I had a consultation recently with a 40-ish young woman who was dissatisfied with her workout routine-both in terms of strength and weight loss. I had her keep a dietary log for a week, and we also went over her workout routine. Her diet was actually very good, Her workout routine needed some tweaking. She was doing cross-training in a class setting, with the classes lasting about 30 minutes- she could attend up to five days/week. She began getting some nagging little injuries. No real forest fires, but enough smoke to warn her that some of the exercises weren’t quite right to deal with any imbalances or asymmetry in the muscles and joint function in her body. I thought that with her diet and activity, she should be losing at least some weight, so I asked any recent blood work, looking at glucose levels and hormones. She mentioned that all blood work appeared normal, and listed any medications she was taking, to see if that would contribute to any metabolic issues. Nothing yet.

Then I asked her about her stress level, and found that at work, it was off the chart. Bingo. I told her: “Lets talk cortisol.”

Cortisol is a stress hormone, produced in the adrenal gland. It’s release is controlled by the hypothalamus, and is influenced by clinical depression, psychological and physiological stressors, including fear, pain, hypothermia, physical exertion, and surgery. Cortisol is released in response to stress, to restore homeostasis. However, prolonged cortisol secretion (which can be due to chronic stress or Cushing’s syndrome) results in significant physiological changes. In other words, when we are under stress or have an infection, cortisol raises our blood pressure and blood sugar. These changes help us survive short periods of stress, but they work against us when cortisol remains elevated. Problems with chronically elevated cortisol include:

suppressed immunity



insulin resistance

carbohydrate cravings

weight gain

bone loss

fat deposits on the face, neck, and belly

reduced libido

type 2 diabetes


Cortisol levels are often overlooked, and people seemed to be as stressed as ever. There are plant-based compounds called adaptogens, that improve resistance to stress. One of the most studied and recommended is Rhodiola. Scarcely heard of in this country rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that first gained prominence when used by Russian cosmonauts to improve their endurance, concentration, and strength during space missions. During the Cold War, the Russians began to scientifically study the use of adaptogenic herbs for their elite athletes and the military. Rhodiola, which grows wild in Siberia, is one of only 16 scientifically established adaptogens with the power to enhance system-wide function in the aging human.

She agreed to start taking it a week ago and reports feeling better. After two weeks we will monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and weight. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, if you are having trouble losing weight or dealing with stress, pick up a bottle for yourself. I’m not familiar with all brands, but I do know that Life Extension carries a good product.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.