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Metabolic Effects of Elevated Cortisol (Related to Weight Gain)

Loss of Muscle Mass

  • Breakdown of muscles, tendons, and ligaments (to provide amino acids for conversion into glucose)
  • Decreased synthesis of protein (to conserve amino acids for conversion into glucose)
  • Reduced levels of DHEA, growth hormone, IGF-1, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • Drop in basal metabolic rate (i.e., a reduced number of calories is burned throughout the day and night)

Increase in Blood-Sugar Levels

  • Reduced transport of glucose into cells
  • Decreased insulin sensitivity
  • Increase in appetite and carbohydrate cravings

Increase in Body Fat

  • Increase in the overall amount of body fat (due to increased appetite, overeating, and reduced metabolic rate)
  • A redistribution and accumulation of body fat to the abdominal region
Metabolic and Long-Term Health Effects of Elevated Cortisol Levels
Metabolic Effect (cortisol-induced) Chronic Health Condition
Increased appetite, accelerated muscle

Catabolism (breakdown), suppressed fat

Oxidation, enhanced fat storage

Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels Heart Disease
Elevated blood pressure Heart Disease
Alterations in brain neurochemistry (involving dopamine and serotonin) Depression/Anxiety
Physical atrophy (shrinkage) of brain cells Alzheimer’s disease
Insulin resistance and elevated blood-sugar levels Diabetes
Accelerated bone resorption (breakdown) Osteoporosis
Reduced levels of testosterone and estrogen Suppressed libido (reduced sex drive)
Suppression of immune-cell number and activity Frequent colds/flu/infection
Reduced synthesis of brain neurotransmitters Memory/concentration problems
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