24/02/2015 10:27

The Stress and Weight Gain Connection

In today’s day and age, most of us contend with daily stress to keep up with our fast-paced lifestyles while unaware of the impact it has our health. Not surprisingly, stress has surpassed the common cold as the most prevalent health problem in North America. It can precipitate from constant noise, driving, crowded cities, school, work, negative emotions, depression, fear and so much more. Long term stressors can be physical, psychological, chemical, or environmental. While unrelenting stress can induce adverse effects on the brain, thyroid, heart, bones, muscles, and immunity, it is especially known for promoting undesirable weight gain through chronically elevated cortisol levels. 

Cortisol, a stress-response hormone secreted by the adrenals glands, plays a crucial role in allowing the body to adapt to conditions that induce the fight or flight response while supporting normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels, immune function and inflammation levels. Excess cortisol on the other hand wreaks havoc by disrupting the hormones that regulate blood sugar levels, appetite and metabolism while shifting our preferences toward comfort foods, particularly for high-carbohydrate, high-fat or sugary foods. Research further shows that chronic stress causes fat cells to become resistant to fat loss due to the secretion of cortisol which activate all fat cells to store fat. Even more alarming is the fact that central fat cells – particularly around the abdomen – have four times the cortisol receptors on their cell membranes which allows a stressed person to be more susceptible to weight gain.

Lack of sleep due to stress is a major catalytic for negative metabolic patterns that lead to weight gain. Elevated cortisol levels at night lead to interrupted sleep impairing two important hunger hormones called leptin and ghrelin, which send a message to the brain when you are hungry or full.  People who secrete too much cortisol also tend to have low serotonin levels which may lead to problems in managing weight. Serotonin – a neurotransmitter – is a chemical messenger that tells your brain when you are satisfied after a meal. Low serotonin levels not only correlate with depression, anxiety and pain, but they also contribute to high carbohydrate and sugar cravings due to a faulty communication between the serotonin and the brain – leading to overeating  and obesity.


Research on the connection between cortisol and weight gain has shown that lowering cortisol levels by managing stress and taking specific serotonin-enhancing supplements like 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) can help combat stress-induced weight gain. 5-HTP reduces appetite while it enhances mood, increases energy levels and controls sugar cravings. Furthermore, it has been extensively researched for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and insomnia due to elevated stress levels.  To learn more about 5-HTP, consult with a health practitioner to find the ideal formula that best suits you. Pharmaceutical grade 5-HTP that is enteric-coated will yield optimal results.

Controlling stress through excess caffeine, alcohol and food is not a long-term solution. Instead, identifying the causes of stress and implementing the proper tools to reset worn-out adrenals can pave the way for good stress management and increase vitality. Below are just a few simple ways you can begin to de-stress and leave the worries of the day behind.


  • Ditch negative self talk
  • Notice the beauty around you
  • Seize the day – live life to the fullest!
  • Learn to say no!
  • Practice forgiveness
  • Practice deep breathing throughout the day
  • Get eight hours of sleep
  • Eat a wholesome diet free of chemicals
  • Smile