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Chronic Stress, High Cortisol, And Overweight

Chronic Stress, Elevated Cortisol, and Excess Weight

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is also known as the stress hormone, as it is released in response to stressful situations along with other hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline. Cortisol helps the body adapt to stress and function normally in high-pressure situations. One way to reduce stress in one’s body is by consuming a product like that premium hemp flower.

Normal Cortisol Levels and Stress Response

In a normal situation, cortisol levels rise upon waking and decrease as bedtime approaches. Your cortisol levels can indirectly reflect:

  • How do you feel after waking up in the morning?
  • Whether you experience tiredness and drowsiness in the evening.

Cortisol levels can remain consistently elevated when chronic stress is present. If your life lacks periods of relaxation and stress relief, cortisol may never decrease, even during sleep. This can lead to a common issue: the inability to lose weight despite increasing exercise duration and reducing food intake.

Elevated Cortisol

Persistently elevated cortisol levels can lead to various health problems, including:

  • Insomnia.
  • Feelings of anxiety.
  • Weight gain.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Issues with the immune system.
  • Hormonal imbalances and fertility problems.

Cortisol’s impact on digestion is significant. It regulates energy levels by determining the source of “fuel” used for energy—whether it’s proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. This is why cortisol can have a negative effect on weight gain and make it difficult to lose weight.

Normal Stress Response

Let’s examine the stress response process and the role cortisol plays in it:

  • The collision with stress occurs: encountering a predator, issues with taxes, taking exams, or simply hearing something profoundly unsettling in the news.
  • A hormonal cascade ensues with the release of stress hormones, and at this moment, the adrenal glands release additional cortisol.
  • Cortisol raises the level of glucose. Glucose is needed as an energy source for skeletal muscles. After all, your primary source of stress during evolution was often the need to escape from a wild animal.
  • At the same time, cortisol suppresses the production of insulin to assist the immediate use of glucose by the muscles.
  • Cortisol causes arteries to constrict, while adrenaline increases the number of heartbeats. This raises blood pressure and enhances the supply of oxygen to tissues.
  • Then, stress subsides, stress hormone levels normalize, blood pressure decreases, and insulin production is restored.

However, in situations where stress persists or one stressor replaces another without resolution, this process doesn’t occur as intended.

Potential Problems of Chronically Elevated Cortisol in Prolonged Stress


So, cortisol helps increase the level of sugar in the blood to saturate the muscles with glucose. At the same time, cortisol suppresses the production of insulin. However, if stress is constant, elevated blood sugar levels in combination with the suppression of insulin production can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Excess Weight

Persistently elevated blood glucose levels, coupled with suppressed insulin production, lead to a constant glucose deficit in cells. As a result, cells lack the energy they constantly require for normal functioning. The brain continually receives signals of the need for energy, which the brain interprets as a feeling of hunger. If a person constantly thinks about food, it leads to overeating. Excess glucose is eventually stored as fat, resulting in excess weight.

Gastrointestinal Tract

Cortisol activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is essential for the proper stress response. However, to achieve this, the body must suppress the parasympathetic nervous system’s activity. For proper digestion, it’s important that the body is in a parasympathetic state—relaxed and free from stress. Food cannot be properly digested and absorbed when cortisol levels are abnormally high.

Moreover, chronic stress can lead to inflammation of the mucous membranes of the digestive system. This can lead to various digestive problems, up to the development of peptic ulcers. Irritation of the mucous membranes also stimulates further cortisol production, creating a vicious cycle that is challenging to break.

Immune System

Cortisol can temporarily reduce inflammation levels in the body by suppressing the immune system’s activity. However, if stress is chronic, the immune system cannot function normally. This can lead to increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, a tendency toward allergic reactions, an increased risk of cancer, and an increased risk of autoimmune diseases.

Cardiovascular System

Elevated blood pressure due to the constriction of blood vessels during stress is necessary to improve the oxygen supply to tissues. However, if stress is constant, elevated blood pressure can lead to damage to blood vessels and the formation of plaques in them. Over time, this can lead to a heart attack.

Fertility Issues

Increased chronic cortisol production leads to a decrease in the production of other sex hormones since they are produced from the same basic elements and by the same glands. Over time, this can lead to fertility problems.

What Happens When Cortisol Is Abnormally Elevated for a Prolonged Period

Over time, chronic stress can lead to adrenal exhaustion, where cortisol won’t be produced in even the small amounts needed for daily functioning. This can result in a different scenario: instead of a constant feeling of alertness and difficulty falling asleep, you may experience constant sleepiness and an enduring sense of fatigue. Prolonged fatigue can lead to a sense of depression, a condition known as adrenal fatigue.

Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

  • Feeling of exhaustion and fatigue.
  • Various autoimmune conditions.
  • Hair loss.
  • Hormonal imbalance, reduced sexual desire/libido.
  • Dizziness.
  • Mood swings, depressive states.
  • Skin issues (breakouts).
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Weight gain.
  • Insulin resistance.

Additionally, during this time, there’s often a strong craving for sweet and salty foods. This is because your subconscious body is trying to raise energy levels and increase blood pressure, which can lead to edema and the deposition of new fat tissues, ultimately resulting in excess weight.

How to Check Cortisol Levels

The simplest test is a saliva test, which is done multiple times throughout the day (usually 2 to 4 times). Keep in mind that cortisol levels should normally fluctuate throughout the day. They should not remain consistently elevated or be low in the morning and high in the evening.

Can You Reduce Chronically Elevated Cortisol Without Medication?

Since cortisol is a response to stress, reducing it without medication requires:

  • Eliminating stress, or if that’s not possible, changing your attitude towards stress.
  • Learning to periodically relax and unwind to cope with stress. There are various options, including walks in the park, meditation, sports, or yoga. The key is to learn to relax without resorting to substances that can harm your health, such as alcohol, tobacco, or narcotics.
  • Adopting a proper diet to reduce inflammation in the gut and stop stimulating the constant production of cortisol.
  • Making an effort to go to bed on time so that your body can properly regulate when and where to raise or lower cortisol levels in your blood.
  • Adaptogenic herbs can help raise your personal threshold for stress. Stress will still exist, but you will find it easier to handle.
  • You can use aromatic oils if they help you recall pleasant memories and temporarily relax, helping you cope with stress.
  • You can use homeopathic remedies. Sometimes, the right homeopathic treatment provides an effect similar to that of medication but without side effects.


It might sound strange to recommend meditation if your problem is excess weight. However, if excess weight is caused by abnormally elevated cortisol levels, it’s important to learn how to control stress. Only then will your efforts be successful.