Do you find yourself constantly tired, stressed and not enjoying things you previously did? Are you experiencing unexplainable weight gain even while adhering to a solid diet and workout regimen?
What you’re experiencing, most likely, is high cortisol levels. Not familiar with this hormone or why having high cortisol levels is a bad thing, especially in terms of fat loss and muscle gain? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the information on this important hormone ahead as we look in-depth at all there is to know about cortisol.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is your primary “stress” hormone. It’s released when you’re faced with any sort of threat, attack or perceived harmful event. Following this acute stressor, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system which ignites the “fight or flight response.”
At times, cortisol is a very necessary and useful, i.e. when getting chased by a cheetah in the wild. However, when cortisol levels get out of hand and are elevated for prolonged periods of time, that’s when things start to go awry.
Problems with High Cortisol Levels
Over the last 15-20 years, science has revealed some rather alarming side effects as a result of chronically high cortisol levels, including:
Cortisol interferes with normal production of other hormones, which disrupts sleeping patterns and leads to physical and mental fatigue. [1,2]
Impaired Brain Function
Elevated cortisol levels contribute to “brain fog” or mental cloudiness. It can also interfere with memory formation and recall too. 
Cortisol hinders immune system function, making your more susceptible to illness, disease and infections. 
Not only does stress increase your chances of getting sick, it also accelerates the aging process at the cellular level. The telomere is the outermost part of the chromosome. As you age, the telomeres gradually shorten over the years. Telomere length has also been associated with age-related diseases and longevity.
New research shows that individuals experiencing high levels of depression or chronically elevated cortisol levels exhibit shorter telomere lengths than control groups, leading researchers to the conclusion that stress plays a contributing factor to accelerating the aging process. 
Being stressed all the time is also a contributing factor in the development of several severe chronic health complications including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. 
Last, but not least, worrying all the time and being stressed increases appetite, encourages unhealthy eating habits, and perhaps worst of all, signals your body to shift your metabolism from burning fat to storing it [7,8], thereby making that “stubborn” fat all the harder to lose
As you can see, being stressed and having high cortisol levels is no laughing matter. Now, let’s look at few ways to keep cortisol levels in check and promote better fat burning and health.
How to Reduce Stress
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and for many people a daily means to getting away from pressure. In the short term, exercise does temporarily increase cortisol levels, but it’s an essential part of the muscle-building process and will return back to normal in the ensuing hours following your workout.
The key to managing exercise and cortisol is in the amount of exercise you do. If you’re overtraining and under recovering (i.e. training 3x per day and not sleeping), your cortisol levels will become chronically elevated since you never give your body the down time it needs to restore homeostasis. Following a properly designed exercise routine ensures you’re getting all the benefits of exercise (and cortisol), with none of the drawbacks.
Learn to Relax
Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to just chill out and relax. What do we mean by relax? We’re talking about using various relaxation exercises as a means to lessen cortisol levels and gain a little bit of self-control so that you’re not as easily stressed out when things go sideways in life.
Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, massage therapy, yoga, listening to calming music, drinking tea, and even reading have been shown to dramatically reduce cortisol levels.[9,10,11]
Not a fan of yoga, that’s ok, there are countless relaxation techniques out there, try one until you find one that suits your fancy and practice it regularly.
The final “easy” fix to help get cortisol under control is by using supplements proven to help lower the cortisol response. Specifically, we’re talking about adaptogens. These potent herbs are old-world remedy that have modern science backing proving their efficacy at improving the body’s response to various stressors and significantly lowering cortisol levels.
Adaptogens including ashwagandha, rhodiola, maca, and eleuthero are some of the most effective and popular options for those seeking to reduce stress but don’t want to turn to prescription pharmaceuticals. Adding these botanicals to your daily supplement regimen can do wonders for your health and stress-response. Both Steel Core™ and Steel Hard™ are formulated with clinically proven KSM-66® Ashwagandha.
Cortisol is an essential hormone, but left unchecked can spell bad news for even the healthiest individuals out there. Fortunately, there are methods for dealing with stress safely and naturally. All it takes is some time and effort on your part to work around your stressors and find a more peaceful way to deal with them.
- Pistollato F, Sumalla Cano S, Elio I, Masias Vergara M, Giampieri F, Battino M. Associations between Sleep, Cortisol Regulation, and Diet: Possible Implications for the Risk of Alzheimer Disease. Advances in Nutrition. 2016;7(4):679-689. doi:10.3945/an.115.011775.
- Powell DJH, Liossi C, Moss-Morris R, Schlotz W. Unstimulated cortisol secretory activity in everyday life and its relationship with fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome: a systematic review and subset meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(11):2405-2422. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.07.004.
- Het S, Ramlow G, Wolf OT. A meta-analytic review of the effects of acute cortisol administration on human memory. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2005;30(8):771-784. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2005.03.005.
- Buford TW, Willoughby DS. Impact of DHEA(S) and cortisol on immune function in aging: a brief review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab = Physiol Appl Nutr Metab. 2008;33(3):429-433. doi:10.1139/H08-013.
- Mikael Wikgren, Martin Maripuu, Thomas Karlsson, Katarina Nordfjäll, Jan Bergdahl, Johan Hultdin, Jurgen Del-Favero, Göran Roos, Lars-Göran Nilsson, Rolf Adolfsson, Karl-Fredrik Norrback. Short Telomeres in Depression and the General Population Are Associated with a Hypercortisolemia State. Biological Psychiatry, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.09.015
- Chiodini I. Clinical review: Diagnosis and treatment of subclinical hypercortisolism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96(5):1223-1236. doi:10.1210/jc.2010-2722.
- Spencer SJ, Tilbrook A. The glucocorticoid contribution to obesity. Stress. 2011;14(3):233-246. doi:10.3109/10253890.2010.534831.
- Vicennati V, Pasqui F, Cavazza C, Pagotto U, Pasquali R. Stress-related development of obesity and cortisol in women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009;17(9):1678-1683. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.76.
- Matousek RH, Dobkin PL, Pruessner J. Cortisol as a marker for improvement in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2010;16(1):13-19. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.06.004.
- Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, et al. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurol Sci Off J Ital Neurol Soc Ital Soc Clin Neurophysiol. 2017;38(3):451-458. doi:10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8.
- Riley KE, Park CL. How does yoga reduce stress? A systematic review of mechanisms of change and guide to future inquiry. Health Psychol Rev. 2015;9(3):379-396. doi:10.1080/17437199.2014.981778.