Cortisol 101

Here is my promised blog post all about cortisol. Understanding the affect of cortisol on the body will help you to understand the importance of balancing your hormones. If you implement some of the tips mentioned below you may be able to noticeably improve your health and well being. Who doesn’t want to do that?!

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone made by the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys. Once cortisol is produced it is released into the blood stream and transported around the body. Almost EVERY CELL in your body contains cortisol receptors, meaning that cortisol can have various effects depending on the cells that it is acting upon.

What is the role of Cortisol?

This hormone can act on multiple parts of the body and it is known to assist in the following:

  • The body’s response to stress and danger
  • Controlling our blood pressure
  • Reducing inflammation in the body
  • Controlling our blood sugar levels
  • The formation of memories
  • Regulation of our metabolism
  • In women it supports the development of the fetus.

Scientists have suggested that elevated cortisol levels lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol… the list goes on and on. As you can see, maintaining a balanced level of cortisol in the blood is imperative for human health.

What triggers the release of cortisol?

Blood cortisol levels vary dramatically dependent on an individual’s daily activity patterns, however, generally cortisol levels are high when we wake up first thing in the morning and then level off throughout the day.

Cortisol is also released in response to fear or stress as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Once the signal to produce cortisol has been released, your body prepares itself and the adrenal glands release the hormone, enabling your body to respond appropriately. There must be some physical release of fight-or-flight, otherwise cortisol can build up in your blood which can cause major problems.

What happens when you have too much/too little cortisol?

If your cortisol levels are high for a significant period of time, this can lead to what is known as Cushing’s syndrome.  Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include:

  • Weight gain in the face, abdomen and chest
  • Fragile skin
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety and depression have also been linked to high cortisol levels (it is important to note that the significance of this is not yet clear).

Too little cortisol could be due to a condition known as Addison’s disease. Symptoms of low cortisol levels due to Addison’s include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Mood swings.

What are the contributors to high cortisol?

The following is a list (I apologise for the extensive use of lists in this blog post :p) of diet and lifestyle factors that are believed to be significant contributors to high blood cortisol levels:

  • Saturated and trans fatty acids
  • Caffeine
  • Excess alcohol
  • Sleep deprivation
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Long periods of stress.

Tips to keep your cortisol levels balanced:

  • Reduce your caffeine intake and try not to drink it first thing in the morning.
  • Exercise regularly. This doesn’t mean you should work out three times a day, every day of the week. Even three times a week will be so beneficial to your body in so many ways!
  • If you are going to drink alcohol, try to drink it in moderation.
  • Eat a nutritious diet and try to reduce your intake of trans and saturated fats. Examples of saturated fats include beef, lamb, pork, dairy products made from whole milk and coconut oil. Don’t forget that coconut oil is approximately 82% saturated fat! Examples of foods high in trans fat include fried foods, cookies, pastries, doughnuts, you know the kind of foods that I am talking about.
  • Try to slowly establish a better sleep pattern. Try avoiding screens about an hour before you go to bed, maybe read a book instead or do a bed time yoga video. It is also known that magnesium is able to relieve insomnia so try taking a magnesium supplement and see if this helps you.
  • Use the supplement CORT RX. This is a natural cortisol management and adrenal support supplement. I mentioned this in my tips to reduce stress blog post. Try it out and see if it works for you!


Please remember that cortisol isn’t bad. We are mainly told about the negative effects of cortisol but it assists in many important bodily functions! We are trying to aim for BALANCE.

I hope this was informative for some of you. Happy Friday!



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