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The Cortisol-Weight Loss Controversy:

Will CortiSlim Help You Lose Weight?


Updated June 11, 2014

The fat cells in your abdomen are particularly sensitive to high insulin, and are very effective at storing energy – far more so that fat cells you’d find in other areas such as the lower body (i.e. hips, rear end, thighs). Because abdominal fat cells are so close to your digestive organs, and there is an extensive network of blood vessels circulating in the abdominal area, it’s even easier for fat cells to store excess glucose there.

Insulin resistance – before it has progressed to full-scale type 2 diabetes -- is a reversible condition. Exercise, a reduction in simple carbohydrates, and a reduction in calories can all help to reduce insulin levels. Exercise helps cells respond more effectively to insulin – which then helps reduce the excess glucose in the bloodstream before it is stored as fat. Fewer simple carbohydrates reduce the overall circulating blood glucose levels. And avoiding overeating prevents excess calories from all sources from being released into the bloodstream as glucose. The less glucose, the less insulin, and when insulin levels are low, the body turns to fat reserves for energy and starts to break down large fat molecules into fatty acids for easy energy production. Some supplements, including cinnamon and Glucosol, may also help reduce insulin levels. And prescription drugs such as Glucophage (metformin) can help insulin sensitivity.

When insulin resistance is left unchecked, it can progress to a condition known as Metabolic Syndrome (formerly known as “Syndrome X.”) Metabolic syndrome is usually characterized by insulin resistance, plus elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as obesity. Metabolic syndrome puts you at far greater risk of heart disease and stroke.

The official diagnostic criteria for Metabolic Syndrome includes:

  • Obesity – with a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25
  • Abdominal obesity (waist circumference > 40 inches in men, and more than 35 inches in women)
  • Triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL
  • Low HDL cholesterol levels, of less than 40 mg/dL in men and < 50 mg/dL in women
  • High blood pressure, greater than or equal to 130/85 mm Hg
  • High fasting glucose level, with fasting blood sugar more than 110 mg/dL
Some experts estimate that as many as one in four -- or 47 million -- adults in the U.S. have metabolic syndrome. These numbers are expected to rise as the population ages.

The CortiSlim Controversy

According to Shawn Talbott, PhD and William Kraemer -- the authors of a book The Cortisol Connection -- stress, and the resulting chronic overload of cortisol, make you feel tired and listless. So you overeat to renew your energy and comfort yourself. The result? Accumulated extra inches around the middle.

Based on this theory, Talbott has formulated a costly supplement that is heavily advertised online, in magazines and on cable and network TV. According to the commercials, taking a daily dose of the product -- CortiSlim -- is supposed to help suppress cortisol levels. With cortisol under control, you’re supposed to be able to decrease your tendency to store fat and lose unwanted weight. (Another heavily advertised product named Relacore claims to perform much the same magic.) Both CortiSlim and Relacore are classified as herbal supplements, which means they are not required to undergo testing or research to back up these claims.

CortiSlim, which typically costs as much as $50 for a one-month 60-capsule supply, contains common ingredients including Vitamin C, calcium, chromium, along with what they claim is a proprietary blend of magnolia bark extract, l-theanine, green tea leaf extract, bitter orange peel extract, banaba leaf extract and vanadium. Relacore, at $50 for 90 capsules, also includes Vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins, magnesium, magnolia bark, plus a variety of flowers and roots, as well as the amino acid phosphatidylserine.

At the same time, green tea leaf extract contains high amounts of caffeine, and bitter orange, also known as synephrine, is a stimulant, much like the now banned ephedra. While stimulants can sometimes artificially raise metabolism, they can have adverse, sometimes even deadly, effects on dieters, because they can raise the heart rate and blood pressure.

Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of Fight Fat After Forty, is also concerned about taking supplements for high cortisol. Peeke is concerned because the supposed high cortisol symptom of abdominal obesity may actually point to metabolic syndrome – including associated heart problems or high blood pressure – which could go undiagnosed and untreated.

In general, several of the ingredients -- such as calcium and phosphatidylserine -- have in some studies been shown to have some mild effect on weight, but typically in amounts higher than are contained in these products.

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