Cortisol, Stress, and Weight Gain

Cortisol, Stress, and Weight Gain

Have you ever heard anyone say that stress leads to weight gain? Chances are that you have, but it’s not always as simple as just being stressed out and gaining a few pounds. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that gets released during periods of physical or psychological stress. It’s release is controlled by the HPA axis, which is composed of the pituitary gland, the adrenal gland, and the hypothalamus (Hormone Health Network). Cortisol serves many important functions within our bodies, including controlling blood sugar levels, regulating metabolism, assisting our memory, and reducing inflammation. The hormone also contributes to pregnancies, as it assists in developing the fetus (Hormone Health Network).

Cortisol plays a crucial role in many essential health functions, but how exactly does it link to stress and weight gain? This stress hormone is so significant that long term activation and exposure to cortisol has the ability to disrupt almost every process inside your body (Mayo Clinic). Therefore, you are put at a higher risk of suffering health problems such as depression, anxiety, weight gain, sleep problems, and heart disease. According to Melissa Conrad S​töppler, MD, a U.S. board-certified anatomic pathologist and recipient of a Physician Scientist Award from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, women with higher levels of cortisol secretion tend to eat more than women with lower levels of cortisol secretion. In addition, women who stored excess fat in their abdominal area had higher levels of cortisol and said they endured more lifestyle stress than women who stored fat in their hips primarily (​S​töppler). Cushing’s syndrome is a term used to describe patients who endure various medical problems that result in high levels of cortisol, which causes changes in the function and appearance of the body (​S​töppler).

Knowing more about cortisol and its functions, it is important to practice healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, which may include some of the following:

Exercise – the best way to lower cortisol levels while simultaneously losing weight
Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques
Eating a healthy diet
Getting plenty of sleep
Spending time with good friends
Volunteering and helping in your community

Works Cited

Hormone Health Network.”Cortisol | Endocrine Society.”, Endocrine Society, 30 March 2020, z/hormones/cortisol. Accessed 30 March 2020.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” ​Mayo Clinic​, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Mar. 2019, 6037. Accessed 30 March 2020.

Stöppler, Melissa Conrad. “Can Stress Make You Gain Weight?” ​MedicineNet​, MedicineNet, 15 Aug. 2017, Accessed 30 March 2020.