While many realize the negative impact that stress can have on our mental health, it is often overlooked as a contributing risk factor for most prevalent health challenges. For example, cardiovascular health, elevated blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, digestive disorders, hormonal disorders, chronic pain, headaches, and even weight gain are all linked to chronic stress.   

Research shows:  

  1. Chronic stress is known to alter the pattern of food intake, dietary preference, and the rewarding properties of foods (Ref 1). 

  1. Psychosocial stress was associated with more significant weight gain among men and women with higher baseline body mass indexes if they experienced job-related demands, had difficulty paying bills, or had depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Among women with higher baseline body mass indexes, perceived life constraints and strain in family relations were also associated with greater weight gain. Among men with higher baseline body mass indexes, lack of skill discretion or decision authority at work was associated with greater weight gain (Ref 1).  

This paper will address the link between stress and weight gain and offer some natural solutions to help manage stress. 


To better understand why people may gain weight when chronically stressed, it is necessary to look at the physiology and biochemistry of what is occurring in the body. The cycle that stress triggers are like a wheel that can spin out of control. When the body is "stressed," the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and cortisol, often called the "stress hormones." Stress also negatively impacts leptin (the obesity hormone) (Ref 2). Here is a quick biology lesson on these three hormones. 

Adrenaline (Epinephrine) 101 

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies by burning glycogen stored in your liver, i.e., raise your blood sugar (Ref 3). In an acute phase of stress, these are helpful and protective biological reactions. However, chronic elevations can lead to issues with blood sugar and blood pressure. 

Cortisol 101 

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It increases sugar in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose, alters immune system responses, and suppresses the digestive and reproductive systems (Ref 4). Like adrenaline, in acute stress episodes, these are healthy responses. The issue arises when acute stress becomes chronic stress. Having elevated levels of these two hormones contributes to excess belly fat, impacts your hunger and fullness perception, increases your calorie intake, and impacts your brain's "reward system" (Ref 51). 

Leptin 101 

Stress decreases the production of leptin. Leptin is often referred to as the obesity hormone, which communicates with your brain telling it you have enough energy stored. If leptin levels go down, the brain thinks we need to eat more (Ref 2). 




Now that we have a brief understanding of why chronic stress can impact your waistline don't despair.  There are several clinically proven natural ingredients to help support your body under periods of chronic stress.  These ingredients should not be looked at as weight loss ingredients directly; instead, look at them as an indirect way of addressing weight concerns. If we are proactive in managing our stress, we are less likely to have the hormonal effects mentioned previously and perhaps stop packing on the weight. 

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) 

Considered the king of the adaptogens, ashwagandha has been well studied for its effectiveness in stress areas (Ref 6).  Adaptogens are substances that help the body adapt to physical and emotional stressors.  They help the body get back into balance and keep it more stable when exposed to stressors. It has been shown to help decrease cortisol levels and play a role in the neurotransmitters involved in stress, such as dopamine and serotonin (Ref 78). 

Other well documented adaptogenic herbs such as Bacopa (Sutera cordata), Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), and Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) should also be considered to help with stress due to their similar physiological effects as adaptogens. 

Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) 

Kanna impacts stress in two different ways. One is it has an impact on calming the amygdala (the stress center of the brain). Second, it also supports stress neurotransmitters by inhibiting the re-uptake of serotonin (Ref 9). 


L-theanine positively impacts stress by its effects on glutamate receptors in the brain and increasing stress neurotransmitters glycine and GABA (Ref 10). 

Lactium (αS1-casein hydrolysate) 

Lactium impacts stress by increasing GABA and by binding GABAA receptors in the brain. Studies have also shown Lactium helps to decrease cortisol levels. 

Saffron (Crocus sativus) 

Many studies have proven the benefits of saffron extracts on stress and sleep. Like many botanicals, saffron imposes many mechanisms of action to provide its stress-busting benefits. For example, it helps balance the stress neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine and softens the stress signal coming from the brain (hippocampus) (Ref 111213). 

The ingredients mentioned above were included first because they have great science and should not impart any drowsy effects like many products taken for stress. There are other ingredients to consider for stress, but these do cause drowsiness and may not be suitable for people wishing to work or think clearly throughout the day. In addition, consider combining multiple ingredients with differing mechanisms of action to address stress from several angles.