Stress can lead to high cortisol and insulin resistance by interfering with insulin action via several mechanisms, including the direct inhibition of insulin from the pancreas, impaired glucose uptake, and disruption of insulin signaling in the muscle.
Chronic stress causes chronic production and cortisol exposure, a hormone designed to stimulate the release of glucose into the bloodstream to increase energy availability in stressful times, such as when the body needs more glucose to run from a threat.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that stimulates the short-term release of glucose into the bloodstream to provide the body with the energy needed to run from the danger. The fast-paced modern world is stressful, causing the release of cortisol even tho prominent danger such as a tiger is not imminent.
Does high cortisol cause insulin resistance?
The blood glucose-raising effects of cortisol are helpful when the body needs more energy in times of emergency. But chronic high cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance by consistently raising blood sugar levels and interfering with insulin action.
Cortisol is a counter-regulatory hormone to insulin with the opposite effect. Cortisol releases glucose into the bloodstream and raises blood sugar while insulin is designed to lower blood sugar by transporting glucose out of the bloodstream and inside various cells.
Healthy adults can compensate for high cortisol levels that cause insulin resistance by increasing insulin secretion from the pancreas. People who are less insulin sensitive or overweight do not produce enough insulin to counteract cortisol-induced insulin resistance. Insulin levels may still be high in insulin resistance individuals, but it is still not enough to lower blood sugar. Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) can be caused by elevated cortisol and insufficient insulin to counter the effects of cortisol.
What is the relationship between cortisol and insulin resistance?
High cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance via several mechanisms.
- Cortisol enhances muscle protein breakdown
- Signals the liver to produce sugar that is released into the bloodstream
- Triggers the breakdown of fat in adipose tissue
Cortisol promotes whole-body insulin resistance via the release of free fatty acids into the bloodstream and the development of liver fat. Elevated triglycerides in the bloodstream cause insulin resistance.
Fatty liver is another underlying cause of insulin resistance as glycogen stores become depleted when the liver is fatty. As a result, insulin resistance develops in the liver due to the decreased ability of the liver to store glucose. Thus, liver cells become less sensitive to insulin and the storage of glucose.
High cortisol signals the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. At the same time, cortisol decreases insulin production by the beta cells of the pancreas thus resulting in high blood sugar.
In the muscle tissue, cortisol impairs the action of insulin by decreasing glucose uptake in the muscle while enhancing insulin action in adipose tissue. The accumulation of fat around the organs in the stomach is linked to increased insulin resistance. Deceased muscle mass yet fat accumulation are associated with increased insulin resistance, and chronic cortisol exposure increases the ratio of fat to muscle leading to insulin resistance.
Consistently high cortisol levels increase circulating insulin, which means more insulin is required to get glucose out of the bloodstream and inside the body’s cells.
How does inflammation cause insulin resistance and affect blood sugar?
Inflammation can be caused by many things such as decreased antioxidant activity, food sensitivities, infections, and an over-reactive immune system. Chronic inflammation can cause insulin resistance and raise blood sugar by stimulating the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone that is produced to combat inflammation.
When cortisol levels are constantly high due to inflammation, insulin resistance develops as cortisol counters the effects of insulin. Cortisol raises blood sugar levels while insulin lowers blood sugar levels. Because cortisol has an opposing reaction to insulin, more insulin is required to transport glucose inside the cell. Cortisol causes insulin resistance by inhibiting insulin action and stimulating the liver to release stored glucose into the bloodstream.
The effect of cortisol on insulin resistance is due to many factors, including the release of sugar into the bloodstream by the liver, impaired muscle uptake of glucose, and increased circulating free fatty acids in the bloodstream, which causes increased insulin resistance in the body.
Reducing stress which triggers the production and release of cortisol, is crucial for lowering whole-body insulin resistance. Stress leads to the release of cortisol, a hormone designed to increase energy availability in the short term by stimulating the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Chronic cortisol exposure interferes with the action of insulin and causing increased insulin requirements.
Cortisol levels can be elevated for many reasons, such as inflammation. It is essential to identify stressful triggers and the cause of increased inflammation in the body to restore insulin sensitivity. Food sensitivities can cause chronic high cortisol levels leading to insulin resistance and weight gain. Eliminating food sensitivities is one way in which inflammation is reduced.
Gut infections and SIBO also trigger inflammation in the body which is why improving gut health is crucial for reducing cortisol levels.
Mechanisms of Glucocorticoid-Induced Insulin Resistance
Cortisol Is Negatively Associated with Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight Latino Youth
I’ve been reading your really informative blog and I learned a lot. But I’m confused about whole body insulin resistance, fatty liver insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
For example in fatty liver insulin resistance does that mean the rest of the body isn’t insulin resistant?
Is the approach to treatment different?
Hi Jae, great question and to be honest I dont know the entire answer to that question as I believe some tissues may be insulin resistant while other tissues in the body are not. But that being said, blood sugar issues are closely correlated with insulin resistance in the liver as the liver is responsible for either storing or releasing glucose into the blood stream. If the liver tissues are insulin resistant due to fatty liver and full glycogen stores blood sugar levels will rise due to glucose not getting into the liver for storage. But muscle tissues and fat can still store glucose as well but the muscles can only hold so much before the only storage left is the fat tissues.