Understanding Glands and Hormones

Managing your Stress by
Managing your Cortisol Hormone

Elevated Cortisol = Elevated Stress

Studies have shown that there are several key points located on your big toe that, when stimulated using Reflexology techniques, can impact your mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and many other physiological responses, such as weight management, hunger, thirst and balance. 

Which Glands are Found in the Large Toe (Points in Reflexology)?

  • Hypothalmus - Controls appetite and controlled by the pituitary gland that controls body functions; monitors and controls circadian rhythms (daily sleep/wake cycle), homeostasis (inner balance, including temperature), appetite, thirst, other bodily urges, plays a role in emotions, autonomic functions and motor functions.

  • Pituitary Gland - our Master Gland - Controls secretion of almost every hormone. Affects growth during early days of birth, urine production, testosterone production in males and ovulation and estrogen production in females. 

  • Thyroid and Parathryroid Glands - The thyroid gland, or simply the thyroid, is an endocrine gland in the neck, consisting of two lobes connected by an isthmus. It is found at the front of the neck, below the Adam's apple. The thyroid gland secretes thyroid hormones, which primarily influence the metabolic rate and protein synthesis. The parathyroid glands are four small glands that have the sole purpose of secreting parathyroid hormone to regulate the calcium level in our bodies. The parathyroid essentially helps the nervous and muscular systems function properly.
















Which Glands are Found Above the Reflects points for Kidneys?

Adrenal Glands - found sitting atop each kidney, the adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands) are endocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones including adrenaline and the steroids aldosterone and cortisol. Each gland has an outer cortex which produces steroid hormones and an inner medulla. 


What's all the fuss about Cortisol? Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. (1)

It's important for helping your body deal with stressful situations, as your brain triggers its release in response to many different kinds of stress. However, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps. Over time, high levels may cause weight gain and high blood pressure, disrupt sleep, negatively impact mood, reduce your energy levels and contribute to diabetes.

If there is a fuss, it's warranted!

According to the Clinical Definition, Cortisol is a steroid hormone, in the glucocorticoid class of hormones. When used as a medication, it is known as hydrocortisone. It is produced in humans by the zona fasciculata of the adrenal cortex within the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. It also decreases bone formation.

Research has shown over the past 15 years that moderately high cortisol levels may cause the following problems:

  • Chronic Complications - high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis may be exacerbated or caused by high cortisol levels.

  • Weight Gain - high cortisol is known to increase appetite and signals the body to shift metabolism to store fat (2)

  • Tiredness - Moderately high Cortisol interferes with daily cycles of other hormones, disrupting sleep patterns and causing fatigue.

  • Impaired Brain Function - Cortisol interferes with memory, contributing to mental cloudiness or "Brain Fog". (3)

  • Infections - Cortisol hampers the immune system, making you more prone to infections. 

Eleven Cortisol Management Strategies

1. Get the Right Amount of Sleep (especially if you are a shift-worker)

  • Insomnia causes high cortisol for up to 24 hours. Interruptions to sleep, even if brief, can also increase levels of Cortisol and disrupt daily hormone patterns. (4)

  • Daily Exercise and a Regular Bedtime Routine

  • No Caffeine at night

  • Limit exposure to bright light at night

  • Limit distractions before bed

  • Take naps, if you work different shifts.


2. Exercise, but not too much!

  • Cortisol will increase shortly after intense exercise. Although it increased in the short term, due to the acute stress put on the body, it will drop in levels during the night.

  • Cortisol levels increase even with moderate exercise in people that are unfit. In contrast to "maximum effort" exercise, mild or moderate exercise at 40-60% of maximum effort does not increase cortisol in the short term, and still leads to lover levels at night. (5)

3. Recognizing Stressful Thinking

  • "Stress mindfulness" emphasizes self-awareness of stressful thoughts and signs of body tension. Becoming more aware of stress and its triggers is the first step to successfully coping with stress.

4. Relaxation Strategies

  • Deep breathing is a simple technique for stress reduction that can be used anywhere. 

  • Massage Therapy can reduce cortisol levels by 30%.

  • Reflexology Therapy will remove stress from your body by reducing cortisol levels.

  • Yoga can reduce cortisol and manage stress.

  • Tai Chi can also reduce cortisol levels.

  • Listening to music for 30 minutes has been shown in recent studies to be more affective for reducing stress, cortisol levels that sitting in silence or viewing a documentary. (6)

5. Have Fun!

  • It has been shown that a positive disposition is associated with lower cortisol, as well as lower blood pressure, a healthy heart rate and a strong immune system. 

  • By focusing on awareness of your mental and physical state, you can become an objective observer of your stressful thoughts, instead of a victim of them. (7)

  • A study of 18 healthy adults showed cortisol decreased in response to laughter. (8)

6. Maintain Healthy Relationships

  • Relationships with friends and family can lead to happiness and to stress. Spend time with those you love and learn to forgive and manage conflict for better emotional and physical health.

7) Take Care of A Pet

  • Several studies show that interacting with an animal companion reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels. Pets also benefit from positive relationships with their humans.

8) Be Your Best Self!

  • Feelings of shame, guilt or inadequacy can lead to negative thinking and elevated cortisol. (9) For some causes of guilt, fixing the source will mean making a change in your life. For other causes, learning to forgive yourself and move on can improve your sense of well-being.

  • In summary, resolving guilt improves life satisfaction and in turn, cortisol levels. This may involve changing habits, forgiving others or learning to forgive yourself. 

9) Tend to your Spiritual Needs

  • For those with spiritual inclinations, developing faith and participating in prayer can help control cortisol. Whether you're spiritual or not, performing acts of kindness can also improve your cortisol levels. 

  • Prayer is associated with reduced anxiety and depression. (10)

10) Eat Healthy Foods


  • Cortisol-reducing foods include dark chocolate, tea and soluble fiber (fruits).

    • Avoiding excess sugar consumption may also help keep your levels down.

    • Note: Dehydration increased cortisol. (11). 

    • Probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics are friendly, symbiotic bacteria in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi. Prebiotics, such as soluble fiber, provide food for these bacteria. Both probiotics and prebiotics help reduce cortisol (12)

(11) Supplements to Assist with Lowering Cortisol

  • Fish oil supplements and an Asian herbal medicine called Ashwagadha have both been shown to help reduce cortisol levels. 









Bibliography of Medical Research Information

(1) Medical Department, University of Freilburg, Germany


(2) Division of Endocrinology, Department of Internal Medicine, S. Orsola-Malpighi Hospital,   University Alma Mater Studiorum of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

(3) Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Duesseldorf, Germany

(4) Department of Physiology/Biocybermetrics, University of Erlangen, Germany

(5) Graduate School of Medicine, Department of Statistics, and College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tenessee, Knoxville, US

Peripheral Vessels Unit, 1st. Cardiology Department, Athens Medical School, Hippokration Hospital, Athens, Greece

(6) Nara University of Education, Department of Education, Takabatake, Nara City, Nara, Japan.

(7) Department of Psychiatry, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, US

(8) Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, US

(9) Institute of Neuroscience, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

(10) University of Mississippi, Jackson, USA.

(11) Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, US

(12) Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Oxford, OX3 7JX, UK

 Young Woman Contemplating
How are you managing stress?