by Internet Medical Society

Myths and Facts about Cortisol and Its Role in the Body

Anyone who reads or watches television has heard about cortisol and what it does in the body, particularly in regard to weight loss and stress. There have been a ridiculous amount of supplements on the market that have the word—or part of the word—cortisol conveniently tucked into its name, all claiming to help you lose weight or lower your stress levels with this magic ingredient or reasonable facsimile of. Before spending your money or telling an overweight or stressed out friend about the wonders of cortisol, let’s dispel some of the myths and instead look at the facts about cortisol.

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that’s produced by the adrenal gland. Even though our levels of cortisol can fluctuate throughout the day, having too much or too little of it can indicate a problem. Physical and emotional stress and trauma and illness can increase our levels of cortisol. When your levels are high, it can be because of an issue with the pituitary gland, like an enlargement or tumor, or Cushing’s disease, or because of a tumor somewhere else in the body. Lower levels can come from Addison’s disease which causes the adrenal glands to produce too little cortisol, or from Hypopituitarism which is a disruption of signals between the pituitary gland and adrenal gland.

Cortisol plays several roles in the body, such as:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Helping your body to better manage stress and trauma
  • Converting protein to glucose to keep blood sugar levels in check
  • Maintaining your blood pressure
  • Helping your immune function

The Cortisol Blocking and Weight Loss Myth

Those weight loss supplements that claim to block cortisol so you lose weight are based on myth. Even though there have been studies that have linked high levels of cortisol-producing stress to weight gain and overeating, the misconception that blocking cortisol is beneficial is a dangerous myth. Fortunately, these same products that claim to block cortisol don’t really do what they promise anyway and makers of one of the most popular of those products, CortiSlim, were charged with fraud by the Federal Trade Commission for making false claims.

Cortisol, as you saw above, plays some very important roles in our health so trying to block the hormone means increasing your risk of inflammation, high or low blood pressure, and a lot more. The hormone is in us for a reason and even though stress and trauma aren’t necessarily good things, what cortisol does to manage them is a good thing, not to mention a necessary thing!

The Truth about Cortisol and Weight Loss

We’ve known for well over a decade now that there is a link between stress and cortisol production and obesity. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000 found that stress-induced cortisol secretion was higher in women with excess central weight while a study in 2003 published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that chronic stress leads to overeating and turning to common comfort foods which has a lot to do with why so many people are overweight. So what does this tell us? It tells us that we need to reduce our stress levels in order to be healthier rather than try to block or supress cortisol production through bogus supplements.

It’s common sense once you understand what cortisol does and why. For those who suffer from some of the conditions that we talked about that causes high levels of cortisol, then treatments and pills make sense. If you’re worried about the amount of stress you’re under and what that’s doing to your waistline, then it’s time to speak to someone about proven ways to reduce your stress levels, like through exercise and meditation and find coping skills that don’t have you turning to food for comfort.

You can learn more about stress, weight, and other related health issues here.


Adrienne is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and fitness for more than a decade. When she's not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board. You can connect with her on Facebook at:


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