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by Katie Hoehn January 13, 2023 4 min read

The human body has a ton of different hormones which are responsible for all sorts of different bodily processes.

One of the most popular of these hormones is cortisol. But why is that? Well, cortisol has a huge impact on your health and fitness goals.

Have you ever heard of the fight or flight response? Yeah, that's cortisol. It plays a role in determining your fear, motivation, and mood.

Believe it or not ... all of these impact how your body responds to both food and exercise.

So, an imbalance of cortisol can have a pretty significant impact on your health goals.

What is Cortisol?

So ... what the heck is cortisol? Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. Its main job is to manage the body's response to stress.

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That's why you'll often hear people refer to cortisol as the "stress hormone." On top of that, cortisol is also a glucocorticoid hormone.

That just means it helps suppress inflammation throughout the body.

What Function Does Cortisol Perform in the Body?

Hormones are chemicals that carry messages to and from different organs, muscles, and tissues. They essentially help the brain and body communicate and regulate different physiological processes. They do this by stimulating different cells and tissues in the body.

Cortisol's specific chemical responsibilities play a part in metabolism, immune response, and stress. We are talking about some pretty serious jobs as it relates to your health!

In terms of metabolism, cortisol helps manage blood sugar levels. It also directly stimulates your metabolism. Both of these directly impact your body's energy and appetite.

When you're stressed out ... cortisol is the main hormone being released, causing your fight or flight response to trigger.

I could go on and on about all of the roles cortisol plays in your body! The cliff notes include:

  • Controlling salt and water balance
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Regulating blood sugar
  • Helping the body respond to stress
  • Assisting in how your body uses carbohydrates, protein and fats
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Controlling sleep-wake cycle

What Happens If You Have Too Much Cortisol?

A little stress here and there is to be expected and is normal. But what happens when the perpetual stress you are under doesn’t have an expiration date?

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Well, since cortisol is a steroid hormone, it directly stimulates your appetite. So, excess cortisol can increase your cravings for sweet, fat, and salty foods. The pleasure response you get from eating these foods helps mask the feelings of stress.

Excess cortisol can also decrease the progress you see in the gym. That's because cortisol is a catabolic hormone. Catabolism is when your body breaks down big molecules into smaller ones. Without the energy from food, catabolism will start breaking down body tissues, like muscle and fat. This also means it can inhibit new muscle growth.

High levels of cortisol can also usher in a ton of unfavorable symptoms. This can include things like low energy levels, poor mood, and a weakened immune system. There is also strong evidence linking cortisol and the accumulation of midsection belly fat.

If your body has more cortisol than it needs over a long period of time ... you can develop a condition called Cushing's syndrome. This can lead to rapid weight gain, muscle weakness, easily-bruised skin, and other health issues.

What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough Cortisol?

While you don't want your cortisol levels to be high ... you don't want them to be too low either.

Low cortisol levels can result in a condition called Addison's disease. This includes symptoms like fatigue, mood changes, weight loss, no appetite, and low blood pressure.

This is usually a red flag that something is off with the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland.

How Can I Regulate My Cortisol Levels?

Cortisol is an essential hormone that keeps the body balanced and healthy ... but it can also be very tricky to manage and regulate.

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One thing you can do is consider your stress levels and find ways to lower your day-to-day stress.

Some great ways you can reduce your overall stress and cortisol include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a well-balanced diet that's low in simple sugars
  • Quality sleep
  • Relaxing hobbies such as journaling, meditation, yoga, and more
  • Reducing your caffeine intake

So really, most stress-reduction techniques can be great for helping to lower cortisol. On top of that, there are also supplements that can naturally lower cortisol levels.

Ashwagandha, for example, has been shown to significantly lower cortisol levels [1]. We include ashwagandha and several other stress-reducing ingredients in our cortisol reducing supplement: Core-21.

Core-21 is a natural cortisol reducer that can help reduce cortisol, and help with a deeper, more restful sleep. And, if you remember, quality sleep can also help reduce cortisol levels!

If you have any questions about how to better manage your cortisol, or anything else for that matter ... reach out to us!

We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers that you can talk to for free by giving us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or sending an email to CustomerService@1stPhorm.com.

Our goal is to help you reach your goals ... and if we can ever help with that ... we're more than happy to!

Customer Service - 1st Phorm

References:

Salve J, Pate S, Debnath K, Langade D. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. 2019 Dec 25;11(12):e6466. doi: 10.7759/cureus.6466. PMID: 32021735; PMCID: PMC6979308.

Katie Hoehn
Katie Hoehn

Katie Hoehn Registered Dietitian ACE Certified Personal Trainer ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist ACE Youth Fitness Specialist 1st Phorm App Advisor