Cortisol And Weight Gain
It shouldnt be a surprise that chronic stress and weight gain have a close-knit relationship for many reasons. However, we now understand that chronically elevated cortisol levels may be a factor in weight gain or resistance to weight loss.
How does cortisol affect your weight? First of all, chronically elevated cortisol levels can increase your appetite and lead to increased intake of food especially foods that are high in sugar . This stress hormone may also blunt your bodys ability to send the Im full signals to your brain, leading to a vicious cycle of increased appetite and a reduced ability to feel satisfied after meals. High cortisol may also shift your metabolism to store more fat, particularly in the abdominal area and around your organs .
Other than unintentional weight gain, high cortisol levels may also lead to disruption in your menstrual cycle, infertility, heart disease, and digestive problems .
What Causes High Levels Of Cortisol
Experiencing abnormally high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time is usually considered Cushings syndrome, which is a rare condition. Causes of higher-than-normal cortisol levels and Cushings syndrome include:
- Taking large amounts of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone, for treatment of other conditions.
- Tumors that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone . These are usually found in your pituitary gland. More rarely, neuroendocrine tumors in other parts of your body such as your lungs can cause high cortisol levels.
- Adrenal gland tumors or excessive growth of adrenal tissue , which cause excess production of cortisol.
What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels?
The symptoms of Cushings syndrome depend on how elevated your cortisol levels are. Common signs and symptoms of higher-than-normal cortisol levels include:
- Weight gain, especially in your face and abdomen.
- Fatty deposits between your shoulder blades.
- Wide, purple stretch marks on your abdomen .
- Muscle weakness in your upper arms and thighs.
- High blood sugar, which often turns into Type 2 diabetes.
- Weak bones and fractures.
What Causes Low Levels Of Cortisol
Having lower-than-normal cortisol levels is considered adrenal insufficiency. There are two types of adrenal insufficiency: primary and secondary. The causes of adrenal insufficiency include:
- Primary adrenal insufficiency: Primary adrenal insufficiency is most commonly caused by an autoimmune reaction in which your immune system attacks healthy cells in your adrenal glands for no known reason. This is called Addisons disease. Your adrenal glands can also become damaged from an infection or blood loss to the tissues . All of these situations limit cortisol production.
- Secondary adrenal insufficiency: If you have an underactive pituitary gland or a pituitary tumor, it can limit ACTH production. ACTH signals your adrenal glands to make cortisol, so limited ACTH results in limited cortisol production.
You can also have lower-than-normal cortisol levels after stopping treatment with corticosteroid medications, especially if you stop taking them very quickly after a long period of use.
What are the symptoms of low cortisol levels?
Symptoms of lower-than-normal cortisol levels, or adrenal insufficiency, include:
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Foods That Increase Cortisol
Cortisol can be increased from overall lifestyle choices and stress, but your diet can also play a part in it. Here is a list of foods that increase cortisol levels.
Vegetable and seed oils
Foods you are intolerant to
Factory raised meat/fish
While this list is long, and we likely wont be able to cut them all out 100% of the time, at least limiting certain ones where you can is going to be beneficial for you.
What Does A Rush Of Cortisol Feel Like
When you get anxious your body makes two chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline wrecks havoc on every part of your central nervous system. It can cause headaches, diarrhea, confusion, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, tearfulness, trouble sleeping, changes in eating patterns and many other problems.
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Can Cortisol Cause Belly Fat
Cortisol doesnt only affect our weight but where we put on the weight. Women, in particular, with higher levels of cortisol tend to store excess fat in the belly.
Its also important to know that most of the fat stored around the abdominal area is the visceral type of fat. And this is the kind of fat we want less of as it can eventually lead to strokes and heart attacks.
But fear not! Ill be sharing some tips below that you can begin implementing today.
What You Can Do: Stop Overeating The Foods That Cause Insulin Resistance
How do we ensure our insulin levels remain balanced? First, we need to stop eating too much. Its a known fact that overeating leads to insulin resistance, especially when we eat too much food thats no good for our bodies and minds. When we eat too much sugar, too much fast food, and too many processed carbohydrates, insulin goes haywire. These elevated insulin levels lead to weight gain and low-grade inflammation. A 2010 study published in the journal Diabetes found that even eating too much of these foods in the short term leads to insulin resistance and weight gain.
You may also want to restrict carbohydrates in your diet. According to a study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism, a low-carb diet prevents metabolic syndrome and the insulin resistance that causes it. Other findings show drinking green tea, consuming omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, and eating adequate amounts of protein all help balance insulin levels.
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Exercise But Not Too Much Or Too Late
Regular exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. It can also lower your cortisol response to stress and low-intensity workouts can actually decrease cortisol levels.
However, high-intensity workouts increase cortisol levels â you are putting your body under a type of stress, after all. While this is okay every now and again, if youâre over-exercising, you may suffer the consequences of high cortisol. So, be sure to throw some yoga or gentle swims into your week instead of back-to-back HIIT classes.
As well as not over-exercising, be sure to get the timing of your exercise right. Avoid working out too close to bedtime or you run the risk of disturbing your sleep, which, of course, can lead to high cortisol and weight gain.
Effects Of Excess Cortisol
Excess cortisol stimulates glucose production. This excess glucose is then typically converted into fat, which gets stored in your body. For example, people with serious metabolic conditions that involve excessive cortisol production, such as Cushing syndrome, have an unhealthy increase in abdominal fat.
A chronically high level of circulating cortisol increases fat storage and raises the risk of obesity. And when you have too much adrenaline, fat cells eventually become less responsive to adrenal stimulation to release fat.
Some studies have found that stress-induced cortisol levels can cause people to increase the amount of food they eat.
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How Chronic Stress Can Make You Fat
When the body is under stress, it shifts the way it physically handles incoming food. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol quickly mobilize energy production from carbohydrates and stored fats. But they also make the body less sensitive to leptin, the hormone that makes us feel full, so we inadvertently eat larger portions than normal.
There is nothing wrong with this chain of events its simply part of our bodys innate fight or flight response that evolved long ago to help us to run for our lives, or stop and fight for survival.
The chronic stress of modern life is very different from stress our ancient forbearers faced, of course, but the bodys biochemical response remains exactly the same. So, unless you really do need to outrun a wild animal, your body doesnt require all those extra calories for energy when youre stressed and thats why they get stored as fat.
Weight problems are standard for women in a state of constant stress, operating under elevated or high cortisol levels for very long periods of time.
Cortisol is a key stress regulation hormone produced by the adrenal glands. When youre in danger, your body is pre-programmed to release higher levels of the hormone. Cortisol helps to quickly boost your energy levels so you can react and flee imminent danger. Cortisol specifically helps:
- Regulate your blood pressure.
- Regulate the effects of insulin the master hormone that controls your blood sugar levels.
- Reduce inflammation.
How Stress Increases Cortisol
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, and sends signals to the brain to regulate blood pressure and immune functions. A cortisol spike will signal your body to consume more calories and put insulin production on hold. These responses are conditioned to boost your energy and immunity, which is helpful in stressful situations such as fighting predators and getting out of dangers way.
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Live In Sync With Circadian Rhythm
Itâs not just sleep deprivation that causes high cortisol, not sleeping at the right times for your body clock does, too.
This all comes down to your circadian rhythm, or the roughly 24-hour cycle that controls your sleep-wake cycle, the production of certain hormones, and body temperature fluctuations, among other things.
You can be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if:
- Youâre a shift worker
- Youâre ignoring your chronotype: Perhaps youâre a night owl forcing yourself to wake up early.
- You have social jetlag: Social jetlag is when your sleep schedule is different on certain days compared to others. For example, you might stay up later on the weekends than during the week, which about 87% of us do.
When youâre not living in sync with your circadian rhythm, your cortisol rhythm gets thrown out of whack and the hormone is no longer produced at the right times. Plus, you may find it harder to meet your sleep need, which causes higher cortisol levels.
Weight gain from circadian misalignment can also come from a , meaning you have a bigger appetite, as well as your glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity being impaired, which can lead to weight gain, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
You can live in sync with your circadian rhythm by:
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can see when your body naturally wants to wake up, wind down for bed, and go to sleep. You can then match up your daily schedule with these times.
Alteration Of The Hpa Axis
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis controls the bodys response to stress, which affects cortisol levels.
When the body is under stress, the pituitary gland signals to the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone increases the bodys fuel for energy by releasing fatty acids and glucose from the liver.
Cortisol also helps regulate the bodys immune response and reduces inflammation.
Chronic stress impairs the functioning of the HPA axis, causing changes in metabolism and eating habits.
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What Are Normal Cortisol Levels
The level of cortisol in your blood, urine and saliva normally peaks in the early morning and declines throughout the day, reaching its lowest level around midnight. This pattern can change if you work a night shift and sleep at different times of the day.
For most tests that measure cortisol levels in your blood, the normal ranges are:
- 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.: 10 to 20 micrograms per deciliter .
- Around 4 p.m.: 3 to 10 mcg/dL.
Normal ranges can vary from lab to lab, time to time and person to person. If you need to get a cortisol level test, your healthcare provider will interpret your results and let you know if you need to get further testing.
Cortisol Can Lead To Weight Gain
Cortisol stimulates your fat and carbohydrate metabolism, creating a surge of energy in your body. While this process is essential for survival situations, it also increases your appetite. Additionally, elevated cortisol levels can cause cravings for sweet, fatty and salty foods. This means youre more likely to indulge in french fries and a milkshake than you are a well-balanced meal.
An excess of cortisol also can lead your body to produce less testosterone. This may cause a decrease in muscle mass, as well as slow down how many calories your body burns.
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Establish Boundaries And Priorities
Saying yes to things you shouldnt, such as extra work projects or impromptu visits from family members, can raise your stress levels. Establish boundaries and dont be afraid to say no if you feel that these extras could lead to more stress. Also, prioritize things in life that can reduce your stress and help you stay healthy, such as exercise and quality time with your loved ones.
Find Something That Makes You Laugh
Laughter is scientifically proven to relieve stress, as it can naturally increase endorphins, stimulate blood flow and circulation, and relax your muscles. Laughter can also boost your immunity by causing the body to release neuropeptides that fight stress and illness. Spend more time with people who make you laugh, or watch funny movies or shows that put you in a better mood.
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Balance Cortisol With Phytotherapy
Using the right plant-based ingredients helps reduce the negative effects of cortisol. Astragulus root, rhodiola, cordyceps and passionflower are highly effective in resolving adrenal imbalances because they adapt to your bodys specific needs.
Along with phytotherapy, consider supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin mineral complex that you can count on to supply basic, everyday nutrients that you cant live without. As adrenal expert, Shawn Talbott, PhD, confirms, When it comes to dietary supplementation for stress adaptation and cortisol control, the first line of defense appears in the form of a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral supplement
What Are The Risks Of Stress And Weight Gain
When we live in a constant high-alert state, our cortisol levels remain unnaturally high and can cause all kinds of symptoms and long-term health problems.
Weight gain is often the most noticeable outward sign of chronic adrenal stress. But this isnt just about your jeans feeling tight. Hormonally driven weight gain increases your risk for many serious health issues:
- high blood pressure
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How Too Much Stress Can Cause Weight Gain
The question of whether excess amounts of cortisol can lead to weight gain is essentially the same as asking if too much stress can cause you to put on unwanted pounds. The answer in both cases is yes.
Cortisol a natural stress hormone is responsible for regulating your metabolism, so its important to follow common wellness guidelines to lower it. From finding time for relaxation to improving your diet and exercise, you can ensure that you control your cortisol and not the other way around.
Limit Lifestyle Weight Gain By Dealing With Your Stress
Given that the research jury is still out on whether high levels of cortisol actually cause weight gain, the minimum that seems to be true is that since the role of cortisol during stress is to provide your body with energy, it can cause an increase in appetite. In other words, stress might lead you to eat more.”
During the first couple of days following a stressful event, cortisol is giving you a cue to eat high-carbohydrate foods,” says Dr. Perfetti. “Once you comply, you quickly learn a behavioral response that you can feel almost destined to repeat anytime you feel stressed.”
Whether your eating is driven by stress hormones, by habits or a combination of both, research shows that there are ways to interrupt the cycle and stop the weight gain. Notice how the advice is the same as it is for living a healthier lifestyle.
If you’re experiencing chronic stress don’t go on a strict diet, though. Canadian researchers found that severely limiting calorie intake can kick off a series of biochemical events that ultimately increase stress and can make you feel hungrier.
Here’s the bottom line about weight loss. It always has been the bottom line, which suggests it always will be — until a miracle weight loss treatment is invented. There are two ways to lose weight, eat fewer calories and burn more of those calories by moving your body more. It’s truly that simple.â
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The Link Between Stress And Weight Gain
Are you constantly stressed? If so, it could be affecting your weight. Ongoing, chronic stress is strongly linked to weight gain. When faced with stressful situations, our adrenal systems release cortisol a stress hormone that regulates a series of bodily processes. Cortisol influences blood sugar levels, macronutrient metabolism, blood pressure, and the central nervous system, as well as many other functions throughout the body. Cortisol also affects our bodys production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, which play important roles in appetite and weight.
The Link Between Cortisol And Weight Gain
Science Based Amy Myers, MD
Amy Myers, M.D. is a functional medicine physician, trained and certified by The Institute of Functional Medicine. Dr. Myers earned her Doctor of Medicine at the LSU Health Science Center, and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Dr. Myers retired from her functional medicine clinic, Austin UltraHealth, where she served thousands of patients, to empower those who were failed by conventional medicine. Shes a 2x New York Times bestselling author, and the founder and CEO of the health & lifestyle e-commerce brand, Amy Myers MD®.
Are you eating healthy, exercising regularly, yet still struggling at the scale? Ive been there. I battled unwanted weight gain even though I was doing everything right. I was so frustrated and didnt consider that my stress levels contributed to my weight gain. The connection between cortisol and weight gain is overlooked as contributing to those stubborn pounds that wont come off.
The link between cortisol and weight gain can always be traced back to stress, and chronic stress leads to cortisol production in large amounts, which leads to obesity and weight gain.1
I will tell you about the link between cortisol and weight gain, other effects of too much cortisol production, and how to relieve your stress naturally so you can achieve your optimal weight. Before we get to that, I will review cortisol and its role in your bodys response to stress.
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