Cortisol: The Reason For Your Belly Fat!

Cortisol: The culprit behind that cortisol belly fatbelly fat!

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands when extreme stress is present. Adrenal glands are two triangular shaped endocrine glands that are responsible for producing hormones like cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, steroid, progesterone, and cortisone.

What role does the hormone Cortisol play in your body?

  • Regulates blood sugar and blood pressure.
  • Metabolizes fats,carbohydrates and proteins.
  • Gives energy for exercise.
  • Affects immunity system.
  • Impacts the healing process of your body.
  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

What is the relation between Cortisol and your body’s ability to burn fat?

If we do not monitor and control the levels of cortisol in our body, our body’s ability to burn fat will diminish. Your metabolic rate is controlled by cortisol when released by the adrenals. Cortisol levels are very high when we wake up in the morning and falls as we go through the day. When we are stressed, our body releases extra cortisol to help the body respond to stress; as a result, our heart rate, breathing, perspiration, and adrenaline levels all go up, muscles gets tensed, and  metabolism goes down. The question then remains, “How did all of this begin?” During early days of mankind, in times of famine or facing a predator while hunting, when our body was stressed, it sensed that it was in peril and went into survival mode. During this survival mode, the body stored up fat as a fuel to prevent starvation or to save that extra energy to fight the predator. But today’s stresses are different. Neither are we facing any famine or fighting the predator, but the body’s perception of stress is still the same and has not changed. So now whenever we get stressed, our body thinks we need to store that fat, which in reality is not needed. As a result, this unneeded fat stays in our body.

Why does the fat get stored in your stomach and not any other parts of your body ?cortisol

There are two categories of fat: one is visceral, and another is subcutaneous fat. While subcutaneous fat is located under the skin, visceral fat is located around the organs inside the stomach and is much deeper in the body than subcutaneous fat. Therefore, it cannot be seen. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that we see. Though the fundamental cause of why the fat is stored in the belly is unknown, it is presumed that a combination of the person’s genes and environment is to blame.

What factors trigger the release of cortisol?

  • Dieting: When you diet, your body thinks that it is in starvation mode, therefore it triggers the release of cortisol and instead of losing weight, you add fat around your belly.
  • Stress: Prolonged stress, if not controlled, can cause the adrenal cortex to release more cortisol.
  • Pituitary Dysfunction: The pituitary gland manages the endocrine system and controls the release of cortisol. If there is a dysfunction, it can increase the cortisol levels.
  • Hypothyroidsm
  • Pregnancy
  • High levels and high intensity of physical activity: We never think about it, but when we do, very high levels of physical activity can place stress on our body which can trigger the release of cortisol.
  • Certain medications: Some medicine increases the cortisol levels in the body, and for that reason, taking certain medicines can cause weight gain.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Inflammation.

How do you control cortisol?

  • Taking certain supplements can help like Vitamin C, Omega -3 supplements, melatonin.
  • Keep your exercise sessions between 45 to 60 minutes per session.
  • Meditation and deep breathing exercises
  • Taking care of other underlying causes such as hypothyroidism, depression, and anxiety.
  • Reduce stress by finding relaxing activities.
  • Probiotics have anti-inflammatory properties that inhibits production of cortisol.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake.
  • As inflammation triggers the production of cortisol, eat meals rich in vegetables, fruit, nuts, and fish.
  • Instead of starting a diet regimen;  use portion control as an alternative practice to lose weight.
  • Eat foods with low glycemic index.

So what are some specifics herbs that can help reduce cortisol levels?

Herbs that are known to reduce cortisol levels include: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Licorice, Holy Basil, Green Tea, Maca, Gotu Kola, Cordyceps mushroom, and Astragalus root.


Image Courtesy pejo / 123RF Stock Photo

Harvard Medical School 

e-how Cortisol levels

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