Understanding Cortisol: The Essential Stress Hormone

3 min readFeb 23, 2024

Apparently, “Stress and Cortisol” are trending on Google, so we wanted to show you how you can leverage the Andrew Huberman chat bundle to help with mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Stress has become a familiar adversary. Amid wellness and health management discussions, cortisol often emerges as a pivotal character. Derived from conversations with the Ask Alani Huberman Lab bundle, where users can chat with the Huberman Lab podcast, this post dives into the multifaceted world of cortisol, exploring its functions, how to manage its levels, and why it’s essential for our survival.

Note: This information is not medical advice, but rather provided through the Huberman Lab podcast.


What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is more than just a stress hormone; it is a vital component of our body’s toolkit for managing stress and maintaining physiological balance. Produced by the adrenal glands situated above our kidneys, cortisol plays a crucial role in the body’s response to stress. It is a part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which orchestrates the body’s effort to maintain homeostasis in the face of stress.

A hallmark of a healthy cortisol rhythm is its peak in the morning, aiding our wake-up process and ensuring we start the day with vigor, mood enhancement, and immune system support. Interestingly, exposure to bright light early in the day can amplify this morning cortisol spike, further benefiting our overall well-being. However, while acute releases of cortisol can be beneficial in stressful situations — like navigating an English test or surviving a car accident — chronically elevated levels are linked to adverse health outcomes.

Why is Cortisol Released?

Cortisol’s release is triggered by a variety of factors, reflecting its role in helping the body adapt to different demands:

  • Acute Stress: Immediate, short-term stressors prompt cortisol release, enabling the body to react swiftly and effectively.
  • Sympathetic Nervous System Activation: This system’s activation, whether by prolonged stress or specific drugs, can increase cortisol.
  • Circadian Rhythms: Cortisol follows a daily cycle, peaking in the morning to help us awaken and remain alert.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Even moderate drinking can elevate cortisol levels, contributing to the anxiety and unease often felt after alcohol intake.
  • Adrenaline Release: Cortisol and adrenaline are released together in response to emotionally charged events, preparing the body and mind for immediate action.

Lowering Cortisol: Strategies and Supplements

Given cortisol’s significant impact on our health, managing its levels is crucial, especially for those experiencing chronic stress. Here are some evidence-based strategies:

  • Supplements: Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, and Phosphatidylserine (PS) are among the supplements documented to help lower cortisol. Their effectiveness varies based on the time of day they’re taken, considering cortisol’s natural rhythms.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in stress-reducing activities, optimizing sleep quality, and making dietary adjustments to avoid inflammation-triggering substances like fructose can regulate cortisol levels.
  • Understanding Cortisol’s Role: It’s essential to remember that cortisol is not inherently negative. Its management is about balance, ensuring that its peaks and valleys occur at the right times for optimal health.

Cortisol, in essence, is a double-edged sword. It’s indispensable for survival, playing a critical role in our ability to respond to stress and maintain immune function. However, its management is key to preventing the negative health outcomes associated with chronic stress. Understanding cortisol’s mechanisms and how to modulate its levels can empower us to lead healthier, more balanced lives.

To learn more, visit the Andrew Huberman Lab Podcast chat bundle and ask Alani any questions.

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