Lounge Doctor

Cortisol, stress & weight gain


Nutritional Advisor
Sep 5, 2011
Australia Australia
Did you know that Cortisol which is the steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands may cause us to heap on those kilos!

Cortisol levels are controlled by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a tiny region at the base of your brain which sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop of your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Now we are getting into complex biochemistry and this is not the intention of this article, however, suffice to say it is an essential hormone for life.

The role of Cortisol in the body is to help the body manage stress ; convert protein into glucose to boost flagging sugar levels; work in tandem with the hormone insulin to maintain constant blood sugar; enhances the brain's use of glucose; reduce inflammation by increasing the availability of substances that repair tissues; contribute to the maintenance of constant blood pressure; it alters the immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes.

This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear - pretty impressive hormone!

However prolonged stress encourages our body to increase production of Cortisol, which was great, way back in history when we were cave men/women and needed to escape from danger.

But it is not so good for us in every day life as our body cannot tell the difference and in a prolonged state of stress and with our body in a constant state of high alert, which is the ‘fight or flight’ response, Cortisol directs all of our energy towards survival mode and in fact it can (stress can, not will) encourage our body to consider - ‘Let us put on weight in case we need it later’.

Does excess weight gain predispose to increased Cortisol release?
Does excess Cortisol increase weight gain?

Studies have shown that women, in particular, with high abdominal fat stores (WHR, waist to hip ratio) secrete significantly more Cortisol in response to stress than women with a low WHR. Additionally, traditionally women are over secretors of Cortisol and tend to consume more calories often with a preference for sweet foods.

Most of us are under stress pre and post surgery and chronic stress tends for us to gain weight overtime.

Increased secretion of Cortisol can eventually lead to adrenal exhaustion and immune suppression.

Vitamin C is critical for adrenal function. It is a water soluble vitamin and humans cannot manufacture it. Your body's highest levels of vitamin C are found in the adrenal glands and brain tissues, and the urinary excretion of Vitamin C is increased during stress.

Therefore we need to provide our body with vitamin C daily. Excellent food sources of vitamin C include broccoli, bell peppers, parsley, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lemon juice, strawberries, mustard greens, kiwifruit, papaya, kale, cabbage, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, oranges, cantaloupe, summer squash, grapefruit, pineapple, chard, tomatoes, collard greens, raspberries, spinach, green beans, fennel, cranberries, asparagus, watermelon, winter squash and freshly sprouted sprouts.

Cortisol blood levels can be checked by your GP.

Cheers, Poppet.

Disclaimer: The information on dietary factors, foods, and beverages contained in this article does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, and interactions. It is not intended as medical advice for individual problems. Liability for individual actions or omissions based upon the contents of this article is expressly disclaimed. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions including the taking of supplements.


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