The adrenal cortex, a gland located just behind the kidney, produces cortisol, a hormone that helps control blood sugar and blood pressure. When the body needs fuel to cope with stress, cortisol converts proteins to glucose, a sugar that can turn into fat. Some manufacturers of weight loss drugs maintain that cortisol produced by psychological stress causes people to gain weight. Block cortisol and lose weight, they say. The truth is more complicated.
When psychological stress causes cortisol levels to increase in your system, so does the amount of glucose, a blood sugar. Unused glucose is stored as fat.
The logic seems straightforward: blocking cortisol should help people lose weight.
Is this true?
Yes and no.
It's true that the adrenal cortex of people who suffer from Cushing's Syndrome, a hormonal disorder, produces huge amounts of cortisol, causing them to gain weight in their faces, trunks, and abdomens.
But there's a catch to the claim that cortisol blockers can cause people to lose weight. Psychological stress doesn't produce nearly enough cortisol to cause fat deposits.
Wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil says cortisol in amounts high enough to cause fat deposits can only be produced as the side effect of some medicines or by Cushing's Syndrome.
Dr. Weil cites Dr. Seymour Reichlin, an endocrinologist and retired research professor at the University of Arizona, who says no scientific studies have proven that the amount of cortisol produced by healthy people is large enough to end up as fat deposits.
Are cortisol blockers good diet drugs?
Georgiahealthinfo, a health service in Georgia, says no reliable evidence exists that so-called "cortisol blockers" actually block cortisol, or if they do, that they help people lose weight.
In 2007, the Federal Trade Commission charged the manufacturers of two popular brands of cortisol blockers with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products can help people lose weight. The companies were forced to refund millions of dollars to consumers and were prevented from making weight loss claims.
Drugs and weight loss
Katerine Zeratsky, a nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic, reminds us there are no magic drugs to help people lose weight.
If high levels of cortisol caused by stress do play a role in losing weight, the best way to reduce them is to reduce stress through proven methods such as meditation and yoga.
The best way to lose weight remains eating less, choosing foods that are low in sugars and fat, and by exercising.
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