What Is Cortisol?

What is cortisol? And how does this so-called 'stress hormone' contribute to your ballooning midriff in menopause?

The adrenal glands, situated above the kidneys, secrete the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol has various useful functions in the body - it helps to reduce inflammation, for example. The problem is that when you are under stress, your body responds by producing extra cortisol, and that's where the problem lies.

The 'fight or flight' response gives your body a surge of energy when you're faced with a situation that your brain interprets as dangerous or threatening. It prepares you to face the danger, or flee from it, by pumping out hormones including cortisol and adrenaline, which get your heart racing, and prime your muscles for action.

But a response that was a vital function in dangerous bygone times is useless when the stresses you're facing are a stroppy teenager, an infuriating boss, or a nose-to-tail traffic jam.

Your body still comes up with the same hormonal response, but because you don't use the physical energy surge to run away or lash out, the hormones have to find something else to do...and that's where the cortisol effect comes in.

What is the cortisol effect?

The extra cortisol that floods into your blood stream when you're under stress has two effects.

One - when you're worked up about something, worried, anxious or distressed, what do you want to eat? That's right, comfort foods - and it's cortisol that makes you so hungry for sweet or salty, dense, high-fat foods - sometimes called stress eating. You might also crave caffeine or alcohol.

Cortisol also encourages your body to lay down fat around your midriff, creating an apple-shaped body. This is unhealthy fat, which finds its way into your blood stream and can put you at risk of becoming insulin resistant, which in turn can lead to diabetes.

Stress...cortisol...over-eating...fat deposits around the waistline.

That's the unhealthy cycle, and it's where you probably are, if you're wondering why weight loss in menopause seems so hard, and you lead a life that's packed overfull with demands on your time, and doesn't include enough opportunities to rest and use proven ways to relieve stress.

Go back to the top of What Is Cortisol. Or visit the Home Page of Beat Menopause Weight Gain.

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