Why High Levels of Cortisol Matter

High levels of cortisol can lead to weight gain

stressed woman head in handsCortisol is our stress hormone and our cortisol levels can have a big impact on our weight.

When the level is within the optimum amount for our body, cortisol is great according to Dr Libby Weaver in her book ‘Accidentally Over-Weight’. Cortisol converts into cortisone and dampens down the effect of inflammation in our body, helping to get rid of feelings of pain and stiffness. In the right amounts cortisol also buffers the effect of insulin therefore helping us to burn body fat for energy and maintain stable blood glucose levels.

Cortisol levels change over the course of the day and the right levels help body function. Cortisol is designed to be highest in the morning and helps you to wake up and be full of energy. Cortisol levels drop during the day. By about 10pm the levels are at their lowest and they stay there until about 2am when they begin to rise, ready for the morning rush. (That’s why the old adage says that sleep before midnight is more valuable).

If cortisol levels become consistently elevated above normal then changes in the body occur. Blood pressure rises, cholesterol rises and a resistance to insulin develops. Insulin resistance is one component of metabolic syndrome which increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes. Your body becomes insensitive to insulin and sugars are no longer correctly metabolized, leading to sugar cravings and weight gain.

Cortisol tells every cell of your body that food is scarce (it’s part of your survival mechanism) and therefore slows down your metabolic rate. A slow metabolic rate means that you burn body fat far more slowly so that you can survive this perceived period of famine.

woman meditating on jettyHigh cortisol levels encourage fat storage (especially round the waist) so that if you suddenly need to mobilize fat (in a flight or fight scenario) it is there ready for you. And because cortisol tells your body that food is scarce – you are tempted to eat every time you see food.

So, keep exercising, make every calorie count (eat as healthily as you possibly can) and deal with your stress! Get some down time and some sleep!