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How stress can trigger weight gain
February 15th, 2021 + The Naturopathic Co.

You might have heard that stress can trigger weight gain, but have you understood the mechanisms behind it? Stress itself isn’t causing weight gain, but cortisol (which is produced during times of stress) can potentially impact your weight.

Cortisol is a hormone involved in our stress response. It’s part of a group of steroids referred to as glucocorticoids, which are produced by the adrenals. When our stress is increased, then our cortisol levels increase also.

Dysfunctional adrenals causing incorrect cortisol levels can lead to adrenal fatigue, inflammation, blood sugar and blood pressure dysfunction, thyroid issues and sleeping problems.

Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Insulin resistance and/or diabetes
  • Increased body fat/ weight gain
  • Aches and pains
  • Mood alterations such as depression
  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Bone loss
  • Sleep disturbances/ dark circles under the eyes
  • Poor thyroid function
  • Poor memory
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Blood pressure abnormalities
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Digestive problems

Our cortisol can become out of balance from chronic stress, then we find higher cortisol in the evenings, but lower cortisol in the morning, when it should be exactly the opposite. We also find that if your adrenals are making excessive levels of cortisol for a long period of time, then it starts to have an affect on your other hormones too.

Once the body starts becoming resistant to the cortisol being produced, and the adrenals continually pump out cortisol, then we get to a point when we are cortisol depleted, and we no longer produce enough.

How does cortisol affect our weight?

We can also find ourselves becoming insulin resistant (from age and stress), which contributes to the weight gain as well. Insulin is the hormone which is needed to allow glucose to enter the cell to use for energy. It works to lower our blood sugar, by allowing it to enter the cell.  If the glucose is not going into the cell, then it’s stored as fat in your body instead.

Cortisol increases blood sugar levels, so it works the opposite to insulin, it counterbalances the action of insulin. But during periods of stress, insulin levels drop and stress hormone levels go up, so it makes it harder for insulin to work the way it should.

Cortisol mobilizes carbohydrate and fat for quick energy. When the stressful time is over, the adrenaline dissipates, but the cortisol stays. Cortisol increases our appetite in order to replace the carbohydrates and fats that we (should have) burned whilst under stress (during fight or flight).

So we can see how being in a constant state of stress boosts our cortisol, and also increases our likelihood of putting on weight long term.

If you are continually tired or suffer from any combination of the above symptoms and feel there is something else going on, make a time to see our South Yarra naturopath, Camberwell naturopath, or speak to us online via zoom.

Yvette is a qualified Melbourne-based Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, and Complementary Medicine Association. Yvette specialises in the treatment of digestive complaints, skin issues, mood disorders, hormonal concerns, fatigue, and also has a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions. Yvette consults in South Yarra, Camberwell, and Australia-wide via Zoom. Book HERE


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