Studies have identified a link between cortisol and weight gain, but what is cortisol and what does it do?
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands as part of the body's daily hormonal cycle. Cortisol helps regulate blood pressure, cardiovascular function and the body's use of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Cortisol is sometimes called the "stress hormone" because cortisol levels increase in response to stress. When cortisol levels increase, it causes blood sugar and blood pressure levels to increase so the body has more energy to handle a stressful situation.
There are many hormones in our bodies which in the proper amounts maintain good health but in deficiency or excess have negative effects or contribute to health problems. Cortisol is no different. High levels of cortisol can cause cravings for foods high in fat and sugar, which can lead to weight gain. High levels of cortisol can also cause high blood pressure, high blood sugar, increased abdominal fat, and loss of lean muscle mass.
Since cortisol levels increase with stress, the best way to maintain a healthy level of cortisol is to reduce stress and lessen the impact of stress that can't be avoided. Trying to avoid stress completely isn't possible, and it's actually not desirable. Stress is an important part of life because it triggers positive adaptations and growth. It's continuous stress, and the resulting continuous high levels of cortisol, that you want to avoid.
What about using one of those cortisol reducing supplements that claim to be the key to weight loss? Don't waste your money, as these products are not backed by any scientific evidence. As a matter of fact, the Federal Trade Commission charged the marketers of some cortisol reducing supplements with making false and unsubstantiated claims about their product's effectiveness for weight loss. As a result, the companies had to refund millions of dollars and stop making unproven claims about their products.
In summary, cortisol is an important hormone and part of the body's natural stress response. While there is a connection between high cortisol and weight gain, high cortisol is only one contributing factor to weight gain, not the primary cause. An excess of calories from too much food and too little physical activity is the main cause of increased body fat and weight gain.