15 July, 2014

The Effects of Cortisol in our body

What does it really do?

Most people have heard of the hormone Cortisol however are a little confused as to what it does and whether it is beneficial to us when it comes to the fight against fat loss and weight management.

Let’s break it down into simple terms and look at the role of Cortisol within our bodies.

Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted in response to stress. Its primary function is to assist in the process of converting stored energy in the body into usable energy. This can happen in any situation that requires us to make a split second decision in response to danger and is commonly referred to as “fight or flight”.

Cortisol also has other important roles. Always present in our bodies in small amounts, it is responsible for breaking down enzymes, controlling and releasing energy and regulating our blood pressure.

Consistently high levels of cortisol can be a contributing factor in why some people find it hard to lose body fat, let’s explore why…

Cortisol is responsible for telling our fat cells to store fat and for sending messages to our metabolism to slow down.

Ideally we want to regulate our Cortisol at low levels. When our Cortisol levels are raised a message is sent to our brain that food is scarce (commonly known as starvation mode). This in turn sends a message to preserve stored energy and slow down our metabolism making it much harder to lose body fat. The body holds onto this fat in case it needs it for energy later.

So what causes our Cortisol levels to rise? And how can we manage this?

Cortisol levels can rise due to constant exposure to physical and psychological stress, negative emotions, stimulants such as caffeine, calorie intake of less than 1200cals, overtraining, dehydration and skipping meals. This can lead to a reduction of testosterone levels, in turn causing muscle loss, increased appetite, fat accumulation and reduced metabolism. Can we see a vicious circle here?

We can however lower our Cortisol levels by avoiding all the above and taking up activities to de-stress such as Tai-chi or Yoga or simply by regulating our bed time, getting enough sleep, getting regular exercise and by eating at regular intervals (i.e. every 2-3hrs).

In the long run we want Cortisol working for us, not against us. If you are consistently doing all the right things (and not just thinking you are), yet finding it hard to lose body fat then Cortisol may be a possible culprit.

So try changing a few key factors in your everyday lifestyle to keep Cortisol levels low and on your side, it’s a hormone you don’t want as your enemy in the fight for fat loss.


Written by Nelby Galle, AFA Student Support Officer & Lecturer

 Nelby has been in the fitness industry since achieving her Certificate IV in Fitness (Personal Training) in 2000. Running her own Mobile Personal Training business, NGPT, since then she has worked in gyms all over Australia as well as Canada. Nelby’s love of fitness started as a young girl. She is VERY (some would say INSANELY!) passionate about all things health, nutrition and fitness. She loves the gym, mountain biking, AFL and teaching new students about her lifelong passion.

 Nelby has been lecturing since 2011, sharing her passion for health and fitness in the classroom.

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