Can you gain weight due to stress and what role does cortisol play in this?

Weight gain

Your body makes cortisol when you experience stress in any way and the hormone ensures that you can actively start your day. An imbalance in cortisol can cause many complicated health problems and make it difficult to lose weight. In this article by Vivian Reijs you can read about the problems related to an imbalance in cortisol, the characteristics and finally a few tips to get back into balance.

Cortisol in a nutshell

Cortisol is made in our adrenal glands and is our activity hormone and – when necessary – our stress hormone, meant to save ourselves from dire situations. We need cortisol not just to survive; also just to enjoy our day and to energetically take on our daily activities. Cortisol is an extremely important hormone for us, provided we don’t get stressed too often, or suffer from chronic stress. Then cortisol goes wild and we don’t want that.

The cortisol belly

What is the relationship with your weight? Cortisol has, among other things, a blood sugar-increasing effect. More glucose enters your blood, intended as energy for that stress response. With modern stressors there is little or no physical response of fight or flight to that stress. You will not run or fight if you lead a sedentary life. That excess glucose is stored in your adipose tissue. And that is the well-known cortisol belly, because this is where the ‘cortisol fat’ is stored. The immune system also plays a role in this. This whole process leads to low-grade inflammation.

Low-grade inflammation

Both insulin and cortisol play a role in low-grade inflammation in your body. A stress response requires a lot of energy. The body is ingenious and has even more ways to get extra energy. For example, the liver will make extra glucose like crazy (this is called gluconeogenesis) and your intestines will become more permeable, to let in as much energy (especially glucose) as possible. This is a normal reaction of your body and very useful in an acute stress situation.

If the stress is chronic , then cortisol continues to be produced and the intestines remain too permeable, we also call this a leaky gut. Then all kinds of unwanted insects can easily slip into the bloodstream. Your immune system will respond to that, to make short work of it. This can lead to a low-grade inflammation of the immune system, because in some cases it is not able to get rid of these critters. Then there are leftovers (lypopolysaccharide, or LPS) that the immune system continues to respond to. The immune system does not do this with a high fever, which would cost too much energy, but with a low-grade inflammation.

The immune system can sustain low-grade inflammation for a long time, but it needs a lot of energy for this, and it takes energy by making sure that many organs and tissues, including your muscles and liver, become insulin resistant. In this situation, the liver also remains at the service of the immune system and continues to make glucose via gluconeogenesis. This of course has consequences for his other tasks, because he can no longer perform them properly.

A complicated situation

Meanwhile, the pancreas continues to produce insulin in a chronic stress situation, and this creates a crazy situation: there is enough glucose, there is enough insulin, but at the same time it is difficult for the insulin to get the glucose into the insulin-resistant body cells. The excess glucose will then also be stored in your fat. And that stored fat stock is not easy to release, because a lot of insulin in the bloodstream blocks the release of energy, including from your own stock of fat. Complicated isn’t it? It is as if you have a lot of money in the bank, but you have lost your debit card or you do not remember the pin code. So you can’t access your own money to withdraw it. And so it is in this situation with your own fat supply.

Is stress your problem?
Here’s a quick checklist to see if the symptoms, including extra pounds, are caused by stress:

How do you balance your cortisol?

Think of something that relaxes you and build it into your daily life.

  • Lower your stress level
  • Make sure you eat a healthy and varied diet, of course, including enough healthy fats, because cortisol is a steroid hormone and has fats as a basic building block.
  • Do not drink too much coffee , a maximum of two cups a day, and do not drink coffee after 2 p.m.
  • Keep your medication use up to date, especially corticoid.
  • Immerse yourself in helping supplements such as Ashwaganda and Rhodiola Rosea (Roseroot)


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