The Best Supplements for Cortisol Belly

Last modified on April 26th, 2024

Cortisol belly is defined by lower abdominal fat you can’t seem to get rid of, no matter what you do.

The battle against stubborn belly fat, especially hormonal belly fat, is difficult. 

We often think of diet and exercise as the cornerstones of weight management, but there’s growing evidence to suggest hormonal imbalances may play a major role in the accumulation of abdominal fat. Hormones like cortisol, estrogen, insulin and testosterone can all influence fat distribution and storage, leading to the notorious hormonal belly fat.

Some supplements may more effectively target stubborn belly fat because they get at the root cause of your issue, which diet and exercise can’t necessarily do, at least not on their own.

We’ll delve into the science behind cortisol belly, exploring the role of dietary supplements in addressing the issue. Will look at the hormones implicated in abdominal fat storage, how supplements can lower cortisol levels naturally, and the evidence that supports their efficacy.

What Is Hormonal Belly Fat?

Hormonal belly fat is technically known as visceral fat or central adiposity. All three terms refer to the specific fat accumulation around the abdominal region.

Visceral fat is stored deeply in the abdominal cavity and surrounding vital organs, including the intestines and liver. By contrast, subcutaneous fat is located just below the skin. Visceral fat is closely associated with health risks like type 2 diabetes, heart health and metabolic syndrome.  

Hormonal belly fat usually looks like a protruding abdomen with a bulging or rounded appearance. It can cause discomfort and bloating, and lower belly fat is stubborn and tough to lose compared to fat in other parts of the body.

Hormones that play a role in the regulation and distribution of fat, especially in the abdomen, include:

  • We’ll discuss cortisol more below. Cortisol release occurs in response to stress and can play a major role in the accumulation of stubborn belly fat, especially in the lower stomach.
  • Insulin is a hormone the pancreas produces, and it helps regulate your blood sugar level. In insulin resistance, the cells are less responsive to insulin, leading to high blood levels. That can lead to fat storage, especially in the abdomen.
  • Estrogen and testosterone are sex hormones that can affect fat distribution. In women, declines in their estrogen levels during menopause can lead to abdominal fat. In men, imbalanced testosterone levels can influence their distribution of fat.

Lower Belly Fat and Cortisol Receptors

Lower belly fat, often known as a pooch or spare tire, accumulates below the naval and extends towards the lower abdomen. It’s resistant to many conventional efforts to lose weight.

Cortisol, a.k.a. the stress hormone, may play a role in this. The adrenal glands produce cortisol as a response to physical or mental stress. Cortisol is an important part of the stress response, but its ongoing elevation can affect metabolism and fat storage.

A key way cortisol affects fat deposition is by interacting with cortisol receptors. The receptors are abundantly found in fatty tissues, especially visceral fat deposits. According to research, the lower abdomen contains a high density of cortisol receptors, making it more susceptible to cortisol-related fat accumulation.

When cortisol binds to adipose tissue receptors, it promotes triglyceride breakdown into free fatty acids. Those are released into the blood for energy production.

However, chronic elevation of cortisol levels, such as during ongoing stress, leads to dysregulation.

Excess cortisol can stimulate the differentiation of precursor cells into mature fat cells and adipocytes. This enhances fat storage, especially in the lower abdomen. The increased sensitivity to cortisol signaling may partially explain why lower body fat is more resistant to traditional attempts to lose weight.

Cortisol also influences other pathways involved in fat metabolism, like leptin and insulin, worsening fat deposition in the area.

Cortisol and Weight Gain

We talked about cortisol. It’s a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys. One of cortisol’s primary functions is mobilizing energy reserves to provide the body with the fuel to respond to stress.

To achieve this, cortisol increases the breakdown of glycogen from the liver and muscles, and it’s released into the bloodstream as glucose.

While cortisol is critical in the fight or flight response during stressful situations, prolonged elevation can harm health.

Effects of cortisol on weight include:

  • Cortisol can stimulate cravings for high-calorie and high-carb foods and overall appetite.
  • High cortisol levels promote the storage of fat.
  • Prolonged cortisol elevations can disrupt metabolic processes, including insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.

Factors that can contribute to imbalances in cortisol levels include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Sleep deprivation.
  • Poor diet with high consumption of refined carbs, sugar and processed foods.
  • Nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamins, are involved in stress regulation.
  • Sedentary lifestyle.

How Do I Know If I Have Cortisol Belly?

The primary stress hormone, cortisol, influences fat distribution and metabolism in cortisol-related weight gain. Elevated cortisol levels increase appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods, impacting fat accumulation.

With other hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid disorders, PCOS, menopause or insulin resistance, there are different mechanisms underlying potential weight gain. For example, insulin resistance leads to excess glucose uptake and storage as fat. Thyroid disorders affect metabolism and energy expenditure, leading to weight changes.

With cortisol, as has been touched on, an accumulation of abdominal-area fat leads to an apple-shaped body.

Weight gain from other hormonal imbalances may lead to varied distribution. For example, hormone changes during menopause are more likely to lead to a pear-shaped body with weight gain focused on the hips, thighs and butt.

What Does Cortisol Belly Look Like?

If you have a cortisol belly or a stress belly, you may find that along with it being in your lower stomach, it may look more saggy than other fat deposits on your body. You could feel like you have a gut that hangs over your pants,

What Are the Symptoms of High Cortisol?

Other signs of high cortisol that can come with belly fat include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Sleep problems
  • Brain fog
  • Poor memory
  • Low libido
  • Stomach issues like bloating or constipation.
  • Problems with regular menstrual periods or ovulation

The Role of the HPA Axis

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is a system that plays a role in your stress response and the regulation of various physiological processes. It involves feedback loops related to each other between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Collectively, these regulate cortisol secretion.

Dysregulation of the HPA axis can change cortisol patterns and secretion. Some of the common ways the HPA axis becomes dysregulated include:

  • Chronic stress can lead to hyperactivity or hypoactivity of the stress response system. It disrupts the feedback mechanisms controlling cortisol secretion, which can result in persistent elevations.
  • Genetic susceptibility can interact with environmental factors to influence HPA axis function and cortisol dysregulation.
  • Environmental and lifestyle-related factors, including poor sleep or diet, a lack of physical activity, substance abuse and exposure to toxins, can impact cortisol regulation and the function of the HPA axis.
  • Mental health conditions can dysregulate the HPA axis, altering cortisol patterns. Dysfunctional coping mechanisms or unresolved trauma, as well as conditions like depression and anxiety, can contribute to a stress response system that’s chronically activated.  

What Are the Best Supplements for Cortisol Belly?

The best supplements for cortisol belly fat include:


An adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha helps your body adapt to stress by modulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis. The HPA axis regulates cortisol production. Ashwagandha may help reduce cortisol levels by blocking the enzyme responsible for its synthesis.

It lowers cortisol levels, and ashwagandha may help reduce belly fat and other visceral fat accumulation.

Doses range from 300 to 600 mg daily, taken in divided doses. Taking it with a meal can enhance its absorption.

I talk a lot about the importance of bioavailability in any supplement you use. Standard ashwagandha root has moderate bioavailability in supplement form, but certain formulations are better. Ashwagandha extract standardized for withanolides is one example.

Look for supplements standardized to contain a specific percentage of withanolides because these active compounds are thought to have the most benefits in ashwagandha.

Look for an ashwagandha supplement formulated as liposomes or phytosomes to enhance absorption.

Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is also an adaptogen herb like ashwagandha. It can help with cortisol belly and hormonal imbalances that contribute to fat. It allows the body to adapt to stress and lowers cortisol levels through modulation of the HPA axis. It’s also thought to inhibit the release of cortisol in response to stress.

Through reduced cortisol levels, Rhodiola rosea may help prevent the accumulation of belly fat, including in your lower abdomen.

Doses of Rhodiola rosea to target cortisol belly range from 200 mg to 600 mg daily in divided doses. Try to take it in the morning or early afternoon to avoid any possible interruptions to sleep.

Rhodiola rosea supplements usually have good bioavailability and active compounds can be absorbed significantly. To enhance this, look for a Rhodiola rosea supplement standardized for a consistent level of active compounds like rosavin.


Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that can blunt the release of cortisol as a stress response and, in doing so, help prevent the accumulation of lower abdomen fat. Typical doses range from 300 to 600 mg a day in divided doses. It’s a good idea to take phosphatidylserine with meals to improve absorption.

Phosphatidylserine supplements usually have good bioavailability, and supplements made with liposomes or phytosomes can be best for absorption.


Magnesium regulates the HPA axis and cortisol production. It can lower your cortisol levels by acting as a cofactor for the enzymes needed for cortisol metabolism. Excess cortisol production and visceral fat accumulation are prevented with adequate magnesium levels.

Typical magnesium doses for cortisol range from 200 to 400 mg a day, taken in divided doses.  

Magnesium citrate, taurate, and glycinate are the best-absorbed forms for absorption. Chelated formulations are also good for optimal absorption.

Magnesium oxide tends to have lower bioavailability than other magnesium supplements.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA in fish oil can fight inflammation, modulate stress response and lower cortisol levels. Typical doses of omega-3 fatty acids for cortisol belly range from 1,000 to 3,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA daily. Taking omega-3 supplements with meals enhances absorption and reduces the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.

When choosing an omega-3 supplement, look for high-quality fish oil supplements from wild-caught fish. Ideally, a supplement is molecularly distilled to remove contaminants.

Holy Basil (Tulsi)

Holy basil, or tulsi, is another adaptogenic herb that can help lower cortisol levels. It modulates the HPA axis and reduces the body’s response to stress. By reducing stress and cortisol, holy basil may help lower belly fat accumulation.

Overall, holy basil supplements have good bioavailability. Look for standardized products containing specific active compounds, such as ursolic acid or eugenol.

Doses of holy basil to lower cortisol can range from 300 to 600 mg daily in divided doses.


L-theanine is an amino acid from green tea that can calm the nervous system. By reducing stress and promoting relaxation, L-theanine may help lower cortisol levels.

Doses range from 100 to 400 mg a day in divided doses. You can usually take L-theanine in the morning or early afternoon because it promotes relaxation but does not cause drowsiness.

Generally, L-theanine supplements are well-absorbed and can cross the blood-brain barrier quickly.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays a role in cortisol synthesis, so adequate levels may regulate cortisol levels and mitigate stress responses. Since vitamin C supports healthy cortisol levels, it can prevent excess production.

Doses of vitamin C can range from 5oo to 2,000 mg a day in separate, divided doses.  

Liposomal vitamin C formulations are excellent for a boost in bioavailability and absorption.

Final Thoughts

Weight gain and belly fat related to cortisol are characterized by visceral fat accumulation and metabolic disturbances. 

Cortisol-related weight gain has unique mechanisms and characteristics from other types of weight gain. Still, some supplements can help by lowering cortisol levels and regulating them over time through their influence on the HPA axis.

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Ashley Sutphin Watkins
Ashley Sutphin Watkins is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's a medical content writer, journalist and an avid researcher of all things related to health and wellness. Ashley lives near the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee with her family.
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