Affecting your weight – The impact of your cortisol levels

Affecting your weight – The impact of your cortisol levels

Overweight and obesity is a complex health problem affected by a variety of factors. Many of these factors are rooted in biology, genetics and societal structures. Here you will learn more about different aspects of overweight and obesity and how cortisol levels in the body can play a role in weight gain.

Quick version

People with obesity often face prejudices and misunderstandings from society, making it challenging for them to manage their condition. It's crucial to understand that obesity is not solely due to a lack of willpower or laziness. Various factors such as genetics, biology, life events, and environmental factors interact to influence your weight status.

Biological and genetic factors

The human body has evolutionary mechanisms to protect against starvation. In an environment with an abundance of energy-rich and nutrient-poor food, weight loss and stability become challenging. This helps understand why some individuals struggle to lose weight despite concerted efforts.

Up to 70 percent of our weight status (BMI) can be explained by genetic factors, emphasizing the individual difficulty in influencing weight through lifestyle changes alone, as genetic predispositions play a significant role.

Life events and external factors impacting weight

Factors such as fetal life, early adulthood, pregnancy, and illnesses can increase the risk of weight gain. Simultaneously, people's weight is influenced by external factors, including access to food, its price, and marketing.

Food and marketing

The development of calorie-rich food and beverages, along with their marketing, directly links to the increasing prevalence of obesity. Societal eating habits and the availability of unhealthy alternatives play a crucial role.

Psychosocial and medical aspects

Mental health issues and diseases, as well as certain medications for these conditions, can lead to weight gain. These factors contribute to the complex nature of overweight and obesity.

The impact of cortisol on your weight

Inadequate sleep and high stress levels result in changes in the body's hormonal regulation. Cortisol, our so-called stress hormone, increases and can be linked to weight gain by affecting appetite-regulating hormones like ghrelin and leptin. Additionally, sleep deprivation and stress affect cognitive functions, influencing decisions about diet and exercise.

Cortisol plays a complex role in the body. When stress triggers the body's "fight-or-flight" response, cortisol is released to increase the availability of energy. However, chronic stress can lead to prolonged high cortisol levels, which have several health effects.

One of cortisol's effects is its impact on fat distribution. Increased cortisol levels can lead to the accumulation of fat, especially around the abdomen. This type of fat accumulation is called abdominal obesity and is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and certain cancers.

The increased fat accumulation in the abdomen is partly because cortisol stimulates the formation of new fat cells and promotes fat storage in the abdominal region. Moreover, high cortisol levels can affect appetite regulation, resulting in increased consumption of calorie-rich food.

Managing and reducing stress, along with improving sleep patterns, can be essential to regulate cortisol levels and thereby support healthy weight control, reducing the risk of health problems associated with abdominal obesity.

How do I know if I have high cortisol?

To determine your cortisol levels, you can undergo a blood test that measures cortisol levels in your blood. Cortisol is highest in the morning, with a reference range of approximately 145–620 nmol/L. Samples taken in the afternoon usually range from about 95–460 nmol/L. You can read more and purchase a cortisol test.

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