Cortisol blockers help decrease your cortisol level. Cortisol is a hormone, sometimes called the stress hormone. Its main job is to help your body function well in times of stress.
Cortisol blockers can be effective in treating high cortisol level disorders, such as Cushing’s syndrome. However, they’re also marketed as a dietary supplement that can help you curb your appetite, lose weight, and build muscle.
To examine whether or not there’s any truth to those claims, it helps to know what cortisol is and what role it plays in your health.
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a naturally produced stress hormone. When you feel fear or danger, a section of your brain called the hypothalamus activates your “fight or flight” response. It calls the adrenal glands into action. The adrenal glands respond by releasing a wave of stress hormones.
The main stress hormone is cortisol. Its job is to streamline your body’s workload so you can concentrate on the immediate threat. Another of the hormones is adrenaline, which tells your heart to beat faster. It also boosts your blood pressure and gives you increased energy.
Cortisol inhibits insulin effectiveness which makes your blood sugar (glucose) levels rise. It raises circulating glucose to the brain providing improved alertness. It also enhances your body’s ability to repair tissues. Nonessential functions like growth and development are slowed down. Your reproductive system, digestive system, and immune system responses are also suppressed.
Cortisol levels rise and fall naturally throughout the day. Absent a threat, your cortisol level is highest when you wake up in the morning and lowest when you’re ready for sleep. Children tend to have less cortisol than adults do. Aside from stress, quite a few things can affect your cortisol levels, including:
- lack of sleep
- shift work
- alcohol and caffeine
- infection and trauma
- oral contraceptives and pregnancy
- certain medications, including steroids
If your cortisol levels are abnormally high for a long time, it can cause a rare disorder called Cushing’s syndrome. Treatment for Cushing’s syndrome may include a cortisol blocker. A rare cause of high cortisol is an ACTH-producing tumor outside the pituitary gland. Adrenal gland problems can also cause high cortisol levels.
According to the Mayo Clinic, overexposure to stress hormones, including cortisol, can cause trouble within almost all your body’s processes, increasing your risk of weight gain, sleep problems, and anxiety.
Truth to Claims?
Prolonged stress may keep your cortisol level elevated. However, there’s no evidence to support the claim that cortisol blockers help you lose weight, according to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic.
Despite that, many companies make grand claims about the power of cortisol blockers on weight loss. In some cases, the government has stepped in to put an end to the claims. For example, in 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to bodybuilding.com regarding unsubstantiated claims made about many of their products, including cortisol blockers.
You can still buy these and other cortisol blockers, but do your research before using them. Talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplements that make weight loss claims.
Diet pills and fads are generally not a good idea. Neither is quick weight loss. For healthy weight management, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend a balanced diet combined with regular exercise. If you need to lose weight, think in terms of lifestyle rather than “a diet.” It’s the long game that matters.
Cortisol levels can be determined with blood or saliva tests. It usually requires multiple tests during different times of the day. A 24-hour urine sample can tell you the total amount of cortisol in your urine in that day, but it won’t show how it varies throughout the day.
To take the best steps towards good health, don’t make assumptions about your hormone levels. Talk to your doctor about having a test done. From there, they can help you take healthy and effective measures towards balancing your hormones and losing weight.