CORTISOL: IS IT THE REASON BEHIND YOUR STUBBORN WEIGHT GAIN?

menopause perimenopause stress women's health Apr 15, 2024

In an era where stress has become as common as your morning cup of coffee, understanding the role of cortisol — the body's stress response hormone — is more critical than ever. Especially for women navigating perimenopause.

I am constantly saying that stress is the biggest blocker to health, happiness and weight loss for women over 40, regardless of whether you’re peri or post-menopause.

Cortisol is THE reason behind why I say this!

WHAT IS CORTISOL?

Cortisol, often labelled the "stress hormone," is produced in the adrenal glands and plays a role in many bodily functions. It helps regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and control the sleep-wake cycle. And of course, as the stress hormone, it's also pivotal in helping the body respond to perceived stress or danger, preparing it to either fight or flee the threats—a primal mechanism, essential for survival.

WHEN IS CORTISOL GENERATED? 

Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, typically peaking in the morning to help you wake up and gradually decreasing by evening to prepare your body for sleep. However, this cycle can be disrupted by your brain’s perception of a stressor being present. Whether that stressor is physical (like illness or injury) or psychological (such as work pressure, running late, traffic jams, or emotional distress), the outcome is the same - it leads to elevated cortisol levels at times when your body expects them to be low.

Modern life is full of constant stressors. It’s hard for us to escape them. Check out some of my previous blogs on the types of stressors we’re exposed to.

THE IMPACT OF CORTISOL ON THE BODY

While cortisol is crucial for survival, having it elevated constantly (as so many of you do as a modern Mum) can have detrimental effects, particularly on weight management.

Cortisol receptors are present in almost all tissues in the body, meaning it’s able to affect nearly every organ system:

  • Nervous
  • Immune
  • Cardiovascular 
  • Respiratory 
  • Reproductive
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Integumentary (skin)

High cortisol levels can lead to:

  • Increased appetite and cravings for instant energy foods (refined carbs like chips, lollies, chocolate), as the body seeks energy to combat stress and the pre-cursors of your mood compounds.
  • Fat accumulation, especially around the tummy, as cortisol encourages fat storage in the abdominal area. This is the kind of fat you don’t want, as it increases your risks for cardiovascular health and diabetes. (Which already increases exponentially post-menopause.)
  • Muscle loss, cortisol breaks down muscle mass to generate energy for your brain, heart and limbs when you’re in fight/flight mode. In the longer term though, this slows down your metabolism and makes it harder to lose weight or maintain a healthy body composition.

Cortisol has also been implicated in anxiety, digestive issues, sleep problems, headaches, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, memory loss/brain fog, pain, muscle weakness (and loss), osteoporosis, and metabolism/thyroid hormone imbalances.

CORTISOL'S ROLE IN PERIMENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS

In the past, you may not have been reacting to the stressors in your life as you are now. In perimenopause, you may find your stress response triggering more often because of the decline of your inbuilt resilience hormone (progesterone).

Here are some common ways that chronic activation of your stress response shows up in perimenopause:

  • Impatient or anxious all the time
  • Overwhelmed and ultra emotional, really riding the rollercoaster of emotions
  • Snapping at your partner, family or colleagues, over-reacting
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, even though you’re exhausted – wired but tired.

TAKING CONTROL OF CORTISOL: YOUR NEXT STEPS

As you can see, cortisol does more than just help us respond to stress—it shapes our health, our bodies, and our well-being in profound ways. Gaining an understanding of this powerful hormone is just the beginning of your journey toward a healthier, more controlled life.

If you're ready to deepen this understanding and turn knowledge into action, Episode 42 of Chaos to Calm podcast is your next stop. In it, I explore a holistic approach to managing your cortisol levels — including diet, lifestyle, movement, sleep, and (arguably most importantly!) self-care - and give effective, actionable strategies to help you not only reduce cortisol but also enhance your overall quality of life during perimenopause. You’ll learn how to move from being reactive to proactive in managing your stress and its impacts.

Listen to the episode below, or subscribe here or on your favourite podcast platform, so you never miss an episode.

And if you're tired of going it alone and ready for personalised support for a smoother ride through perimenopause, I’m here to help. Book a free Clarity Call with me, and we’ll discuss how I can help you remove the big blocker to your health, happiness and weight loss.

 

Is it perimenopause hormone changes or something else making you cranky, exhausted, overwhelmed, and gaining weight in your 40s?

UNLOCK THE MYSTERY BEHIND YOUR SYMPTOMS WITH THE PERIMENOPAUSE DECODER

Don't continue to feel stuck and confused - download The Perimenopause Decoder now and gain clarity on your journey to perimenopause!