In this age of quick fix dieting, we’ve all heard about cortisol and how it’s purportedly responsible for the majority of abdominal weight gain. We wonder , though, what exactly is cortisol and what is its connection to our health? After reading this article you will know.
What is cortisol, and what is its function in the body?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced in the adrenal gland, located on top of each kidney. It’s released as a reaction to fasting, , exercising, food intake, and stress. Two main critical functions of cortisol are to regulate energy and move fat from storage to deep in the abdomen, where the body holds fat cell deposits. Additionally, cortisol acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, and suppresses the immune system while the body is psychologically stressed.
What is the connection between cortisol and stress?
Cortisol also regulates other chemicals released during stress, such as leptin, and ultimately causes an increase in appetite. Cortisol directly affects fat storage in stressed individuals. By binding to receptors in the brain, scientists believe that cortisol can influence food consumption, causing one to eat fattier, sugary foods. Pre-menopausal women were shown to eat more foods high in sugar and fat if they secreted more cortisol while stressed.
What is the connection between cortisol and obesity?
Increased cortisol levels may also cause both stored and circulating fat stores to move and settle in the abdomen. If unchecked, this can cause or increase obesity. Studies show that cortisol injections are linked to increased appetite, sugar cravings, and weight gain.. Cortisol concentrations located in fatty tissue are controlled by a particular enzyme that causes inactive cortisone to become active. Through studies, it is revealed that higher levels of these enzymes in abdominal fat cells can lead to obesity, because of greater production of cortisol. In addition abdominal fat has much greater blood flow and much more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat. This increases cortisol’s fat accumulation and enlarges the fat cells.
What is the connection between cortisol and disease?
Chronic stress can help cause several harmful physical ailments. Body tissues that are exposed to high cortisol levels over long time periods, exhibit some cellular and tissue alterations. In addition, elevated cortisol levels have been shown to adversely affect blood pressure, and glucose and lipid levels. Viscerally obese people are at a greater risk to acquire cerebrovascular disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
With that said, it is important to mention a disease which actually causes high levels of cortisol production: Cushing’s disease. Hypercorticism, or Cushing’s syndrome can be caused by a tumor or tumors in the pituitary gland, or by taking glucocortoid drugs. If you are experiencing rapid weight gain, muscle weakness, fat pads on your neck and shoulders, or thinning dry skin, contact your doctor immediately as these may be signs of the disease.
So what have we learned?
So there we have it. Studies have shown a direct link between cortisol and stress, obesity and several diseases. What does that mean to the general public? It means awareness. It means being conscious of your diet, as well as your stress levels. While it’s helpful to know one more piece of the puzzle, most effective weight loss plans are still based on a well balanced diet and exercise regimen.
Cortisol Levels, Thyroid Function and Aging
How Cortisol Levels Affect Thyroid Function and Aging
Stress hormones weight gain
3. Christine A. Maglione-Garves, Len Kravitz, Ph.D., and Suzanne Schneider, Ph.D.
4. OHSU Research Reveals The Complexities Of Obesity/cortisol Interactions