Stress eating can cause anyone to pack on some excess pounds. However, that’s not the only way stress leads to weight gain. If you feel the weight of the world is on your shoulders all the time, you might be pushing some extra weight back down toward the earth yourself. The reason for this weight gain is because of the culprit behind our experience of stress—cortisol. Let’s take a closer look at this hormone, its effects on our waistline, and how all-natural supplements like ashwagandha may help.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is what medical circles call our “stress hormone.” It’s most famous for our fight-or-flight instinct. When we are in a situation that we perceive as stressful, our adrenal glands will secrete cortisol into the system. As a result, we feel a sudden sense of urgency that can cause panic, fear, or a gut instinct decision.
In small doses, cortisol is great. As a matter of fact, for those who don’t experience elevated levels of stress, there are many other uses for cortisol. This includes:
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Stimulating fat for energy consumption
- Regulating blood sugar levels
Cortisol is necessary, but it can also overstay its welcome. Anything from everyday stress, poor health hygiene, or side effects from medications can cause cortisol levels to increase. When cortisol production becomes chronic, it evolves into a big problem.
The Problem with Chronic Stress
Stress is like bacteria. It is opportunistic and keeps breeding. When we keep producing cortisol, it starts to weaken our system. That’s because the body isn’t getting enough of other hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and reproductive specifics. Therefore our body is stressed.
Thanks to the influx of cortisol in our system, the body remains in high alert. That causes receptors throughout the body to let the mind know it’s stressed. How do your adrenal glands respond? More cortisol.
Cortisol is like the end of Lamb Chop. It’s the song that doesn’t end. As a result, you can suffer long-term effects such as adrenal fatigue and weight gain.
How Cortisol May Cause Binge Eating
Since stress keeps breeding stress, it leaves you susceptible to ramifications such as a change in eating patterns. With extra cortisol in our system, our body doesn’t produce enough dopamine.
Dopamine is our body’s reward mechanism. When we consume food, we experience an initial burst of dopamine. That’s the glee we feel when we are pig out. Once our food starts digesting, we get that dopamine burst again. This dopamine uptake is a sign that you are full and to stop eating.
When your system doesn’t have this traffic guard, everyone is going to cross the street as they desire. And that can have dire consequences. Overconsuming food can lead to quite the traffic jam! Therefore, excess cortisol may lead to overeating due to lack of dopamine signaling.
Also, research shows that stress-induced cortisol causes the adrenal glands to produce glucocorticoids. The analysis states, “glucocorticoids are known to increase the consumption of foods enriched in fat and sugar.” So, stress eating is real.
Cortisol Changes in Fat Distribution
One of the biggest problems with overproduction of cortisol is how it changes our physiological functions. When left alone, our body is a fine-tuned network. However, it doesn’t do well in the face of disruption. You are hard-pressed to find a more significant disruptor than cortisol.
An analysis of cortisol and its effect on fat distribution found that, “cortisol affects fat distribution by causing fat to be stored centrally—around the organs. Cortisol exposure can increase visceral fat—the fat surrounding the organs—in animals. People with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol, such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing’s disease, also have excessive amounts of visceral fat.”
How Cortisol May Cause Weight Gain in Men
Both genders are susceptible to hormonal weight gain. While many attribute female weight gain to reproductive hormones, no one pins hormones as the culprit for male weight gain. However, those with high-stress levels end up producing less testosterone.
One of the primary responsibilities of testosterone is to produce muscle mass. In lieu of muscle mass, your body will store adipose tissue. This sticky tissue draws in fat cells. You got it. Like stress, fat cells also bring on more fat cells.
Here is the real kicker for men. Lower levels of testosterone leave men prone to higher levels of estrogen. This can also cause weight gain in men because excess estrogen results in gynecomastia (man boobs). Research also suggests circulating estrogen increases cortisol levels.
How Cortisol May Cause Weight Gain in Women
As if women need a study to know that menstrual cycles and PMS bring on cortisol. Women are also susceptible to all the weight gain triggers associated with cortisol.
Long-term cortisol production also alters the way your body stores fat. Instead of the cells building around the hips, they clutter in the gut area. This buildup will result in gradual weight gain.
How Ashwagandha Manages Cortisol Levels
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic root that has been long heralded for its therapeutic properties. Research on ashwagandha suggests that this root contains compounds that increase GABA production. GABA is a neurotransmitter that inhibits over-excited neurons that cause us to feel stressed.
The catch-22 with GABA is that when cortisol keeps being produced, our body doesn’t have a moment’s breath to crank out the GABA. That’s what makes supplementing with ashwagandha so convenient.
Tranquility Labs’ Ashwagandha KSM-66 is extracted directly from the root. That makes it the purest herbs of this species on the market.
Research on KSM-66 shows that 60 days supplementing with this root can have a profound impact on your perceived stress. One analysis found that after 60 days, patients who supplemented with ashwagandha saw a 72.3% decrease on the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). These results were in comparison to those who took a placebo for the same amount of time.