Does Cortisol Cause Water Retention?

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


Cortisol levels are related to slow metabolism, insulin resistance, and fat storage. This article will look at cortisol and whether it will increase water retention.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone that affects many aspects of our bodies. It regulates our blood sugar levels, salt and water balance, immune system, and memory.

It also stimulates the liver to turn fat into glucose, giving us energy during the day. It also has multiple other functions, including the regulation of our sleep-wake cycle.

The amount of cortisol in our blood varies throughout the day. It is highest in the morning, when we first wake up, and gradually drops thereafter.

This pattern is called the diurnal rhythm, and it is reversed in those who work night shifts.

Our daily activity patterns control the levels of cortisol in our blood, so when we experience high levels of stress, our bodies respond by producing extra cortisol.

Cortisol regulates the body's stress response, including the production and release of glucose in the liver.

It also regulates our metabolism, regulates blood pressure, and controls our immune system.

Too much cortisol in the blood can lead to a weakened immune system and increased levels of anxiety. It can also cause weight gain and insomnia.

Adrenal gland

Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal gland. It helps the body cope with small immune stresses.

The production of cortisol matches the level of stress that the body is experiencing. However, severe infections or an excessive flood of antigens can overwhelm the immune system.

It can also increase blood pressure and cause a condition known as Cushing's syndrome.

High levels of cortisol can lead to health problems and even life-threatening emergencies. Prolonged high levels of cortisol are a sign of Cushing's syndrome, which is treated with surgery.

Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome include depression and anxiety. Treatment depends on the cause of the problem, but cortisol levels are usually manageable.

What is Water Retention?

Water retention, also known as edema, is a common problem that is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the body. In some cases, this fluid retention can be temporary, as when you experience it after flying, but it can be a sign of something more serious.

Water retention is often the result of a lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet, but it can also be caused by injuries to the lymphatic system or blood capillaries. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to treat this problem.

One way to treat edema naturally is to reduce the amount of salt in your diet. The problem can also be caused by certain medications, such as diuretics.

These medications help the kidneys eliminate water from your body, but they can also cause dehydration and increased water retention.

Additionally, diuretics can lead to kidney damage, which can result in even more water retention.

Lack of exercise or physical activity can also cause water retention, as the muscles in the legs pump fluid back to the heart for proper functioning of the physiological systems.

Another common cause of water retention is excess body weight, which interferes with the circulation of fluids throughout the body. Excess body weight also puts pressure on veins, leading to fluid retention.

If left untreated, water retention can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain. It can also damage the skin and pose a threat to your health.

Water retention can be treated with exercise and a healthy diet, avoiding too much salt and alcohol. In some cases, it can even resolve itself on its own without medical treatment.

Is Water Retention Harmful?

While water retention can be an unpleasant annoyance, it's generally harmless. In many cases, it can be managed naturally by following a sensible exercise routine and eating the right foods.

If the problem is caused by an underlying health condition, a doctor can provide more advice.

One cause of water retention is a lack of blood flow. Drinking more water can increase your blood flow and flush out any excess salt or waste.

You should also avoid sitting for long periods of time and elevate your feet. Compression stockings and socks can also help with fluid retention.

Another cause of water retention is a faulty lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of small tubes that are designed to remove fluid from the tissues.

But in some cases, too much fluid can overwhelm the lymphatic system, causing fluid to accumulate in the body. Additionally, certain medications and hormonal changes can cause fluid retention.

Does Cortisol Cause Water Retention?

Did you know that cortisol plays an important role in fat and fluid metabolism? It also increases appetite and causes a temporary surge in energy levels. High levels of cortisol can increase cravings for sugary, fatty and salty foods. 

High levels of psychological stress influence sodium levels, and have been shown to increase fluid rentention among men with high blood pressure. 

High levels of cortisol stimulate the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats in the body. This causes the body to crave simple carbohydrates, which quickly enter the bloodstream and spike blood glucose levels.

This was very helpful during hunter-gatherer days, when quick energy was needed, but in today's world, unless you lead a very active lifestyle this can lead to unwanted weight gain.

Cortisol is known to directly affect fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals.

This stress hormone affects the activity of a specific enzyme in adipose tissues. Obese individuals have higher levels of this enzyme. This increases the likelihood that a person will become obese. 

However, we could only find one study on this topic. And, that study only included young males who were with borderline hypertension and had parents with hypertension.

Therefore, based on this study sample we canot say that this is a gold standard study, and the results may not be relevant to other demographics.

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Causes of High Cortisol

High levels of cortisol in the body can be problematic for many people. It is the main stress hormone and is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress.

While it helps us cope with difficult situations, illness, and exposure to toxins, prolonged high levels of cortisol can be unhealthy for us.

Cortisol also helps us maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and fights inflammation.

Symptoms of high cortisol include weight gain, increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, and irregular periods. It can also cause osteoporosis and high blood pressure.

If you're experiencing these symptoms, you may need to seek medical attention. You should consult a doctor if you suspect a condition related to high cortisol levels.

In some cases, high levels of cortisol are due to underlying causes, including diseases of the pituitary and adrenal glands.

Fortunately, a doctor can conduct a complete physical examination and recommend the right treatment plan for your particular case. Besides physical stress, emotional stress can also elevate your cortisol levels.

Certain medications may also increase your cortisol levels. In addition to this, estrogen levels in your body also affect your body's responses to stress.

Another cause of high cortisol levels is insufficient sleep. Cortisol levels naturally decrease throughout the day as you sleep. However, a lack of sleep can elevate your levels up to 37 to 45%.

Sleep is crucial for a healthy circadian rhythm. If your sleep pattern is disrupted, you'll experience feeling wired and agitated at night and be fatigued during the day.

Is Imbalanced Cortisol Harmful?

Chronic high levels of cortisol can cause many serious health problems. Exogenous hypercortisolism - where cortisol is produced by external sources - is a potential cause of a condition called Cushing's syndrome. 

Cortisol is a hormone that regulates our body's response to stress. When levels of cortisol are high, the body produces more norepinephrine and increases the heart rate.

Conversely, if levels are low, the body releases less cortisol. This results in the body sending a negative feedback signal to the brain, which decreases the adrenocorticotropic hormone.

Cortisol is essential for optimum health, and an imbalance can trigger a cascade of changes throughout the body.

In addition to its anti-inflammatory and anti-stress functions, it regulates the immune system and blood sugar levels.

Having too much of this hormone can lead to several health issues, including increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and aging.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of whole foods can help control the hormone and keep the body functioning properly.

However, sometimes the body needs higher concentrations of nutrients, making supplements helpful. For example, vitamin C, magnesium, fish oil, and adrenal adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola rosea have been shown to decrease cortisol levels.

Of course, it is important to consult with a medical professional before beginning any supplement program.

Cortisol has a variety of important functions throughout the body, including controlling our metabolism and sleep-wake cycle.

Studies have found that elevated levels of cortisol may increase the risk of heart attacks. High levels of cortisol also damage blood vessels and increase blood pressure.

It also decreases bone and collagen formation, inhibits the production of periosteocytes, and decreases calcium absorption.

Other effects of cortisol

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance is a significant contributor to hypertension and metabolic syndrome. It has been shown that the coexistence of these two conditions increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

Its underlying mechanisms remain unclear but may include chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. In both conditions, the body's resistance to insulin promotes the retention of water.

Some of the symptoms of insulin resistance include frequent urination and frequent bowel movements.

These symptoms can lead to water retention and weight gain. Some people with insulin resistance also experience fatigue, sleepiness, and poor mental stamina.

In severe cases, the body can store water in the organs of the abdomen.

Insulin resistance also affects the immune system. It inhibits insulin signaling and induces a chronic inflammatory process in adipocyte tissue.

This inflammatory response may protect the body during times of stress or infection. However, it may also contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome.

Slow metabolism

Cortisol is a hormone that can contribute to the buildup of excess weight in the body. When it's present in a normal amount, cortisol helps the body burn fat, but when it's too high, it can cause weight gain.

A slow metabolism can lead to a variety of problems, including chronic fatigue and feeling lethargic. It also slows down the breakdown of food.

This can diminish your overall energy level, making you feel lethargic and sleepy. The cause of slow metabolism is still not known, but there are a few symptoms that can be indicative of an overactive adrenal gland.

When people experience h

igh levels of stress, their bodies begin to produce higher amounts of cortisol. This stress hormone makes them more susceptible to heart disease and obesity. It also causes insulin resistance, which slows their metabolism.

Fat storage

Cortisol regulates energy production and fat storage in the body by increasing lipoprotein lipase activity. It also helps to mobilize energy from working muscle and fat stores.

In addition, it can provide protein for energy production by converting amino acids into glucose in the liver. Cortisol can also relocate fat from storage depots to deep abdominal fat cells.

Research has shown that high levels of cortisol can lead to weight gain. The amount of cortisol secreted by different people varies. However, some individuals are more sensitive to stress than others.

People with high cortisol tend to gain weight more easily and store more fat in the abdominal area. Moreover, women who have higher cortisol levels and a stressful lifestyle tend to have more abdominal fat.

Excess cortisol in the blood helps the body deal with emergencies, but it can lead to high blood sugar, which signal the body to store more fat in the abdomen. The abdominal fat is composed of different types of fat.

Visceral fat is a type of visceral fat, while subcutaneous fat is stored in the subcutaneous layer of the body. Both types of fat have different effects on the body.


Cortisol is produced when our body experiences stress, and it stimulates the breakdown of fat and carbohydrates to produce energy.

In turn, this leads to weight gain by reducing our metabolism and increasing our cravings for sugary foods.

In addition, it increases our body fat, which can interfere with our ability to shut down the stress response.

Cortisol has many functions, including regulating the body's energy levels and blood sugar.

It also promotes comfort food cravings and boosts the body's serotonin and dopamine levels. Although it can have some undesirable side effects, cortisol serves an important role in maintaining our overall health.

It regulates blood sugar, regulates the immune system, and assists in the metabolism of nutrients.

In one study of men with hypertension it was demonstrated that high levels of cortisol did lead to water retention. However, it must be mentioned that there are very few (if any at all) reliable studies on the matter.


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