However, he adds, “when you have repetitive or long-term chronic stress (things like serious financial troubles or being the sole caregiver of a child, sick spouse, or parent) this can lead to physiologic consequences.”

One of the most prominent side effects of prolonged high cortisol levels is weight gain, explains Davis, specifically visceral fat. “This is the fat that encircles the organs, intestines, and liver, and is inflammatory fat,” he says. “Visceral fat leads to insulin resistance and contributes to diseases like high blood pressure, coronary disease, and type 2 diabetes.”

Cortisol can also weaken the activity of certain cells linked to the immune system, says Heather Moday, M.D., an immunologist, functional medicine practitioner, and author of The Immunotype Breakthrough. This lowers the production of antibodies and can weaken the body’s immune response over time.

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