How Does Cortisol Affect Your Body?

Have you ever wondered why you’re unable to lose weight or build lean muscle despite training hard? Do you find yourself constantly stressed because of the pressures in your life? If so, you might have high cortisol levels. This can lead to high blood pressure, catabolism, blood sugar imbalances, and even obesity.

When concerned with the endurance component of concurrent training, cortisol functions to preserve body carbohydrate stores by finding alternate fuel sources for muscle function (by breaking down skeletal muscle amino acids through catabolism), decreasing glucose entry into the skeletal muscle, and by supplying the fuels (amino acids from skeletal muscle tissue) to be used by the liver to increase glucose production

What Is Cortisol?

Also known as hydrocortisone or the stress hormone, cortisol plays a key role in your immune function, insulin release, glucose metabolism, and blood pressure. Adequate levels are essential to health and quality of life but when you’re under stress, your body produces excess cortisol, which may cause muscle loss, weight gain, fatigue, suppressed thyroid function, and poor immunity.   According to scientists, cortisol is public health enemy number one. The human body produces high levels of this hormone during the fight or flight response to stress. For example, if you’re changing jobs or moving to a new city, your levels of cortisol will be higher than usual. Even too much cardio training can increase cortisol levels. Basically, anything that causes stress in your life may lead to small increases of cortisol. As a result, you may experience:

  • Higher blood pressure
  • Decreased bone density
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Fat gain
  • Muscle loss
  • Inability to gain muscle
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Lowered immunity
  • Mood swings
  • Increased thirst
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin changes
  • Osteoporosis


Its not all bad, cortisol is beneficial to your body as long as it doesn’t exceed certain levels. This hormone keeps your blood pressure in check, supports immune function, reduces inflammation, and helps your body manage stress. It also regulates blood sugar levels and prevents insulin spikes.


Cortisol, Stress and Body Fat

Numerous studies suggest that there’s a strong link between obesity, diabetes, and high cortisol levels. Chronic stress causes your body to produce more cortisol, which leads to weight gain and blood sugar imbalances. Even if you eat clean and work out regularly, you can still gain fat because of stress.   In general, people react to stress by eating more than usual, especially carbs and refined sugars from junk food, sweets, and bakery goods. Try to avoid this as it increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. Researches have found that high cortisol levels may cause fat to accumulate around the waist and make weight more difficult to lose. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill that can lower your cortisol levels. The only thing you can do is to prevent stressful situations as much as possible.

Simple Ways to Reduce Stress

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Although it’s basically impossible to eliminate stress from your life completely, you can learn to relax and keep your cortisol levels stable. A healthy diet, meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, and regular exercise can help to reduce stress in your life.  One of the best ways to lower cortisol levels is to increases endorphin production. Endorphins are called the “feel good” hormones. Strength training, glutamine supplementation, vitamin C, and proper rest stimulate endorphin release so try to have these things in your life. Also, make sure you limit your caffeine intake. Try to get more rest and avoid stressful life events that may increase cortisol levels.


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