You’ve likely heard about cortisol and cortisone from either your doctor or the media, but do you know what they are or how they relate to your health? These two compounds are similar in many ways, but they don’t serve the same purpose in regards to your well-being. In this article, we’ll break down the difference between cortisol and cortisone and describe how each impacts your daily life.


What is Cortisol?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that your body produces naturally. Cortisol often gets a bad rap, because of its connection to stress and inflammation, but it is a necessary compound that supports many protective and regulatory functions. There are cortisol receptors in almost all of your cells, making its impact throughout your body widespread.

Where Does Cortisol Come From?

Cortisol is produced in your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys and are a part of your endocrine system. Cortisol is a hormone regulated by the pituitary gland, and like estrogen or testosterone, it supports many processes in your body. Experiences of stress or danger activate this process, giving cortisol the popular name of “the stress hormone.” 

What Is Cortisol Used For?

Cortisol plays a particularly important role in stress and inflammation response, metabolism regulation and immune function. It also activates your internal “fight or flight” response, which helps your body protect itself. During a stressful or dangerous situation, cortisol helps with increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension, and turning off functions that aren’t deemed necessary in the moment—like digestion and reproduction. This process is helpful in short bursts, but prolonged cortisol release wreaks havoc on your body. 

What Happens if You Have Too Much Cortisol

Overactive cortisol production can lead to chronic inflammation, decreased cognitive performance, adrenal fatigue and in rare cases, Cushing’s Syndrome. Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome, a condition characterized by a cortisol overload, include weight gain, increased fat in the neck and between shoulders, purple stretch marks and weak muscles.

How to Manage Your Cortisol Production

Unless you have a diagnosed condition that requires medication, keeping your cortisol levels balanced can be as simple as reducing stress (as if reducing stress is that simple). A little bit of stress can be useful in terms of alertness, but when prolonged it’s almost always harmful for your body. Work to mitigate stressors through meditation, yoga, breathwork, and a variety of other self-care tools. You can also learn to master stress through the Health Coach Institute’s Stress Management Strategies Course.


What Is Cortisone?

Your body also produces cortisone, another steroid hormone. Natural cortisone is inactive in your body, and only turns into cortisol when activated by an enzyme called 11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (also known as cortisone reductase). Only when somebody has consumed or injected this enzyme can the activation take place, primarily in the liver. Once it’s processed in the liver, its function is mainly felt in the central nervous system and fat tissues. The more common version is what’s found at your local drugstore in topical creams, or injected by a doctor in the form of a shot. Cortisone shots are synthetic treatments that serve as a precursor to cortisol release, and are used to alleviate inflammation in a number of conditions. Topical cortisone creams, such as hydrocortisone, are used to relieve itchy or inflamed skin from rashes or insect bites. 

Can You Have Too Much Cortisone?

There can always be too much of a good thing. While cortisone injections are effective at managing painful inflammation and are widely provided by medical professionals, they also have a pretty serious downside if overused. Doctors can limit the amount of cortisone (or corticosteroid) shots they give a patient throughout the year. Repeated use may lead to osteoporosis, skin atrophy, diabetes, hypertension and even Cushing’s Syndrome. Extended use of topical hydrocortisone creams is also not advised (if you don’t know how to use cortisone cream effectively, check with your doctor!). 

How to Manage Cortisone Balance in Your Body

If you are using cortisone treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of a known condition, talk to your doctor to find the right balance for you. There are also many health and lifestyle choices that can help alleviate inflammation. By working alongside your practitioner, you can find a blend of treatments that helps you feel your best.

Cortisol vs Cortisone 

In the science world, cortisol and cortisone are both steroid hormones that have slightly different chemical structures. In your day-to-day life and as it relates to your personal well-being, you are going to experience these two compounds in a different way. Cortisol is a hormone produced in your adrenal glands that is important for regulating stress, inflammation and metabolism. An overload of cortisol can cause chronic inflammation and other health concerns. You can work to balance your cortisol levels with at-home stress relief practices. 

Cortisone is also a hormone, but is inactive when it occurs naturally in your body. It only becomes activated when somebody has consumed or injected an enzyme known as cortisone reductase. Cortisone shots are synthetic treatments that help reduce inflammation in inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as tendinitis and rheumatoid arthritis. Topical cortisone creams are used to relieve itchy or inflamed skin. If you believe that cortisone treatments could support your well-being, speak with your doctor.

Become a Health Coach

Want to learn more about how cortisol and cortisone affect the body? Join HCI’s Become a Health Coach program to learn about health, wellness, diet and nutrition. For those looking to make a career shift, you can begin coaching in as little as six months. If you’re already a coach and want to advance your skills, check out HCI’s Coach Mastery program. Feel free to get in touch with one of our clarity coaches directly by calling 1-800-303-2399.


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