Cortisol is one of those terms you might have heard from your GP or you might even know that it has something to do with stress but what exactly is it?

In short, it's a steroid hormone that helps our body respond to stressful situations. 

Cortisol regulates a variety of our body's vital processes including our immune system and metabolism. 

Holland and Barrett have previously broken down what the hormone is and how it affects our bodies. 

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For instance, the health experts ask you to imagine cortisol as your own in-built alarm system that works with specific parts of your brain to control your fear, mood and motivation. 

What does cortisol do to your body?

Our bodies produce cortisol in the adrenal glands ( as managed by the pituitary gland).

Holland Barrett explains that this is a pea-sized gland which sits at the base of your brain.

Sometimes it is known as the “master gland” since it can have a considerable impact on the whole body.

The health experts add on their website: "It’s very clever because when you wake, exercise or go through a stressful experience, your pituitary gland reacts by sending a signal to your adrenal glands so they know what quantity of cortisol to produce.

"If your level is too low, your brain regulates the volume of hormones it creates.

"These signals are then received by your adrenal glands and the amount of cortisol they release is fine-tuned to ensure you are creating the correct amount".

Is cortisol good or bad for the body?

As mentioned, cortisol is associated with stress which means that it often gets a bad reputation.

But we do need it for our bodies to function for example our reactions to stress-filled or dangerous situations would be a lot slower.

That being said, if our cortisol levels are too high for too long, the hormone can be more damaging than helpful.

In fact, high cortisol levels can have an impact on the likes of our weight, sleep, blood pressure and energy levels.

What are the symptoms of high cortisol?

Holland and Barrett have outlined some of the most common symptoms of high cortisol levels. 

They range from everything from weight gain around the midsection and upper back to the rounding of the face.

Other symptoms include acne, thinning skin as well as bruising easily.

Additionally, the health experts urge people to watch out for:

  • Flushed face
  • Slower healing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Severe fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches


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How to reduce cortisol

Both high and low cortisol can be treated with medication but there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your levels.

For instance, Holland and Barrett have suggested making sure you're managing your stress and other emotions.

The experts also noted that our cortisol levels fluctuate due to the likes of our sleeping patterns, diet and exercise regimes. 

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Additionally, women may notice more cortisol level shifts as a result of hormone changes during their menstrual cycles, pregnancies or menopause.

To reduce and stay on top of your cortisol levels, the experts also recommend limiting your alcohol intake, trying meditation or even considering a massage or taking a supplement.

For instance, they recommend talking to a doctor or healthcare professional about taking dietary supplements like vitamin B complex, vitamin C and fish oil.