What is the relationship between cortisol and insulin?

Feb 19, 2024
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Maintaining optimal blood sugar levels is crucial for overall health, and the intricate relationship between cortisol and insulin plays a pivotal role in this delicate balance. In this blog post, we will dive into the relationship between cortisol and insulin, exploring the impact on blood sugar regulation and the development of insulin resistance - something that is impacting more of us every day! In fact, a recent analysis of NHANES data from 2021 found that 40% of US adults 18-44 are insulin resistant! 

I am a firm believer that knowledge is power, so let's get started ❤️

Understanding Insulin:

Insulin, often referred to as the "master regulator" of blood sugar, is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Its primary role is to facilitate the uptake of glucose into cells, allowing them to utilize this essential energy source. Think of it as the key to open the front door of your cells and deliver groceries.

Insulin is primarily secreted by the pancreas in response to glucose. Other nutrients, such as free fatty acids (fats) and amino acids (proteins), as well as hormones such as melatonin, estrogen, leptin, growth hormone and glucagon like peptide-1 also regulate insulin secretion.

When this process is disrupted, insulin resistance can develop, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.

Insulin Resistance:

Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. Remember the lock and key? Well, now the key no longer opens the front door as often. This impairment keeps glucose (sugar) in the blood rather than allowing it into the cells, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. In turn, these elevated blood sugar levels tell your body to produce more insulin in an attempt to get the sugar in the cells. As your cells get bombarded by insulin, they bolt the doors so the key wouldn't work even if you tried. Around and around the cycle goes until your blood sugars are so high that you are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Numerous studies, including research by Yki-Järvinen et al. (2018), have highlighted the link between insulin resistance and various health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases. What's crazy is that insulin resistance is thought to precede the development of type 2 diabetes by 10 to 15 years (Freeman, Acevedo & Pennings, 2023)! All the more reason you should address it now!!!

Cortisol's Role:

Cortisol, often known as the "stress hormone," is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. You can read a more in-depth post about cortisol HERE. While cortisol serves a vital function in the body's fight-or-flight response, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to an overproduction of cortisol. One of cortisol's primary roles is to tell the liver to produce glucose so that your cells have the energy to fight something or run away.

So, with chronic stress and higher than ideal levels or cortisol you end up with elevated blood sugar levels. As stated above, elevated blood sugar levels tell your body to release insulin - and round and round it goes again. Additionally, cortisol actually inhibits insulin release so blood sugars remain elevated. Cortisol also makes fat and muscle cells resistant to insulin - they don't even open the front door for grocery delivery! This excess cortisol can contribute to insulin resistance.


Strategies for Blood Sugar Balance:

  1. Stress Management: Incorporate stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises to mitigate cortisol levels.

  2. Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, as exercise not only helps regulate cortisol but also improves insulin sensitivity.

  3. Balanced Nutrition: Adopt a balanced diet rich in whole foods, emphasizing complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats to support stable blood sugar levels.

  4. Adequate Sleep: Prioritize quality sleep, as insufficient sleep can elevate cortisol levels and contribute to insulin resistance.


Achieving and maintaining blood sugar balance is a multifaceted endeavor that involves understanding the interconnected roles of cortisol and insulin. By implementing stress-management techniques, regular exercise, and a balanced diet, you can positively influence this delicate equilibrium and reduce the risk of insulin resistance. It's time to prioritize your overall well-being for a healthier, more balanced life; a life where your healthspan and lifespan match! 

Thanks for reading and talk soon! 




Freeman AM, Acevedo LA, Pennings N. Insulin Resistance. [Updated 2023 Aug 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507839/

Yki-Järvinen, H., Ryysy, L., Nikkilä, K., Tulokas, T., & Vanamo, R. (1999). Comparison of bedtime insulin regimens in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Annals of Internal Medicine, 130(5), 389-396.

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