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TOPIC: Cortisol and Weight Loss..

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January 15, 2012 8:56 AM
How much of an effect do high cortisol levels have on weight loss? Do to some medical problems I am having and the physical and mental stress it is having on my body - my cortisol has been abnormally high for about 6 months. Is this a reason why I may be having a hard time losing weight despite counting calories and monitoring sugar/carbs etc?

Also - I read in my Women's Health magazine that for women, when doing cardio exercise - after doing 40 minutes on a machine (let's say elliptical) then your body's cortisol level starts to raise which actually makes the workout counterproductive...

obviously for me that is NOT what I want...Just curious what anyone knows about cortisol, and the effect it can have on your body and weight loss...

THANKS!!! flowerforyou
January 15, 2012 8:58 AM
GREAT question. I shall research this. PS: I'm a guy. is that OK? ;)
January 15, 2012 8:59 AM
Very interesting question!! I am interested in knowing the answer to that.
January 15, 2012 9:00 AM
AirRaidSiren =- ) In your case it seems to be OK.
Edited by DianeTemplar On January 15, 2012 9:02 AM
January 15, 2012 9:05 AM
Yes, having a high cortisol level will make it difficult to lose weight. And yes, prolonged exercise does increase your levels of cortisol, because, well, you are stressing your body. That does not mean exercise is bad, but understanding how your body responds is very important. You can help your body decrease the cortisol level by eating an apple immediately after your workout and avoid caffeine. Caffeine increases cortisol levels.
January 15, 2012 9:19 AM
Yes, chronic, high-levels of cortisol will slow weight loss. I'm going to cheat and quote myself from another thread where I answered a similar question. The question I answered was whether stress reduces weight loss. The full thread can be found: and others made some great contributions to that thread.

The second factor that I'd guess has a role is cortisol levels. Or... maybe some of your other stress hormones (like epinephrine or norepinephrine)... but I'd bet cortisol. Chronic, long term stress leads to release of cortisol from the Adrenocortex, which makes physiological changes to help you adapt to stress. I'm most familiar with it in terms of pain. Chronic pain leads to high cortisol levels, which helps control inflammation and reigns in the immune response. They used to give cortisol shots for arthritis, but I'm not sure if they do that still because too much cortisol can, if I remember correctly, cause problems with bone density.

A quick flip through my endocrinology book (did not read in depth!) tells me that cortisol and the other glucocorticoids (a class of hormones released from the adrenal cortex) work to maintain carbohydrate reserves in times of stress... in other words, you're stressed, your body decides it needs some emergency storage for the impending doom it feels is coming, so it's going to hold on to those glycogen and fats stores as much as it can. It can't defeat a calorie deficit forever, but it does decrease protein synthesis, insulin sensitivity, glucose oxidation... and all of that will add together (presumably) to create a slightly lower metabolism in times of stress, which might affect weight loss.

Cortisol might have a somewhat different effect when released acutely, such as the spike you see when you exercise. More importantly though, exercise is super important for controlling long-term stress, so I certainly wouldn't stop exercising just to lower cortisol levels.

I hope that helps. I can probably give you a more detailed response if you need/want, but I'd have to do some digging. The details aren't in my head.
January 15, 2012 9:24 AM
Brrrr. Unwanted levels of cortisol.
I imagine pacman eating my muscles.
Here is a study if you like to read.
January 15, 2012 9:36 AM
Cortisol levels are also increased from fasting for too long. During my nutrition classes, my professor showed us several studies showing increases just in skipping dinner and not eating again until morning. The studies we saw on caffeine showed increases in cortisol levels when ingested at 5 mg per kg of body weight but not at a lower dose, so a 100 kg person (220 pounds) would have to consume 500 mg to get a cortisol increase from it. Since the average caffeinated beverage is 50-75 mg, I wouldn't worry too much about a caffeine increase in cortisol, especially since the stimulant effects of caffeine have proven to be one of the most effective fat burners available today.
January 15, 2012 10:10 AM
Cortisol is directly relative to weight loss, but so is every dynamic that is relative to human physiology. If a person goes on the Atkins diet and stops eating carbohydrates our bodies have a stress response releasing cortisol, in which usually, the pancreas responds by decreasing insulin. There are now studies that suggest that the Atkins diet is directly related to organ failures, particularly the pancreas. At the same time, cortisol is released in response to other environmental stressors. Carbohydrate intake decreasing creates a hormonal imbalance. This imbalance creates a chain reaction that echoes into our physiology beyond human understanding, I believe. I think about these things because I have eczema, which is a skin disorder that is linked to cortisol problems.
February 11, 2012 5:34 AM
"the time and intensity of exercise will dictate the level of cortisol release. If you exercise for more than 60 minutes, even at a low intensity, the body's glycogen stores (fuel) will decrease significantly and the increased stress will cause more cortisol release. The more training you do, the better your body will become at dealing with physical stresses and decrease the need to release cortisol. This effect is not limited to exercise; people who are regularly active show a decreased cortisol response to an emotional crisis when compared to sedentary controls."

Good article about it.
February 11, 2012 5:49 AM
Yes very much so. My son is overweight and having a lot of problems losing weight. His doctor has checked is cortisol level and he has an appointment with an Endocrinologist next week. It all has to do with hormone levels. You should follow up with your doctor or possibly another doctor or a specialist to see if you need supplement hormones to correct you cortisol levels. The doctor said that if this is my sons problem once he is on the right medicine or treatment that the weight would start melting off of him.
Good Luck to you!
February 11, 2012 6:05 AM
You are all making so much sense. I am a stressed out person, I can not lose at a regular rate.
I want my cortisol levels checked. My primary practice doctor which I must use says I am fine and I don't need to see an endocrinologist.
This thread and the other stress link mentioned is so enlightening!!!
February 11, 2012 6:42 AM
Marking my spot on this thread to come back to. So much good information -tfs. Btw, is there anyway to bookmark threads in MFP?


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