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What is the Connection Between Caffeine and Cortisol?

By J.M. Densing
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The connection between caffeine and cortisol is that the consumption of caffeinated beverages or foods causes the body to release extra cortisol. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and boosts metabolism for a short time after consumption, which makes many people believe it is helpful for weight loss. Cortisol is a hormone that is part of the body's response to stress; studies suggest that it may, however, lead to weight gain when it is present frequently. Some experts suggest that consuming large amounts of caffeine leads to elevated cortisol levels. According to this theory, there is often a boost in appetite when this occurs and an increased tendency towards weight gain, particularly by storing extra fat in the abdominal area.

When considering the connection between caffeine and cortisol, it's a good idea to have an idea of the action of each substance in the body. Caffeine acts in the body as a stimulant and causes a short-term boost in metabolism. This metabolism boost means that the body burns calories faster; as a result, caffeine is often an ingredient in weight loss supplements. Some experts also recommend consuming caffeinated beverages or foods before working out, theorizing that the short metabolism boost will help the individual burn more calories while exercising.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the body in response to stress. It causes a boost in alertness and mental sharpness to assist the individual in dealing with a stressful situation. It also can cause the body to utilize muscle tissue for energy by breaking it down for an extra burst of fuel to help the individual react physically to anxiety. Cortisol is only meant to be active in the body as a short-term response to stress. The relationship between caffeine and cortisol is such that consuming caffeinated items on a consistent basis causes the hormone to be elevated for longer periods of time.

The constant presence of caffeine and cortisol compels the body to react as though it is constantly under stress. The elevated levels of cortisol cause the individual to experience an increase in appetite and often leads to overeating, especially unhealthy fatty foods. In the long term, this usually leads to an increase in fatty tissue in the abdominal area, which is the most unhealthy place to store fat because it can lead to diabetes and heart disease. It can also result in early onset osteoporosis due to lost bone density.

Even though caffeine is often touted for weight loss because it boosts the metabolism, its overuse can actually lead to weight gain due to elevated cortisol levels. Moderate consumption of caffeine is generally considered to be safe and usually won't set off this counterproductive cycle. Some weight loss formulas also claim to prevent this by blocking the action of cortisol, but more study is needed. Both caffeine and cortisol can affect the body's natural balance if they are constantly present in an individual's system but they can be beneficial in the appropriate amounts.

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Discussion Comments

By literally45 — On Dec 10, 2013
Caffeine can lead to weight gain, but that's not only due to cortisol. Caffeine also increases insulin production. So caffeine increases blood sugar through cortisol and then reduced blood sugar through insulin. These changes make us hungry because we need more energy to fight stress.

So if we want to understand the connection between caffeine, cortisol and weight gain, we also need to look at the connection between caffeine and insulin.

By ddljohn — On Dec 09, 2013

@turquoise-- Caffeine definitely increases cortisol levels in the body. It has been shown by many different studies.

There used to be a ban on the use of caffeine by athletes which was lifted around 2005. So studies are being done annually to see the effects of caffeine on cortisol and other hormones in the body, especially in athletes.

There is no doubt that caffeine causes cortisol to increase but how cortisol affects fat burning or fat storage depends on many other factors. For example, it is thought that consuming a carbohydrate and caffeine before exercise encourages fat burning in some people.

So it's hard to make a generalization about this connection. Caffeine and cortisol can cause different changes in different people.

By turquoise — On Dec 09, 2013

I'm not sure if caffeine increases cortisol levels and makes the body feel that it is under stress. I do know that caffeine does not increase my appetite or cause me to eat more. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Caffeine suppresses my appetite.

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