How a cortisol test can help you evaluate whether your stress levels are cause for concern.
Think stress might be undermining your health or your weight-loss efforts? There’s one easy way to find out: Get your stress hormones tested.
Direct-to-consumer cortisol “stress tests” are becoming more widely accessible and more popular. Available online and at better health clubs, the tests require no doctor’s office visit and are both easy and painless.
The Stress & Resilience test ($295) offered by Life Time Fitness is a good example. You place your order online and receive your test kit in the mail. Then you collect four saliva samples over the course of one day (morning, lunch, afternoon, evening) and submit them to the designated lab-testing center.
Within two weeks, you receive a detailed analysis of your cortisol levels and guidance on steps you can take to improve your resiliency and minimize stress-related damage. You also get a phone consultation and personalized interpretation of the results with a specially trained registered dietitian.
While anyone can benefit from this feedback, people who experience symptoms commonly associated with cortisol imbalance might have the most to gain, says Cindi Lockhart, Life Time’s senior program manager of health and nutrition coaching.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can interfere with sleep, mood, eating habits, mental focus, and metabolism, says Lockhart. Too little cortisol, which can occur when stress becomes chronic and our bodies lose the ability to properly regulate it, can cause fatigue and inability to move beyond fitness plateaus.
Nutrition coach Anika Decoster, RD, agrees. She works with clients to interpret cortisol test results and help clients bring their hormone levels back into balance. She describes one common client experience: “They tell me they’re too tired to work out, or they’re still working out even though they don’t feel like it, but not making any fitness gains.” If the test reveals a cortisol imbalance, Decoster works with them to manage stress, fix their sleep environment, and modify their workouts. “I see people who commit to the strategies experience improvements within a month,” says Decoster.
Knowing what’s going on inside your body can also help psychologically. At first, many clients believe their symptoms are age-related or a character flaw. “People say, ‘Well, I’m just older’ or ‘I have no willpower,’” says Decoster. “When they get tested, they feel this amazing sense of relief.”