Momentum in the Mountains 2024


Cortisol: Extremley Simplified

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 04/26/2024

While many have herd of the hormone cortisol, and may even understand that it has something to do with stress, it is important to gain a full understanding on one of the most important functions your body conducts.

Learn about cortisol, what role it plays in the body, and how you can support healthy levels of this hormone.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Its primary function is to mobilize energy stores by increasing blood sugar levels, which provides the body with immediate energy to cope with stressors.

The Adrenal Glands and Cortisol Production

The adrenal glands, comprised of the adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla, play a crucial role in cortisol production. The adrenal cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal glands, synthesizes cortisol in response to signals from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

This allows cortisol levels to fluctuate in response to changing stress levels and other physiological needs.

The Link Between Stress and Cortisol Levels

When we're stressed, our bodies respond by producing cortisol. This hormone helps us handle stress, but what happens when stress is constant?

Stress Triggers for Cortisol Production

Your body reacts to different types of stressors - physical or mental trauma, poor eating habits, and even hormonal changes. All these can cause a spike in your cortisol levels.

Studies show that chronic stress leads to high cortisol production, which remains elevated over time.

The Accumulation of Stress Over Time

We all face stressful life events like college exams, parenting struggles, or dealing with divorce. These accumulate over time, causing consistent elevation in our cortisol levels.

This long-term exposure to high-stress environments has been linked directly with numerous health issues, including weight gain due to increased appetite and reduced metabolism rates.

Symptoms Indicative of High Cortisol Levels

When cortisol levels soar, your body sends out distress signals that it is important to understand.

Common Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels

The signs of high cortisol often mimic other health issues. It's easy to dismiss them as isolated problems.

Inflammation is one such sign. Your joints may ache, and your skin could break out in rashes or acne. You might even feel constantly tired due to disrupted sleep patterns – another symptom triggered by excessive cortisol.

Studies show cortisol at night should decrease, but stress keeps it revved up.

A foggy brain also points towards elevated cortisol, according to research. Tasks that were once second nature suddenly become more challenging.

  • Cholesterol issues: Bad cholesterol goes up, while good cholesterol takes a nosedive when there's too much cortisol.

  • Gut troubles: Ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely if you have persistently high cortisol.

  • Blood sugar instability: Constantly fluctuating blood sugars? Hello, diabetes.

  • Allergies and asthma: Cortisol compromises immunity, which means allergies flare up and asthma worsens.

The Impact of High Cortisol Levels on Weight Gain

High cortisol levels in response to stress can lead to weight gain. When stressed, our adrenal glands pump out this hormone at high amounts.

Cortisol doesn't just manage stress and controls how our bodies use carbohydrates and fats. It triggers processes that convert proteins into energy and releases insulin for maintaining blood sugar levels.

This could sound be if not for one major catch: Excess cortisol can increase appetite and cravings for high-fat foods.

To make matters worse, all those extra calories tend to accumulate as belly fat due to increased storage capacity. So, while you may think "stress-eating” gives temporary relief, its long-term effects are less comforting.

How Stress Affects Hormones Related to Weight Management

If you're trying to shed pounds but have persistent stress, it's time to look honestly at the situation. High-stress levels can mess with your hormones and make shedding pounds more challenging than usual.

The Nullifying Effect of Stress on Fat-Burning Hormones

Cortisol urges our bodies to store excess fat instead of burning it off.

Weirdly enough, this doesn’t happen by accident; our bodies are designed this way. In prehistoric times, storing extra energy as fat during stressful situations was helpful. Now however, it is usual a harmful feature that we should learn to guard our bodies against.

Intermittent fasting on a notepad

Cortisol and Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting, a popular eating pattern that involves cycles of eating and fasting, has been studied for its potential effects on cortisol levels. Some research suggests intermittent fasting may help regulate cortisol production by promoting stress resilience.

When done correctly, intermittent fasting can enhance the body's ability to manage stress and improve overall hormonal balance.

However, it's important to note that the impact of intermittent fasting on cortisol can vary from person to person, and it's crucial to adopt a fasting schedule that aligns with individual needs and preferences.

If you are considering intermittent fasting as a means of how to lower cortisol, consulting with a healthcare professional or nutritionist for personalized guidance is advisable to ensure it's a safe and suitable approach for your health and well-being.


While many know cortisol as the "stress hormone," its full role in the body is crucial for overall health. Produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol helps manage stress by increasing blood sugar levels and providing energy.

However, chronic stress can lead to persistently high cortisol levels, causing symptoms like inflammation, fatigue, and weight gain, particularly around the belly area.

High cortisol levels can make weight management challenging by promoting fat storage and increasing appetite for unhealthy foods. Intermittent fasting may help regulate cortisol levels and promote stress resilience, but it's essential to approach it carefully with guidance from a healthcare professional.

Understanding cortisol empowers us to support healthy levels and better manage stress for overall improved health.

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