Q: I read that the stress hormone cortisol can prevent you from losing weight. Is there anything I can take to help? —Judi Belsky, Sarasota, Florida
A: A number of products with names like Relacore, CortiDrene, and CortiSlim promise to help you lose weight by lowering either stress or cortisol levels. But I am not convinced that any of them safely and reliably alter cortisol or even cause weight loss. Evidence does suggest that chronically high levels of cortisol may cause fat to accumulate around the middle and make weight more difficult to lose (in addition to triggering other adverse health effects). But I worry about any pill that would oppose cortisol. Hormones have far-reaching effects, and shutting off one could wreak havoc with many aspects of normal metabolism. The better approach is to address the problem at the source: Although you can't eliminate stress from your life, you can keep it from damaging your health. Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, and regular physical activity all help dissipate stress and keep the body from producing undesirable levels of cortisol. Think of it this way: It's far more effective to prevent the fire than to dress in asbestos.