The Truth About Cortisol

The importance of your hormones for weight loss is becoming a more and more popular subject. This is for a good reason; your hormones are very important when it comes to losing weight and maintaining your health.

Probably the most talked about hormone when it comes to weight loss is your hormone cortisol. Since it is the most popular hormone to talk about, but also one of the most misunderstood I am going to tell you the truth about cortisol.

A lot of people think cortisol is really bad and say that you should do everything possible to lower cortisol.

Yes chronic high levels of cortisol is bad for you, however, cortisol has some important uses as well.

When it comes to hormones there is no good or bad hormone. There may be bad levels of hormones or bad combinations of hormones which have negative effects when it comes to weight loss and your health, however, hormones are not good or bad.

Hormones are basically chemical messengers which tell your body how to behave to outside influences such as food, exercise and stress amongst other things.

As hormones are chemical messengers to outside influences then all hormones including cortisol have their purpose, it’s when the balance of hormones becomes unbalanced when problems start to occur.

Cortisol is a stress hormone. It is released anytime your body is under stress. Its primary functions are to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis; suppress the immune system; and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism.

Without cortisol being released your body wouldn’t be able to fight or flight when stressful situations occur. It is an essential hormone for survival as without it your body wouldn’t be able to break down sugar to be used for energy to fight or flight.

Unfortunately nowadays we have stresses that our ancestors didn’t have such as financial stresses, work stresses and electromagnetic stresses from mobile phones and lap tops. Even though they are different stresses to our ancestors they still stimulate the same fight or flight response and release cortisol.

When cortisol is released and the fight or flight response has been stimulated your body is designed to exercise intensely i.e. that’s why it is called the fight or flight response as in the past this response occurred to allow you to fight or flight. Nowadays the same response occurs without us doing any intense exercise after. Our boss annoys us at work but we don’t go and punch him or turn and sprint away from him, we get stressed when stuck in traffic jams but we don’t get out of the car and fight the people in cars next to us or start sprinting away, and when we look at our bank statements and get stressed because of all the bills we don’t start smashing up the house or start running away from the bank statement. Because we don’t do any intense exercise when the fight or flight response occurs it leads to our hormones becoming unbalanced, in particular cortisol is elevated.

When you do intense exercise after the fight or flight response has been stimulated then your body releases the opposing hormones to lower cortisol and rebalance your hormones. But because we do very little intense exercise if any at all then cortisol remains elevated which wreaks havoc to the body.

Chronic high levels of cortisol can lead to weight gain and in particular fat storage around the stomach, muscle loss, decreased bone density, immune suppression and blood sugar imbalances.

Because chronic high levels of cortisol is dangerous for the body then this is why a lot of people will tell you to do everything possible to lower it and to keep cortisol levels as low as possible.

Yes they are right in that you don’t want cortisol to be too high, but you also don’t want it to be too low either.

If your cortisol is too low it will also have negative effects on your body.

Cortisol actually follows a natural rhythm. It is high in the morning to wake you up and then it gradually lowers throughout the day. If you use methods to lower your cortisol in the morning and don’t allow it to go through its natural rise and fall in levels then it will unbalance your other hormones and it will lead to fatigue throughout the day.

People with low cortisol often also have low blood pressure just like people with high cortisol often have high blood pressure. Low blood pressure can be a dangerous medical condition just like high blood pressure and people who have low blood pressure often feel lightheaded and dizzy. Blood pressure levels more often than not revert to normal readings once cortisol is restored to the body which shows that cortisol isn’t all bad like people often make out and that it is needed by the body.

Cortisol is also needed for fat loss as well as for good health.

Cortisol is needed for fat burning because it increases the activity of the major fat burning enzyme hormone sensitive lipase (HSL). Cortisol is also a catabolic hormone which means it breaks things down. Earlier in the post I mentioned hormones can be good or bad depending on what other hormones are released alongside it. When it comes to fat loss the hormones released alongside cortisol are essential in whether it is good or bad. If cortisol is released on its own it often leads to muscle being broken down, however, if it is released alongside human growth hormone and adrenaline then fat is the main tissue broke down. This is one of the reasons why HIIT is recommended over steady state cardio for weight loss as HIIT releases adrenaline and human growth hormone whereas steady state cardio only releases cortisol.

As you can see cortisol is neither good nor bad. The level of cortisol and the hormones released alongside it determines the effect on the body not cortisol itself.

Rather than following the advice of keeping cortisol as low as possible you should be trying to balance your cortisol level, in fact you should be aiming to keep all of your hormones in balance.

Yes most people do have cortisol levels which are way too high and need to lower cortisol but at the same time you must be careful that you don’t lower it too much and cause problems through having too little cortisol.

Cortisol is needed for good health and for weight loss but too high levels is definitely dangerous for your health and leads to weight gain.

Make sure you check out my next blog post which tells you 7 signs to look out for that indicate your cortisol is too high.

Morale of this blog post is that there are two sides to every story. Make sure you find out both sides of the argument before making your own judgement.


Get fit, get healthy, get happy

Your Coach For Life

Shaun McGill

Shaun McGill

Name: Email:  

1 Comment


    Reply Reply 31/07/2014

    I have to say that this is by far the best article i have checked out on this subject. For sure, you know exactly how to write impressive content.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field