-oxo-dehydroepiandros-terone, a metabolite of DHEA that, like cortisol, is produced in the adrenal glands. Unlike DHEA, 7-Keto does not convert into estrogen or testosterone. Like DHEA, levels of 7-Keto decline as we age, reaching their peak around age 20 and then slowly declining beginning around the age of 30. In fact, 7-Keto levels decline nearly 50 percent by age 50.[21] 7-Keto and DHEA decline more rapidly than cortisol, causing cortisol dominance that can weaken immunity and contribute to weight gain.

By boosting the function of thermogenic enzymes in the liver, 7-Keto may aid in weight loss. Thermogenesis is the process in which the body generates heat to help cells metabolize food. Thermogenesis increases the metabolic rate, helping turn stored fat into energy.

In animal studies, three thermogenic enzymes?fatty acyl CoA oxidase, malic enzyme, and glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase?are influenced by 7-Keto DHEA. In fact, in a study of rats, 7-Keto DHEA was more active in inducing these thermogenic enzymes than its parent steroid, DHEA.[22]

Human studies also have investigated the weight-loss effects of 7-Keto DHEA. When researchers treated 30 healthy, overweight adults (28 women and two men) with 7-Keto DHEA, they uncovered some promising results. The subjects, whose mean body mass index was roughly 32, were randomly divided into two groups of 15 subjects. One group received 100 mg of 7-Keto DHEA twice daily and the other group received a placebo for eight weeks. In this double-blind study, all subjects participated in an exercise training program three times per week. Each exercise session consisted of 50 minutes of cross-training (aerobic and anaerobic exercise) under the supervision of an exercise physiologist. In addition, each subject was instructed by a registered dietitian to follow a diet of less than 1,800 calories per day. Subjects also received biweekly dietary counseling to encourage compliance.

Of the 30 subjects who entered the study, 23 completed the eight-week protocol (seven subjects dropped out for personal reasons unrelated to the study). The subjects taking 7-Keto DHEA lost a significant amount of body weight (6.3 pounds per person) compared to 2.1 pounds lost in the placebo group over the eight weeks. The 7-Keto group also achieved a significant body-fat reduction compared with the subjects taking the placebo. The 7-Keto group experienced a significant increase in levels of the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) compared to the placebo group. There were no significant changes in levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) or thyroxine (T4) in either group. In addition, no significant changes were observed in blood sugar, testosterone and estradiol levels or overall caloric intake during the study. No adverse effects were reported.[23]

The results of the study suggest that 7-oxo-DHEA [(7-Keto DHEA)] combined with moderate exercise and a reduced-calorie diet significantly reduces body weight and body fat compared with exercise and a reduced-calorie diet alone,? wrote the researchers. In addition, 7-oxo-DHEA significantly elevated T3 levels but did not affect TSH or T4 levels, indicating that it does not adversely affect thyroid function in the short term.

We live in a stressed-out society where cortisol imbalance is all too common. Cortisol?s role in obesity suggests that supplementing with Relora and Sensoril (found in VRP?s Cortisol Control) may positively influence weight loss efforts, especially for those who have had little success with various diets. In addition, insulin?s role in weight loss indicates that Galega (goat's rue), N-acetyl cysteine, quercetin, and bitter melon (all found in VRP?s GluControl) may help dieters shed pounds. Finally, 7-Keto DHEA also has shown promise in supporting individuals trying to lose weight. Using a combination of these weight-loss efforts, along with a regular exercise program, can ensure plenty of healthy summers for years to come.

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How did we qualify them ?

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