What is the “cortisol belly” and how can you fix it by reducing stress?

Stress can affect our lives in many ways, from our mental health to our relationships, but it can also lead to physical symptoms like the cortisol belly.

Cortisol belly, named after the stress hormone, has been widely discussed on social platforms like TikTok, with users and experts explaining how it occurs and theorizing what could be done about it.

While you may not have heard of the term belly cortisol before, you may have heard of stubborn belly fat or stress belly, which are essentially the same thing. This is because it refers to the accumulation of visceral adipose tissue around the stomach, which has been linked to prolonged exposure to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“Cortisol, released by the adrenal glands in response to stress, plays a critical role in regulating a number of physiological processes, including fat metabolism and storage,” dietician Rimas Geiga tells Yahoo UK.

“Research has consistently shown a correlation between chronic stress, elevated cortisol levels, and abdominal adiposity. Thus, although not formally recognized as a clinical entity, the cortisol belly concept has significant merit in the fields of endocrinology and metabolic health”.

While the term may be new, Geiga says the mechanisms underpinning the cortisol belly are “rooted in evolutionary biology and human physiology.”

“Throughout history, the stress response, mediated by cortisol, has been integral to survival, mobilizing energy reserves to deal with acute threats,” he explains. “However, in the modern era characterized by chronic stressors and sedentary lifestyles, the prevalence of cortisol belly appears to have increased.”

Chronic stress is a major cause of abdominal cortisol. (Getty Images)

Signs and causes of belly cortisol

Now you know what belly cortisol is, what exactly can cause it? Geiga says its cause is multifaceted and can stem from physiological, psychological and behavioral factors.

“Chronic stress, whether from work, relationships, financial pressures, or other sources, triggers the sustained release of cortisol, which in turn stimulates fat storage, especially in the abdominal area,” explains Geiga.

“In addition, stress-induced alterations in appetite regulation and food choice often lead to the consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods, exacerbating weight gain and visceral adiposity.”

As for the main signs, Geiga says they can be both physical and psychological, and include:

Long-term effects of cortisol belly

Excess visceral fat is a major long-term cortisol belly concern, as this is the type of fat that wraps around your internal organs and may play a role in diseases such as insulin resistance , dyslipidemia, inflammation, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

“Visceral adiposity is closely related to increased cardiovascular risk, including hypertension, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease,” says Geiga.

“Psychologically, chronic stress and cortisol dysregulation contribute to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, perpetuating a vicious cycle of emotional distress and maladaptive coping behaviors.”

mid adult woman experiencing symptoms of physical pain with hand on chest ~ shot with canon eos R5

Visceral fat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. (Getty Images)

How to get rid of belly cortisol

The good news is that this is possible to reduce or get rid of your cortisol belly through specific interventions.

Geiga says stress management is key, which can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) along with relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

“Cultivating a supportive social network, engaging in regular physical activity, and prioritizing adequate sleep are integral components of stress resilience and metabolic health,” explains Geiga.

“Dietary modifications, emphasizing whole, nutrient-dense foods and balanced distribution of macronutrients, can attenuate cortisol-induced cravings and promote satiety. Personalized exercise regimens, incorporating modalities of aerobic and resistance training, specifically target visceral adiposity and improve metabolic parameters.

“Ultimately, a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of the cortisol belly, along with sustained lifestyle modifications and professional guidance, holds promise for achieving long-term, sustainable abdominal fat loss and optimizing overall outcomes of Health”.

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Image Source : uk.style.yahoo.com

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