How Cortisol Causes Weight Gain

Cortisol has long been termed the “stress hormone,” but the fact is that it has several important functions in the body. However, having constantly high levels of cortisol in your bloodstream can lead to several negative health conditions, one of them being weight gain.

What Is Cortisol?

The hormone cortisol’s functions include blood pressure regulation, proper metabolism of glucose, maintenance of blood sugar, maintenance of the immune system and more. Your body usually has high amounts of cortisol in the morning, and this amount decreases as night approaches. Cortisol is one of the hormones released in your body during stressful events. Positive effects of cortisol release during stress include a higher pain threshold, a rush of energy, increased immunity and an improved memory. However, when the cortisol stays in your blood longer than necessary, it can have a more negative impact on your health.

Cortisol, Appetite and Fat Storage

When your body is constantly producing an abnormally high amount of cortisol, your normal cortisol production can be disrupted. Instead of having more cortisol in the morning and less cortisol in the evening, the pattern of cortisol in your body can be altered. Since this hormone is responsible for providing you with energy, it also stimulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Cortisol also helps your body release insulin. These internal activities can lead to an appetite increase. So the longer cortisol is at work in your body, the more hunger pangs you will likely feel.

Cortisol also increases blood sugar when you’re feeling stressed. When the stressful event is over and you still have a high level of blood sugar, the excess glucose becomes stored as fat. Some studies have shown that excess cortisol not only leads to fat deposits but that the hormone can also affect where the fats are stored. Researchers believe that individuals who gain weight due to cortisol are more likely to have abdominal fat.

Cortisol and Cushing’s Syndrome

It’s important to remember that weight gain is only promoted by excess amounts of cortisol. The normal amount of cortisol that your body produces in order to respond to stress is probably not harmful to your weight. However, if you have Cushing’s syndrome then this might not be the case for you. Your condition causes your adrenal cortex to produce large amounts of cortisol. If you have Cushing’s syndrome, you are more likely to gain weight in your face and around your midsection.

Cortisol and Obesity in Women

There are also some studies that suggest how chronic stress and excess cortisol can cause abdominal obesity in women. If you are heavy around the midsection and you lead an extremely hectic lifestyle, then you might benefit from learning to control your cortisol levels. Even though there are now many cortisol blockers available in the market, there is no scientific proof yet that these products can help you lose weight. You will probably do better by avoiding stress eating and finding healthy ways to deal with stressful situations.


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