Cortisol is an important hormone produced by our adrenal glands. Under normal circumstances, cortisol plays an important role in blood sugar health, maintenance of healthy immune function, and much more. However, stress can cause a chronic elevation of cortisol, which then can have a variety of negative health effects. Chronic stress has also been implicated in the risk for obesity.
A recent nutrition study explored the relationship between cortisol levels and dietary habits in overweight and normal weight women. In this study, 127 overweight women and 21 normal weight women had their cortisol excretion rate measured over a 24-hour period. The relationship between the cortisol levels and information collected on dietary intakes were then analyzed. The researchers reported that:
- Obese women excreted substantially higher levels of cortisol than women maintaining a normal body weight.
- Regardless of the volunteers' body mass index, higher levels of cortisol were linked to larger waist sizes.
- Higher consumption of carbohydrates, fats, and overall calories was linked to higher cortisol levels in obese women.
These research results continue to suggest a possible link between chronic stress and obesity. Because the study summary did not discuss stress, it is unclear whether stress might have been involved in the poor dietary choices of the overweight women. Since long-term elevations in cortisol can be a sign of stress, it is possible stress might be one of the factors related to the study observations. Nonetheless, this study indicates that elevated cortisol levels, whether from stress or some other reason, might have a major impact on our dietary habits such that we tend to eat more foods high in calories, high in fats, and high in carbs. These foods, particularly those high in fats and calories, can have a major negative impact on our efforts to maintain a healthy body weight. Keeping cortisol levels within a normal range, perhaps be reducing stress, might be one way to help maintain a healthy body weight.
Aaron Tabor, MD
Diet, Anti-Aging, and Nutritional Cosmetic Expert
Author of Dr. Tabor’s Diet
and FIGHT NOW
Learn more about Dr. Tabor’s diet and anti-aging research at www.DrTabor.com
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- Vicennati V, et al. Cortisol, energy intake, and food frequency in overweight/obese women. Nutrition 2010; Aricle in Press.