The Correlation Between Cortisol and Blood Sugar – What You Need to Know

Posted October 12, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

Cortisol is an essential hormone that the body relies on. It is considered the body’s primary stress hormone and helps control one’s mood, behavior, and fear responses. But stress hormones, such as cortisol, can significantly impact one’s blood sugar control, especially in those that have diabetes. So, what is the correlation between cortisol and blood sugar?

Here is a quick answer to get you started, then we will cover this topic in detail.

What is the Correlation Between Cortisol and Blood Sugar? Cortisol is the hormone that helps get us up in the morning and helps us get motivated and respond to different life circumstances. But since it is a stress hormone, it can trigger the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. It does this to give us the energy needed to face the situation at hand. However, in those that have diabetes, this can just lead to elevated blood sugar levels that are difficult to get down.

With this brief explanation of how cortisol and blood sugar are related, let’s get into the specifics.

What is Cortisol and Its Role?

The Correlation Between Cortisol and Blood Sugar

As mentioned above, cortisol is the main stress hormone that our bodies rely on. It is responsible for helping fuel us for a task that needs to be achieved or to alert us of a situation that may be harmful. Therefore, this hormone is known for triggering our fight-or-flight response.

There are parts of the brain that can tell if the right amount of cortisol is in the bloodstream or not. If cortisol levels are low, the brain will send signals to the adrenal glands to produce more. Cells throughout the body contain cortisol receptors, which will then respond in various ways to the hormone.

For example, in an emergency, the cortisol may trigger a portion of your body to shut down, such as the reproductive system. It does this because, in high alert situations, the reproductive system is not needed. All energy and focus must be redirected to the system that is necessary for the problem at hand.

How Cortisol Fluctuates Throughout the Day

Though the body produces cortisol consistently throughout the day, one’s cortisol levels will fluctuate throughout the day. Typically, cortisol levels are highest in the morning when the individual is waking up. The levels will often peak around 9:00 a.m. and then start to decline in the afternoon close to 4 or 5 p.m. Cortisol will reach its lowest level while a person is sleeping during the night.

A person may experience greater fluctuations in their cortisol levels if they have sporadic schedules. For example, someone that works nightshift a few days a week will have more inconsistent hormone levels.

Understanding cortisol fluctuations will help us better understand the correlation between cortisol and blood sugar. 

How Cortisol and Blood Sugar are Correlated

Cortisol and blood sugar are linked because the fluctuations in the levels of cortisol often coincide with blood sugar levels. For example, when many diabetes patients struggle with the dawn phenomenon because of high cortisol levels in the morning. The dawn phenomenon is when a patient wakes up with high blood sugar when their glucose levels were normal the night before.

Similarly, some diabetes patients suffer from low blood glucose levels during the night, when cortisol levels are the lowest.

Since cortisol is a stress hormone and is responsible for our fight-or-flight response, it triggers a process known as glycogenesis. This is a process in which the liver starts breaking down stored glycogen into glucose that is released into the bloodstream.

When a person is in a state of fight-or-flight, the body needs glucose that it can use for energy. However, when a person has diabetes, the process of moving the glucose into cells is inhibited. Either there is a lack of production of insulin, or the body’s cells are resistant to insulin. Therefore, glucose is unable to be used for energy and remains in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels.

So, cortisol and blood sugar are correlated through the process of glycogenesis. Now that you have a better understanding of all this let’s discuss a few ways to prevent blood sugar spikes potentially caused by cortisol levels.

How to Prevent Blood Sugar Spikes From Cortisol

For those with diabetes, preventing blood sugar spikes caused by hormonal changes is crucial. It will help them have a greater time in range percentage, decreasing their risk of complications caused by diabetes.

In some cases, individuals should strive to keep their cortisol levels lower to prevent spikes in blood sugar. Here are some ways to prevent uncontrolled blood glucose levels caused by cortisol.

Adjust Basal Rate

The Correlation Between Cortisol and Blood Sugar

Diabetes patients that use an insulin pump can adjust their basal rate to prevent spikes in blood sugar when their cortisol levels are highest. For example, since cortisol levels begin to spike in the early morning, you can set the basal rate on your insulin pump to increase around 4 a.m. so that the rate of insulin can keep up with the natural increase of cortisol. Patients must consult their doctor before making adjustments to their insulin dosages.

Eat Healthy

Eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water is essential for keeping your body healthy and preventing unhealthy fluctuations in cortisol levels. Some foods that can help keep your cortisol levels stable include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Avocados
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli and green leafy vegetables
  • Salmon
  • Almonds
  • Whole-grain foods
  • Black or green tea
  • Foods that have probiotics, such as yogurt
  • High fiber foods

Many of the foods that help keep your cortisol levels stable can also limit one’s risk of having large fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Manage Stress

When you are under a great deal of stress, cortisol levels can begin to rise out of control. This makes it very difficult to also manage your blood sugar levels well too. Individuals can often decrease the stress in their lives by finding hobbies or creative outlets that the person enjoys. Working out is also a way many people relieve stress.

Get Better Sleep

Sleep deprivation or having irregular sleep patterns can lead to increased cortisol levels. Developing a bedtime schedule and routine can help you get enough sleep as well as better quality sleep. This will help you have more stabilized cortisol and blood sugar levels.

Avoid Late Night Drinks and Snacks

Late-night snacking and caffeinated drinks in the evening can disrupt your sleep cycles. This, in turn, leads to increased cortisol levels during the day.


Controlling your cortisol and blood sugar levels can be difficult, but we hope this has given you a greater understanding of the correlation between the two. If you believe you are struggling to keep your blood glucose levels under control due to your hormones being out of whack, then consult your doctor.

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