There are all kinds of reasons why you might be struggling to make progress in losing weight; most of the time, it’s not too hard to figure out why that’s happening. But what if you’re doing everything perfectly, and you still aren’t seeing results no matter how hard you try? Well, the answer could be that you’re simply too stressed, and high cortisol is preventing you from seeing the progress you want.
Cortisol – a double-edged sword
These days, cortisol is mainly associated with stress. It’s a hormone that your body needs and uses throughout the day, but it can spike drastically if you feel like you’re in a dangerous situation. Back when we had to compete with the rest of the food chain, this served to make us better at either fighting off or running away from a threat, but now it mostly comes into play when we’re under a lot of stress. This could be anything from almost getting run over by a car, to realizing that you’ve missed the due date for that college paper.
That being said, cortisol isn’t always the bad guy. It’s a key player in the way your metabolism works, how well you remember things, and in your glucose levels throughout the day. It even regulates your body’s inflammation response to allergens and injuries and helps fetuses develop into healthy babies.
What happens if cortisol levels are constantly elevated?
You might be surprised at all the problems you could run into just from being constantly stressed. Not everyone will experience all of these effects, but they’re probably more at risk for them just from experiencing chronic stress.
- If elevated cortisol only tightened your arteries every once in a while, that wouldn’t be a problem. When it’s happening all day long, though, this could increase your chances of developing heart disease.
- Another immediate physical response to cortisol is for extra glucose to enter the bloodstream. If levels of glucose in the blood stay high over a longer time period, it could result in Type II Diabetes.
- Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s healing response, but high cortisol interferes with the inflammation response. This can result in issues with immunity and gastrointestinal function, as well as driving up your chances of developing cancer.
- If your cortisol is elevated, your body will be sending you signals to get the fastest-acting energy sources available – fat, carbs, and sugar. This is just one of the factors in not being able to lose weight because of stress.
- When there’s too much cortisol in your system, it competes with progesterone (in women) and testosterone (in men), blocking these hormones from being used by your body. This results in estrogen dominance, which is closely associated with difficulty losing weight in both men and women.
- The adrenal glands can handle temporary periods of elevated cortisol, but not if it’s happening all the time. You might end up with adrenal fatigue if your stress responses are always on high alert.
How to tell if your cortisol is too high
Keep in mind that elevated cortisol could be the result of another imbalance, so it might be a good idea to get professional help in finding out the root cause. If you think you might have high cortisol, then ask yourself if you:
- Tend to gain weight in your face and around your abdomen
- Experience constant fatigue or weakness
- Bruise easily or have issues with acne
- Have regular headaches or migraines
- Are easily irritated
- Have elevated blood pressure
- Are unable to concentrate
Ways to naturally lower your cortisol
When coming up with a solution for lowering cortisol, think about what got it too high in the first place: stress. That’s why doing things that lower stress will automatically lower cortisol as well. You can approach the issue from several different angles; start out by adjusting your diet to include more fresh, nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, and less of the processed stuff. If this sounds too confusing for you, then you could take advantage of something like Base, a nutritionist-backed service that facilitates comprehensive lab tests, and then interprets the results for you. Through the Base app, you can not only understand your test results but also find out what foods or supplements you should take for optimum health.
Certain herbs can also facilitate a calmer mood, like lemon balm, chamomile, ashwagandha, and St. John’s Wort – just check with a doctor first to make sure there won’t be any unexpected side effects or interactions. Exercise and meditation are both associated with lower cortisol levels, so you might benefit from working one of those in a few times a week. Last but not least, get yourself into a healthy sleep schedule! If your circadian rhythm is messed up, you’ll probably have a much harder time regulating your stress responses.
It seems like the whole world is stressed these days; it’s pretty much possible to avoid. Even so, that shouldn’t stop you from getting healthier by losing weight. If you’ve been struggling with weight loss and think that stress could be the culprit, then hopefully now you’ve got the information you needed to improve your health and meet your goals.