Stress can be defined as a state of mental, physical or emotional tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. High levels of stress are related to excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol, which can induce negative physical and mental effects. In “The Cortisol Connection,” Shawn Talbot describes how stress (“how you feel when the demands of life exceed your ability to meet those demands”) can cause blood levels of cortisol to skyrocket. Unless the amounts of this hormone are controlled, there is little point in dieting or exercising to prevent weight gain and disease. The book describes ways to lower cortisol to levels compatible with excellent health.

The physiology of stress

Stress is the body’s way of responding to threats. The experience of fear or a perceived threat to safety, state, or well-being triggers the release of a complex hormonal mix into the bloodstream, which switches the body into “fight or flight” mode. Symptoms of stress include anxiety, irritability, insomnia, digestive problems, and depression. In addition, excessive stress turns off the immune system, increasing vulnerability to disease; and turns off the brain, causing difficulty concentrating and poor decision making. Cortisol is one of the most important stress-related hormones, acting on the brain to control mood, motivation, and fear. At normal levels, it exerts beneficial effects, but when the levels become too high, it can cause unhealthy weight gain, high blood pressure, and immune system deficiencies.

Benefits of stress

Cortisol can and does play a positive role in daily life. In moderate amounts, it regulates alertness, relaxation, and activity levels.The daily act of waking up from sleep is closely followed by an increase in cortisol levels to provide energy for the demands of the day, while another boost in the late afternoon it provides a second wind. . Sudden increases in cortisol levels also occur in response to experiences that are perceived as exciting and fun, such as rock climbing in adults or the anticipation of birthday gifts in children. An increase in brainpower is the reason many people work better under stress, which also promotes resilience and, at least temporarily, increases immunity to pathogens.

Chronic stress: causes and consequences

The causes of chronic (ongoing) stress are varied and highly individual: one person’s stressor could be another’s relaxant. However, some fairly universal triggers for negative stress are grief, unemployment, and lack of sleep. A chronically stressed body produces higher than normal cortisol levels, adding the problem of being overweight to other burdens in life. Additionally, the fat gained from cortisol-induced stress tends to accumulate around the abdomen and is linked to the development of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But it doesn’t end there: cortisol secretion increases with age, which explains why most people gain more weight with age and why people with high levels of stress are less able to lose weight than people relatively without. stress, even when exercising. To top it all, excessive levels of cortisol can not only cause disease and accelerate aging, but can also act directly on the brain, increasing forgetfulness and accelerating the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Therefore, the best chance to combat weight gain and health problems appears to lie in minimizing or, better yet, eliminating the stress triggers that cause the immoderate increases in cortisol in the first place. It turns out that the negative effects of chronic stress can be reversed (even in people in their early 100s) through stress-reducing practices, regular exercise, and optimal nutrition. In an ideal world, everyone would sleep at least eight hours a night, have only a short commute each day, spend a maximum of seven hours a day working, and have plenty of free time. However, for those who live in the real world, the author offers this book as a manual for successfully navigating through stressful situations toward an ongoing state of good health.

Remedies for chronic stress

The vast amount of research that went into the production of this book is evidenced by the length and variety of its references, which include 15 books and nearly 300 citations from current journal articles at the time of publication, a useful compendium. own right. There are chapters devoted to supplements that produce a variety of effects: stress adaptation, cortisol control, metabolism, and relaxation. Common dietary supplements to avoid are also listed, with clear explanations of their long-term negative effects. The appendix contains daily meal plans and an extensive bibliography. However, it is unfortunate that the author places more emphasis on the role of supplements than nutrition and exercise.

The role of food

One problem with food supplements is their deviation from nature: food must be consumed in its natural environment, where the various nutrients can interact in the best possible way for good health. An orange, for example, provides around 70 milligrams of vitamin C, but this vitamin is embedded in a fiber matrix that helps maintain intestinal health and also contains vitamin A, some B vitamins, and the minerals calcium and magnesium, with a small dose of energy (about 50 calories) to boot. The standard vitamin C supplement provides an overwhelming excess (usually 1000 mg) of that vitamin alone; Fiber-free and a variety of potentially harmful fillers, sweeteners, binders, and other additives. Many studies, including a recent randomized controlled trial, have shown that positive dietary changes alone can effectively improve mental health even in clinically diagnosed depression. When regular exercise is added to dietary changes, the results are even more dramatic.


It is well known that good health can be achieved by eating right, exercising more, and stressing less. The Cortisol Connection describes ways to fine-tune mental and physical health by lowering cortisol levels. Written in layman-friendly language, it documents numerous cases of positive results from cortisol-lowering supplements. Studies continue to show that most people can reduce cortisol and stress levels effectively by consuming foods of the right kind and in the right amounts, without breaking the bank. Still, in these days of increased uncertainty and vulnerability about work, family, and social interactions, this book can offer a useful guide to managing any associated stresses.