Caffeine and Cortisol – Side Effects of Caffeine on Cortisol Levels


Ever been stressed and felt the temptation to overeat? Those increased cravings for triple-topping pepperoni pizzas, and four thousand calorie lemon pound cakes? I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Well, it turns out it isn’t exactly your fault. You can blame it on mother-nature. At least partially.

By this I mean that it isn’t simply a question of your lacking discipline and will power to stick to a diet. It is the result of a hormone called cortisol that is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a stressful situation.

Elevated levels of cortisol in the blood directly result in your cravings for fatty and unhealthy foods when you are stressed out. At this point you might be thinking that cortisol is all bad but it does serve a useful function in your body.

Stress induces a ‘fight or flight’ response in the body to be able to deal with whatever the perceived threat is-stress in this case-and release of cortisol is part of this response. Cortisol itself triggers the following physiological effects:

  • Breakdown of muscle tissue for energy. Normally your body obtains its energy needs from glycogen but when under ‘attack’ it will do whatever is necessary to give you that extra boost of energy even if it means cannibalizing your own muscle tissue.
  • Increased mental acuity and alertness in order to deal with the threat

Clearly, cortisol is useful but only for dealing with short-term threats to your well-being. When cortisol is released it is usually at the expense of other vital hormones necessary for normal body function. If cortisol levels remain elevated the longer term effects are:

  • It triggers build up of abdominal fat. Abdominal fat is the unhealthiest kind and greatly increases risks of other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • Leads to loss in bone density and eventually an early onset of osteoporosis

What is caffeine’s effect on cortisol? Well, caffeine leads to elevated levels of cortisol so being constantly under the influence of caffeine is comparable to constantly being under mild stress.

Caffeine can lead to faster metabolism in the short-term and so is best taken right before workouts for the short-term energy boost but If your goal is to lose weight or stay on a diet, caffeine will severely compromise your ability to do this.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many popular fat loss products include caffeine as a main ingredient.

Now that you know the effects of cortisol and caffeine, the best thing you can do is avoid caffeine for the most part (except right before workouts) and try to lead a stress free life.

Of course, in the fast paced world that we live in today, no one can completely avoid stress so you will be pleased to know that there are natural compounds available that counteract the effects of cortisol in your body.

The leading one is a plant extract known as Relora. It effectively reduces the effects of cortisol in about 75% of the population. It may be worth a try if you ever feel that strong uncontrollable temptation to binge on a whole pizza.

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About Author

Don is a fitness enthusiast and writer who is interested in helping people learn more about exercise, nutrition and wellness so they can live a healthier and happier life.

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