If you haven’t had a chance to read Improving Fitness with Magnesium, take a moment to pit stop over there and read the precursor to this article – it gives a nice lead-in to the deeper aspects of magnesium in relation to fitness, weight loss, and muscle building.
As for this article, let’s head straight for the topic that’s at the top of everyone’s (or at least, quite a few of you) list right now, since it’s the beginning of the new year: weight loss.
Cortisol, Stress, & Fat Retention
Anyone that has cable television can bear witness to the fact that diet pills are rampant amongst the commercials that the viewing public is deluged with. One of the weight-loss industry focuses within the last 5-10 years has been drugs that affect cortisol levels.
The claims may be preposterous, and the pills may be unpredictable and dangerous, but in one regard they do have a point: cortisol levels in the body do have a strong influence on weight gain and other problematic issues.
Make no mistake, cortisol is not something you want to be rid of. This adrenal hormone has a wide array of functionality, having a hand in regulating blood pressure, anti-inflammatory response, immune function, blood sugar levels, metabolism and other critical processes. You may even be more familiar with cortisol than you realize, as it’s commonly known as hydrocortisone – a steroid hormone that is synthetically manufactured and predominantly used in an anti-inflammatory capacity.
The problem with cortisol lies in how much of it is circulating in your system at one time – too much and you fight with increased abdominal fat, decreased muscle mass, lower immune function, disrupted sleep, impaired thyroid function, and numerous other issues; too little and you’re faced with brain fog, increased inflammation throughout the body, fatigue, low blood pressure… and again, lowered immune and thyroid function. The key is finding that “sweet spot” just like any other vital piece to our body ecology – that elusive, sustainable, healthy balance.
Ideally speaking, cortisol levels should be high in the morning, tapering off to a low at the end of the day.
The problem that we struggle with in today’s society is that stress plays a very prominent role in our everyday lives. No matter how much we may strive for rest and relaxation, the “hustle and bustle” trend… nay, necessity in this day and age is nearly inescapable. Add to that economic struggles, changes in our food supply (e.g. lower nutrition content, GMO’s, plant diversity), personal relationships, disease, emotional hardships, and so on…and cortisol becomes an almost constant companion that’s certainly overstayed its welcome (have you ever seen What About Bob?) .
As it is with most aspects of our biology, it takes two to tango… or rather, balance is achieved by having optimal levels of two complementary components. In the case of cortisol, DHEA would be said component.
Classified as an androgenic (male) hormone, it counteracts many of the detrimental effects of cortisol while also being a precursor to both testosterone as well as estrogen conversion. The thyroid gland’s conversion of T4 and T3 hormones, muscle production, bone remodeling, stress recovery – all critical aspects of DHEA’s function in the body.
Like many unfortunate, but inevitable, realities DHEA is one of those hormones whose production begins to decline with age. Ironically, DHEA is a very powerful anti-aging and longevity hormone. Which figures, right?
Now, before you immediately scamper away from your computer and run out to grab some DHEA supplements, let’s discuss one very important item.
It’s better to nurture your body in a manner that helps naturally boost its production of this hormone than try and make up for the deficiency with a supplement. Why? Well, for the same reason it’s better that you use your legs to walk rather than ride around in a motorized cart all day – because if you don’t use it, you lose it. And in this case, by opting for an exogenous source you would be crippling your body’s ability to produce the hormone on its own. Not only that, but you also need to consider the underlying cause of your DHEA decline, which may be something as simply as a mineral deficiency.
I know you wondered when I would mention our precious magnesium… well here it is.
First and foremost, since the majority of the [U.S.] population has statistically proven to be magnesium deficient (some significantly more than others), I’ll start by saying that low magnesium levels are an easily rectifiable culprit to an imbalance of cortisol and DHEA. Amongst my research I’ve read numerous studies showing a correlation between magnesium deficiency, high cortisol and low DHEA levels – also impacting pregnenolone* levels, of course.
*Pregnenolone is the precursor to both DHEA and cortisol as well as other hormones. Magnesium and calcium concentrations in adrenal cells were found to have a direct effect on pregnenolone formation in the mitochondria.
This isn’t necessarily shocking giving the number of pies that magnesium has its finger in (figuratively speaking), but it’s certainly worth pointing out in this case. Magnesium deficiency or not, magnesium has proven to help boost DHEA production naturally, thereby also impacting cortisol levels. Taking a step back, we also know that magnesium has a beneficial effect on numerous components of our total, overall well-being – improving sleep quality, emotional stability, pain response, energy levels, and general relaxation and stress reaction.
Since our topic is fitness specifically, the two that I’m going to zoom in on are sleep quality and stress reaction – both of which weigh in heavily on whether or not you’ll have health and fitness success. Being well-rested helps keep your cortisol levels balanced and your mind better equipped to handle stress, while low stress levels prevent cortisol levels from spiking irregularly. Conversely, sleep deprivation and high stress levels have both been documented to not only reduce exercise tolerance, but also strip your body of the precise mineral that could very well stop them in their tracks.
I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of when the bank charges overdraft fees for having insufficient funds in your account… you know – charging you more of what you already don’t have? How absolutely ridiculous!
But then again, such is life… especially life without magnesium.
The moral of the story (there wasn’t really a story, was there?) is to ideally set your sights on staying ahead of the game by steadily keeping your magnesium levels up, rather than constantly battling a deficiency only when you suddenly realize you’re low. Sufficient magnesium stores will aid in maintaining your total, overall well-being – improving your sleep, calming your response to stressful stimuli, hiking your DHEA, stabilizing your cortisol, and… of course… ultimately helping you meet and exceed your fitness goals.
As I’ve stated previously, there’s simply too much information to try to cram everything into a single blog post when discussing magnesium and fitness. So, stay tuned for the next issue of Improving Fitness with Magnesium when I delve a bit deeper into hormone balance, adrenal fatigue, sluggish thyroid, disease, and even genetics!
Want a small taste of what’s to come?
…Did you know that magnesium deficiency can cause obesity genes to be expressed? It’s true! Obesity may run in your family, but magnesium might just give you the fighting chance to break free of that predisposition…