The adrenal glands are 2 small glands that rest on top of both kidneys.
Dysfunctional cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue, inflammation, blood sugar and blood pressure dysfunction, thyroid issues and sleeping problems. Around age 40, our cortisol starts to increase, but it can become out of balance when 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.
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.
Cortisol increases blood sugar levels, increases blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, and causes inflammation. It also mobilises carbohydrate and fat for quick energy. When the stressful time is over, the adrenaline dissipates, but the cortisol stays. Cortisol increased our appetite in order to replace the carbohydrate and fat we (should have) burned whilst under stress (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.
Cortisol also impacts our female hormones
High cortisol over time also reduces progesterone levels. This is because we produce cortisol and progesterone from the same precursor- pregnenolone. For women who feel like they always have PMS then it’s very possible they are low in progesterone. Progesterone can keep dropping further due to ongoing stress, thyroid imbalance, or digestive issues, and once this happens, we start to see symptoms of oestrogen dominance.
Excess estrogen can slow down the thyroid function and contribute to an underactive thyroid. And when the thyroid function slows down, this slows the liver function down and it becomes a cycle.
A sluggish liver can also contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. Insulin is the hormone which is needed to allow glucose to enter the cell to use for energy. If it’s not going into the cell, then it’s stored as fat in your body instead.
So we can see all the ways that cortisol can potentially impact weight gain.
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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 conditions commonly affecting women and children, with a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions, as well as women’s hormonal concerns, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and skin concerns. Yvette consults in Camberwell and South Yarra, Melbourne, as well as Australia-wide via skype/zoom/phone. Book here.