What You Need to Know about Cortisol

Time for a Little Cortisol Chat!

Hormones! Yep, everything is right with the world when our hormones are working in concert and maintaining balance. But, when things go haywire. It can be pretty darn ugly.

Meet cortisol. Cortisol is such a big player in our system that it deserves to have its own TV show.


Cortisol is the hormone that helps us deal with stressful situations including physical (inflammation, disease), external and emotional stressors. It is not surprising that up to 80% of Americans are out of balance on this one. Unfortunately, when one hormone gets out of whack it can impact others, and cortisol isn’t an exception. It likes to steal from hormones like estrogen and progesterone, especially when in over production mode.

Why do I care?

Good question! You care because having too much cortisol pumping through your body can lead to weight gain. Here’s another reason: it can age us prematurely. Ugh.

What exactly is it?

Before we all start hating on cortisol, it does have its purpose. We want you to appreciate its good side. It’s the hormone tied to the “fight or flight” response. It’s how adrenal is triggered and released into the body. There are times when this response can save your life or the life of another. It has even been shown to give us superhuman strength and endurance. According to researchers, when we are faced with danger or saving another, our adrenal glands dump both cortisol and adrenaline into our blood stream. When this happens, a biological effect takes place that makes us stronger. A side benefit, is for a short period of time, you almost might feel less pain.  See, I told you there is a good side.

Okay, now for the down side ...

You know what it feels like. You are minding your own business driving down the road and a car honks its horn. Your heart starts racing. You might even let out a little yelp. You feel yourself jumping out of your skin, as the expression goes. Let’s face it. We live in a high stimulus, noisy world that causes us undue stress. You get surges of cortisol before you meet a new person or when having a disagreement with a friend. There’s the external pollutants too. Then, what about our emotional reactions to the circumstances of our life? It all adds up and can put us on adrenal overload. There’s a popular term to describe the condition: Burnout!

Now that you know the rest of the story. There are ways to make it better.

1.     Pay attention to what you eat. Specifically, avoid processed foods and stick to whole foods containing essential nutrients and fiber.

2.     Exercise regularly. There are tons of research articles out there that support this recommendation. The fact of the matter is ... when you do, you are better equipped to manage stress. Not only that you tend to sleep better (restorative sleep is the key to healing many inflammatory or immune challenges) and your overall bodily functions and regulatory systems are more likely to remain healthy.

3.     Be with nature as often as you can. Take nature walks. Sit by a cluster of trees. Walk barefooted. Lie in the grass.

4.     Add a meditation practice to your routine. To learn more about ways to do that, click here.

Remember, we need cortisol. Cortisol is not the bad guy. We just need to take steps to keep our cortisol levels balanced and working properly. Managing our stress, which in turns leads to cortisol production, is a means to maintaining optimal health. Eat well. Exercise and take time to relax. Oh, and add water to this stress reduction recipe. Drink 3-4 liters of water a day for good measure and your health!