During times of stress, the adrenal glands produce cortisol from cholesterol. Another hormone called epinephrine is also produced. Together these hormones flood the body with glucose, stop insulin production and elevate the blood pressure to handle the stressful situation. Long term stress can cause elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance. The unused glucose is stored as abdominal body fat which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.
Cortisol arouses the nervous system which can cause digestion and nutrient absorption issues. As the gastrointestinal tract responds to the stress, it becomes inflammed and more cortisol can be released resulting in irritable bowel syndrome and colitis.
A healthy body stores fat as triglycerides in fatty tissues for an energy reserve. When fat metabolism is altered by elevated cortisol for extended periods, fatty liver, obesity and life-threatening vascular events (heart attack or stroke) can result.
Fertility problems, thyroid disease, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, dementia, memory loss and depression have been linked to high cortisol levels. Reducing inflammation in the body can help normalize cortisol levels. A low glycemic, low trans-fat, no alcohol and limited caffeine diet are known to improve inflammation within the body. Going longer than 5 hours between food intake can increase cortisol levels so healthy snacking is important. Probiotics may also be helpful to improve cortisol levels.
High blood cortisol levels significantly increases death rate in patients with acute coronary syndrome. Science Daily. May 27, 2010.
Stress may cause excess abdominal fat in otherwise slender women, study conducted at Yale shows. Science Daily. November 23, 2000.
Tomiyama AJ, Mann T, Vinas D, Hunger JM, et al. Low calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosom Med. 2010; 72(4):357-364.