Cortisol Levels and Weight Gain

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If you've found that being under stress has an effect on your appetite and weight, you're in good company. While some people lose weight when they're under feeling stressed and anxious, many others find that it seems to cause them to gain weight. There are several reasons why stress and weight gain seem to go hand in hand, and one of them has to do with the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is produced naturally by the body's adrenal glands. When you're under stress, adrenalin and cortisol production both increase as part of the body's flight or flight response. Adrenaline ups energy levels and increases metabolism, and cortisol helps the body regain balance after a burst of adrenaline by encouraging the replacement of lost stores of carbohydrate and fat. But the constantly increased cortisol levels associated with chronic stress can convince your body it should be recovering from exertion when, in reality, you have not been expending physical energy. This can lead to weight gain.

Chronically increased cortisol levels mean an increase in appetite and blood glucose levels and a decrease in metabolism. Excess glucose is converted by the body into stored fat, which tends to accumulate around your waistline because those cells are particularly sensitive to cortisol and insulin levels. In addition, cortisol may cause cravings for foods high in sugar and fat. The net result of high cortisol levels may be increased weight, particularly around the midsection.

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