What Is Cortisol

How Cortisol Plays a Vital Role in Your Health

What Is Cortisol

How Cortisol Plays a Vital Role in Your Health

This article has been Medically Reviewed by Ioana A. Bina, MD., Ph.D.

When you think about stress, what comes to mind? Looming work deadlines, financial worries, feeling overwhelmed? In today’s world, stress can take on countless forms. Sometimes, it’s even a force of good. But a key reason behind it all is often overlooked. In this article we’ll explain everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, and why controlling your stress can be a matter of life or death.


To start, just know that stress is a normal human reaction. It’s the feeling that motivates us to take action, to focus, to stay safe. But when stress builds over time, and you don’t have the tools to handle it effectively, it can work against you – often without you realizing it. That’s when your overall health is put in jeopardy.


It may start as fatigue, digestion problems, mood swings, maybe a headache here or there. But then it builds. Over time, it can lead to a long list of issues. Think depression, heart disease, diabetes, infertility, cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and more. It can even speed up aging, knocking years off your life.


In fact, it’s estimated that 60% to 80% of all doctor visits are for stress-related problems. And each of the top 10 drugs prescribed in the Western world addresses those issues, from anxiety to high blood pressure. It’s such a pervasive issue that the World Health Organization (WHO) classified stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century in 2016.


But if stress takes on so many forms, how do we address it? How can we possibly narrow it down to one underlying source? The answer may come down to one key culprit … cortisol. Cortisol is known as the main stress hormone, and it plays a pivotal role in your health. After all, it’s behind many of the major stress-related problems we experience.


How Cortisol Impacts Your Health


Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by your adrenal glands. And although it’s known as a stress hormone, it doesn't only help you overcome momentary stresses. You produce it daily to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, your metabolism, your immune response and more. Every morning, about 30 minutes after you wake up, your cortisol levels peak to help you get ready for the day. Then they decline, reaching their lowest point around midnight. During the day, this hormone is busy managing a variety of functions, including:


  • Managing your glucose (blood sugar).

  • Managing the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

  • Reducing inflammation.

  • Regulating your blood pressure and body temperature.

  • Formulating memories.




All so your body is operating as efficiently as it can. However, when something threatens you (physically or mentally), your sympathetic nervous system is triggered, flipping your fight-or-flight-or-freeze response into “on” mode. It’s like your body’s alarm system, and it signals your adrenal glands to flood more cortisol into your bloodstream.


Just how much does it send into your body? Well, in one study, mean cortisol levels increased approximately nine times for people dealing with a stressful event compared to a relaxed one. In short bursts, this has benefits. Cortisol can raise your blood sugar, for example, and give you a boost of energy to handle a stressor. Then it can restore balance afterward.


However, your flight-or-fight-or-freeze response was not built for the unique stresses of modern-day life. Stressors today are difficult to fight off and nearly impossible to flee from. Just worrying about a stressful event — even if it won’t likely happen — can set off a hormonal response.


That’s why many people’s alarm systems are stuck in “on” mode. This chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high … and suddenly, a system meant to protect them starts to harm them instead.


How Chronic Stress Harms you


In stressful situations, cortisol provides you with the energy and focus you need to overcome an obstacle. Meanwhile, it can also shut down non-essential functions, such as your reproductive system, immune system and even growth processes.


Over time, this causes damage you might not be aware of. That’s why we at Pardigm.com have combed through research journals to bring you some of the main ways chronic stress is working against you, and how you can start repairing the damage. Click here to read more.


Beat Chronic Stress


Yes, overcoming stress can seem overwhelming at times. After all, cortisol plays such a vital role in so many disparate body functions. However, stress doesn’t have to control your life. By acknowledging your stressors and changing your lifestyle habits, you can start managing your stress and performing better in life.


Knowing that, we’ve also searched through a collection of research journals to compile a list of simple lifestyle adjustments that can immediately help you reduce your cortisol levels and get your health back on track.


Click here to read our list.


As always, at Pardigm.com we strive to provide you with the best science behind stress. Do you have any feedback for us on this research? Please reach out to us here. We’d love to hear from you.


Related Research:


  1. JAMA Internal Medicine: When Physicians Counsel About Stress: Results of a National Study

  2. Psychosomatic Medicine: Perceived Work Overload and Chronic Worrying Predict Weekend-Weekday Differences in the Cortisol Awakening Response

  3. Northern Clinics of Istanbul: Effect of Increase in Cortisol Level Due to Stress in Healthy Young Individuals on Dynamic and Static Balance Scores

  4. StatPearls Publishing: Physiology, Cortisol


Improve Athletic Performance by Measuring Your Cortisol

Here’s a surprising fact: Sometimes, training more can actually make you weaker. It sounds counterintuitive, but overtraining can set you back and increases the risk of injuries. Sometimes, it’s better to take a break and allow your body to recover. Sometimes, less really is more.

Take Your Training to the Next Level With These Tools

It's time to dig into the best tools for improving your training. Let's look behind the science of two well-established markers of training readiness and recovery: HRV and cortisol.

Cortisol and Weight Loss

It’s like that Greek myth about the man cursed to roll a boulder up a steep hill for eternity. Every time he neared the top, the boulder would roll back down. And he’d have to start all over again.

Cortisol and Burnout

We all know how it feels to be stressed. Stress, after all, is part of our everyday lives. It’s that feeling we get whenever we face a new demand and our body goes into high alert. It’s why we often think of stressed people as tense or on edge.

What Is Cortisol

When you think about stress, what comes to mind? Looming work deadlines, financial worries, feeling overwhelmed? In today’s world, stress can take on countless forms. Sometimes, it’s even a force of good. But a key reason behind it all is often overlooked. In this article we’ll explain everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, and why controlling your stress can be a matter of life or death.

Join the waitlist

Pardigm.com has developed a rapid test to measure cortisol at home, without the need for a lab. Be the first to know!

Jessica Cohn-Kleinberg

Written by

Jessica Cohn-Kleinberg

Written on:

November 18, 2021, 10:05:22 AM

Updated:

February 1, 2022, 10:15:59 AM