The Many Ways That Cortisol Affects Weight Loss

The adrenal glands release hormones, including cortisol, when fear or stress is present. It is important to understand how cortisol affects weight loss in order to understand why removing stress from the body is so important for, not only a healthy body, but a healthy weight as well. Lowering cortisol is one of the single most important things you can do for your weight goals.

How Cortisol Affects Weight Loss

Because cortisol increases blood sugar levels, there is always a high insulin response that follows. In the long term, cortisol can influence insulin resistance in a negative way, which in simple terms means that the cells cannot respond normally to insulin and blood sugar, so they just turn the sugar into fat.

“(Cortisol) makes fat and muscle cells resistant to the action of insulin, and enhances the production of glucose by the liver.” – Diabetes Education Online

Cortisol takes triglycerides (stored for energy) and relocates them to fat cells that sit deep in the abdomen. Normally, your body would burn off this excess energy that is released during a stressful situation by running or moving quickly; however, in today’s world, most of us experience stress without the increased physical activity. That means that energy is not being burned off, and since it has to go somewhere, it is re-deposited in the fatty tissues in the belly.

Cortisol can also affect your digestion, energy use, immune system, and other bodily functions, by disrupting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Researchers have found evidence that there is a big relationship between chronic stress, changes in HPA activity, and obesity.

Cortisol can cause inflammation in the digestive system, which can result in chronic digestive problems, like irritable bowel syndrome, and affect the assimilation of nutrients being taken in. Moreover, inflammation in the body can affect the receptors and hormones like Leptin that play an important role in hunger and weight control.

“…Inflammation causes a down regulation of leptin and insulin receptors. Both leptin and insulin are important in weight control.” – Robb Wolf

Cortisol can also destroy testosterone. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, and it can lower testosterone levels as it breaks down muscle, increases visceral fat, and slows down the immune system. Low testosterone in the body has been shown to be connected with an increase in body fat. Even worse, an increase in body fat has been shown to decrease levels of testosterone. This cycle can make it even harder to lose weight.

Lastly, a rise in cortisol stimulates hunger. Initially, a hormone is released during stress that suppresses the appetite, but quickly the appetite is stimulated so that we can refuel our body after the stressful event (because it was supposed to be busy burning off energy as it responded physically to the stressful event). Again, because in today’s world we are usually not expending a lot of energy when cortisol is released, the increased hunger can be detrimental to our diet and weight.

A Unique Way To Lower Cortisol Levels

Many people talk about meditation and relaxation to help beat stress and cortisol; however, nutrition can also play a huge role in helping to eliminate stress. By eating good food you can take care of your adrenal glands, nervous system, and entire body, and help it to maintain a balance where less stress occurs.

Moreover, nutrition can have an effect on how much cortisol is produced when stress does occur. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to decrease the amount of cortisol that is secreted during times of stress.