Up until about age 40, estrogen in women and testosterone in men controls fat distribution, keeping it away from the abdomen. Once these hormones decline, it becomes easier for excessive calories to be stored deep inside the belly. Once you hit 30, your lean muscle mass decreases by about a pound a year. If you’re inactive, that lost muscle mass often is replaced by fat.

Hormones are some of the most powerful compounds in our bodies. Take cortisol for example. Did you know that tiny amounts of this can almost force your body to gain fat?

Cortisol is a hormone that your body uses in response to stress. In today’s world, what with the Swine Flu scare, the depressing economy, and the threat of job loss, you don’t have to find stress; it will find you. Given that pressures of your daily life will most likely induce at least some stress, you should know a bit more about cortisol and how it can sabotage your fat loss and fitness efforts.

From a fitness standpoint, one of the most critical things to know about cortisol is that is the enemy of muscle development. It is a catabolic steroid, which is the opposite of the stuff pro athletes take and get suspended. Excess cortisol also reduces T-cell activity, compromising the immune system. It has also been shown to increase blood pressure.

This stress hormone is helpful in the short term. But the rise in cortisol level leads to following health issues:

High blood pressure

Fatigue

Headache

Excessive abdominal fat (This tummy fat affects your appearances and can be a major cause for diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart attack, strokes and asthma.)

Here is how cortisol can increase belly fat. Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, contains an enzyme that controls tissue cortisol concentrations. This enzyme is present in all fat cells, but is more highly concentrated in the visceral fat cells. There is another strike against belly fat when it comes to cortisol. Belly fat has approximately four times the number of cortisol receptors than “regular” fat. So, not only does it contribute more to cortisol production, it can possibly boost the tendency of cortisol to increase fat levels.

More troubling is that long periods of high cortisol levels can cause existing fat in the body to actually be moved around your body and re-deposited as belly fat. Belly fat is the more dangerous fat that has been shown in studies to contribute to all manner of problems.

Here are some strategies to help you keep cortisol levels within acceptable limits. First of all, although long term elevated cortisol levels are detrimental to your health, you need some to function normally, so don’t try to eliminate the stuff entirely. It is naturally secreted by the adrenal glands in times of stress so that your body can mobilize the necessary resources to escape the stressful situation.

One thing that is effective for most people to reduce cortisol levels is to eliminate caffeine. (I know, but you have to prioritize!)

Other things that have been shown effective when trying to reduce cortisol levels are:

Reducing stress: Since chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high, it stands to reason that reducing the cause of the cortisol secretions will keep levels lower.

Eat a well balanced diet: High protein diets promote high cortisol levels. You need adequate protein to support muscle development, no more.

Avoid alcohol: Gee, no coffee, now no beer! What next?

Eat many small meals throughout the day, instead of three large ones. This helps with weight loss, improves nutrient absorption, lowers cholesterol and improves glucose tolerance. In addition, a study done on men eating 2,500 calories per day demonstrated that when the calories were distributed across many, small meals cortisol levels dropped an average of 17 percent, in addition to the benefits described above.

Some supplements have been shown in various studies to reduce cortisol levels, including ginkgo-biloba, phosphatidylserine (this also helps brain function), and DHEA.

Quit smoking. Well, you know you should quit smoking anyway, but here’s another reason.

To avoid gaining weight, the rule of thumb is that for each decade past 40, you should consume about 100 fewer calories a day. That’s because metabolism — the rate at which your body burns calories — gradually slows down as you age. But now, when your goal is to minimize not just fat but belly fat in particular, you also need to be selective about which foods you eliminate.

One thing’s certain: people with large bellies tend to lose sensitivity to insulin, a crucial hormone that helps the body burn energy. When insulin loses its power, the body responds by pumping out more of the hormone, which only throws the system further off balance. When you lose weight, your body will make getting rid of belly fat a top priority. If you manage to lose just 5 to 10 percent of your overall body weight, you can reduce the hazardous layer of belly fat by as much as 30 percent.

The first thing you must understand is that there is absolutely NO quick fix solution. There are no pills or supplements of any sort that will help you lose your abdominal fat faster. Also, none of the gimmicky ab rockers, rollers, or ab belts will help get rid of abdominal fat either. You can’t “spot” reduce your stomach fat by using any of these worthless contraptions. It simply doesn’t work that way.

The only solution to consistently lose your abdominal fat and keep it off for good is to combine a sound nutritious diet full of unprocessed, natural foods with a properly designed strategic exercise program that stimulates the necessary hormonal and metabolic response within your body. Both your food intake as well as your training program is important if you are to get this right.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

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