Q: I know several people who take Cortitrol to elevate their mood and “feel better” overall. Should I try it too?
A: We don’t recommend it. The “Cortitrol Stress Control Formula” is touted to enhance feelings of well-being, boost vigor and performance, help with weight control and improve mental concentration—all by balancing levels of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. The supplement contains five plant-derived ingredients: epimedium (also known as horny goat weed), theanine (from green tea), phosphatidylserine (from soy), magnolia bark and beta sitosterol (more typically used to lower cholesterol).;
It’s true that cortisol, produced in the adrenal glands, rises in response to emotional and physical stress, and that chronic high blood levels are associated with obesity, high blood pressure and other health problems. But that doesn’t mean that lowering cortisol will improve mental and physical health. And that’s assuming the supplement even does this—a big if.
As “proof” of Cortitrol’s “cortisol balancing effects,” the company’s website lists numerous studies on the supplement’s individual ingredients. But nearly all the studies were done in test tubes or animals. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there is not enough evidence to rate the effectiveness of any of these ingredients for anxiety, fatigue, physical stress, depression or mental acuity.
Moreover, it’s not clear how the ingredients act together. We found only one small clinical trial of healthy young men who took Cortitrol for one week, published in Metabolism in 2005. Though it did find a cortisol-lowering effect after exercise, what impact this has on performance or health is unknown, the authors noted.
The long-term effects of Cortitrol are also unknown. Plus, there is the potential for interactions with medications—for example, magnolia bark may interact with anti-clotting drugs and sedatives, while epimedium may interact with hypertension drugs.
Be wary of other “cortisol-lowering” supplements, too, including any that claim to eliminate abdominal fat. There’s no good evidence behind them, either. Better ways to stave off stress include exercising regularly and engaging in mindfulness meditation.