Cortisol – the stress hormone

Cortisol – the stress hormone
Picture: Dmitry Tishchenko | Dreamstime

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the human body in a stressful situation. It is important for athletes, people with an active lifestyle.

With an increase in concentration in the body, it stimulates catabolism. The hormone cortisol is necessary for every person; its increased or decreased level leads to pathologies.

Cortisol is called the stress hormone. It is produced if a person finds himself in difficult conditions; while catabolism prevails. Processes in the human body are usually divided into anabolic, catabolic. The first is tissue growth, the second is decay. Under stress, the substances accumulated by the tissues are more actively consumed. With prolonged stress, the volume and muscle tone decrease. First, under the influence of hormonal substances, proteins are destroyed.

The stress hormone cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. It is designed to control metabolism, maintain a balance of nutrients, protect against viruses, bacteria. The substance stimulates the immune system, activates mental processes. Thanks to the hormonal connection, the body learns to better cope with stress.

Melatonin is a sleep hormone that regulates circadian rhythms
Melatonin is a sleep hormone that regulates circadian rhythms

Normally, cortisol is elevated in the morning and decreases in the evening. During pregnancy, the standards increase significantly. The substance is necessary not only for the expectant mother, but also for the embryo. The thickness and correct development of the mucous layer lining the lungs of a child depends on its concentration.

The substance belongs to the category of glucocorticoid, steroid. A feature of the structure is the presence of a sterane core.

That’s interesting! Newborns sensitively feel the mood of the mother; if the concentration of cortisone in her body rises, a similar release occurs in the body of the baby.

Production of cortisol

Synthesis of cortisol takes place in the adrenal glands. The starting molecule for the reaction is cholesterol. The process takes place in the cortex of the organ. On average, the fear hormone cortisol in the body of an adult is produced daily in the amount of 15-30 mg. The rate of reactions, the volume of the substance is determined by stress factors, infection, trauma, and a decrease in the content of sugars in the circulatory system.

Picture: Kateryna Kon | Dreamstime

Cause each other cortisol and glucose, stress factors, external aspects. In the wild, a creature experiences stress when faced with a predator, a potential threat. Physiological changes in the body, necessary for the influx of forces for a short time, are required for salvation. The brain receives an alarm signal, the hypothalamus generates corticotropin-releasing hormone, which activates the pituitary gland, releasing ACTH.

Under its influence, the adrenal glands release biologically active substances. The adrenal hormone cortisol changes the metabolism of sugars so that the brain and muscles receive maximum energy. To save the body’s resources, immunity is suppressed.

Cortisol functions

The effect of cortisol on the body is due to reflexes, the survival instinct. The substance is necessary for metabolism, participates in carbohydrate metabolism, stimulates gluconeogenesis, that is, the formation of glucose molecules from other organic substances (amino acids, glycerol) in the liver, kidney cortex.

Amino acids: role in the human body
Amino acids: role in the human body

The action of cortisol, aimed at protecting the body, is known. If a person fasts for a long time, the biologically active compound maintains the concentration of sugars in the blood, enhances the production of glucose, and slows down its breakdown. In case of shock, stress maintains blood pressure.

Hydrocortisone functions include:

  • stabilization of glucose content, its absorption from food;
  • normalization of the liver;
  • protection of the body from stress, overstrain;
  • inhibition of the inflammatory process, slowing down the release of inflammatory mediators;
  • pressure normalization;
  • metabolism control;
  • maintaining water, mineral balance;
  • participation in fat breakdown.

By finding out where cortisol is produced (in the adrenal glands), scientists have determined how it affects internal systems and organs. It turned out that the increase in concentration is accompanied by a decrease in blood saturation with lymphocytes. At the same time, tolerance to viruses decreases. With a lack of glycogen, it increases the body’s resistance to monotonous stress. Due to the hormone, the balance of potassium and sodium is stabilized, the walls of the vessels narrow and expand in accordance with the current conditions.

Endorphins – hormones of satisfaction and well-being
Endorphins – hormones of satisfaction and well-being

The stress hormone in men and women helps to maintain energy, forms a glycogen reserve in the liver, is involved in the production of cellular enzymes, and increases the heart rate. It lowers the content of leukocytes in the blood plasma, inhibits the allergic reaction. A synthetic analogue of a hormone produced in response to stress is used to stop an acute attack of allergies, anaphylactic shock.

Another function of cortisol is the regulation of protein synthesis (stimulation in the liver, inhibition in bones, muscles, fiber, connective tissue). The substance accelerates the breakdown of protein, RNA in some tissues. Under its influence, the production of collagen is inhibited.

Cortisol in children, adults is a natural “alarm clock” that promotes morning awakening. It prepares the body for a new day, gives vigor, helps to recognize a dangerous situation, to escape.

High Cortisol

Since cortisol plays an important role in sports influencing muscle building, athletes are the most likely to face the problem of excess levels of the substance in the blood. The growth in concentration is due to the lack of recovery resources.

Picture: Vaeenma | Dreamstime

Frequent, intense training, a small period of rest are accompanied by an increase in the concentration of the stress compound. For this reason, cortisol plays a very important role in bodybuilding. It is necessary to control the content of the substance, take measures to reduce the concentration, otherwise the classes will not give the desired effect.

An increase in the content of hormones in the blood is observed against the background of:

  • work overloads;
  • taking antiviral, hormonal drugs;
  • lack of sleep;
  • depression;
  • diseases of the liver, kidneys;
  • hyperthyroidism;
  • virus infection;
  • surgery under anesthesia.

If cortisol is elevated in a child, an adult, a malignant disease of the adrenal glands, tissue hyperplasia, and a pituitary tumor may be suspected.

Hemoglobin in the human body
Hemoglobin in the human body

Often, an excess of standard indicators is observed with prolonged use of synthetic pituitary hormones. Sometimes the cause is Itsenko-Cushing’s disease. Sometimes elevated cortisol in men and women is detected with overweight, anorexia nervosa, hypoglycemia, alcohol dependence. AIDS leads to an increase in the content of the hormone.

Causes of elevated hormone levels

Causes of elevated cortisol in women

In addition to the general factors leading to an increase in the concentration of the substance, the fair sex has an increase in the content of the hormone after conception. The concentration of cortisol during pregnancy is several times higher than the average. If cortisol is elevated in a woman, the cause may be polycystic, an ovarian disease.

Causes of elevated cortisol in men

All known prerequisites are divided into:

  • functional;
  • internal.

Endogenous are:

  • dependents;
  • independent.
The immune system is a unique mechanism that allows a person to survive
The immune system is a unique mechanism that allows a person to survive

The cause of the dependent case is adrenocorticotropic hormone. The condition is possible due to illness, medication. An independent type usually indicates hyperplasia, oncology. To accurately determine the factor that caused the increase in concentration, it is necessary to take tests.

The most common cause of excess cortisol in the blood in men is sports. Sometimes a disorder indicates testicular disease.

Symptoms of elevated hormone levels

The hormone released during severe stress declares itself with a headache, nervousness. Prolonged high content of the substance in the blood provokes a variety of diseases.

Picture: Nicoleta Ionescu | Dreamstime

It is possible to assume that cortisol in saliva, blood, urine is exceeded against the background of:

  • a sharp increase in excess weight with a concentration of deposits in the sternum, back, face, peritoneum;
  • changing the outlines of the face;
  • thinning of limbs;
  • appearance of signs of diabetes;
  • general weakness;
  • depression;
  • sleep problems (due to cortisol and melatonin connection);
  • infertility;
  • reducing bone strength.

With an increased concentration of a hormonal substance, deep stretch marks appear on the skin, painted in a reddish color. The man notes back pain. Over time, the thyroid gland becomes depleted. This explains why cortisol and prolactin are connected: the first affects the functioning of the gland responsible for generating the second, so an increase in the concentration of one leads to a decrease in the content of the other.

Glutamine is one of the 20 standard amino acids that make up protein
Glutamine is one of the 20 standard amino acids that make up protein

Not only cortisol and the thyroid are connected: the active compound affects metabolism and internal secretion in general. It corrects the functioning of the immune system, worsening it. This leads to frequent colds. At the same time, the content of glucose in the blood rises, accompanied by sharp drops in the saturation of the body with insulin. One of the symptoms of cortisol release is the desire to eat sweet, fatty foods.

A stable content above the norm is accompanied by problems in the work of the gastrointestinal tract. Belching, heartburn, nausea, impaired stool are noted. Symptoms of elevated cortisol in women include irregular menstruation, male pattern of hair growth.

In childhood, symptoms of elevated cortisol include:

  • irritability;
  • weight gain;
  • fat hump;
  • pressure increase;
  • increased blood sugar.
BCAA – branched chain amino acids
BCAA – branched chain amino acids

A common symptom of elevated cortisol in men, women, and children is a decrease in the concentration of serotonin, leading to depression and depression. At the same time, the strength and volume of muscle mass decreases. The adult loses sexual activity. The person is irritable, apathetic. The condition of the skin worsens, the risk of a heart attack increases. The relationship of cortisol and testosterone in men is such that with the growth of the first, the amount of the second decreases; blood saturation with estrogen increases.

With various disturbing men, women, the causes of increased cortisol, the consequences are eliminated if the factor that provoked the symptom is identified.

How to lower cortisol levels

The first step is to identify the cause of the violation. If there is a correlation between cortisol and alcohol, it is necessary to change daily habits, give up alcohol, and instill a healthy lifestyle.

Picture: Kiattisak Lamchan | Dreamstime

If you had to figure out how to lower cortisol in men, women, because of the rhythm of life, stress, you should change jobs, adjust your daily routine so that you face fewer experiences. Perhaps you should visit a psychotherapist who will teach you how to cope with experiences.

Help improve the condition of the body:

  • Proper nutrition. Nutritionists, telling how to lower cortisol levels, advise eating fractionally, in small volumes. The optimal number of servings per day is 6. Hunger is accompanied by the release of a hormone, therefore it is harmful. The diet is made so as to avoid alcohol, simple carbohydrates. Caffeine and cortisol are linked, so beverages containing an invigorating substance are excluded.
  • Sleep. A night’s rest is necessary for the recovery of the body. A person needs 7-10 hours of sleep.
Creatine – a source of muscle energy
Creatine – a source of muscle energy

When compiling a diet, they are guided by the recommendations:

  • reduce the amount of carbonated, energy drinks, coffee;
  • eat more protein, dairy products;
  • take vitamins C, B;
  • use radiola infusions.

Foods that lower cortisol

To reduce free cortisol in the urine, the diet should be revised to include foods that increase mental toughness. Chronic stress is almost always accompanied by low levels of serotonin, which is responsible for the interaction of nerve cells. This hormone is associated with a state of well-being, receiving signals from the brain tissues.

Vegetables – everything is useful that got into your mouth
Vegetables – everything is useful that got into your mouth

The biochemistry of cortisol is such that with an increase in its amount, the volume of serotonin decreases (and vice versa). Serotonin is obtained from tryptophan, which comes from food. Tryptophan is a part of the protein that transforms in the presence of carbohydrates, so the exclusion of carbohydrates from the diet is always accompanied by severe stress.

To weaken the effects of cortisol and reduce its content in the blood, the diet is diluted:

  • whole grain cereals;
  • vegetables;
  • greenery;
  • fruit.
Sweets are not welcome.

Particularly useful:

  • pumpkin seeds;
  • soybeans;
  • fermented milk products;
  • dietary meat;
  • poultry meat;
  • sea fish;
  • seafood;
  • eggs;
  • oats

The content of cortisol and testosterone in the blood depends on the saturation of the body with minerals. Magnesium is especially important, participating in many biochemical reactions. Its lack always leads to a drop in the concentration of happiness hormones. To remedy the situation, whole grains, nuts, seeds, greens are included in the diet. You can take vitamin supplements with magnesium.

Picture: Feelfree777 | Dreamstime

Useful products that lower cortisol:

  • all nuts;
  • millet;
  • greek;
  • peas;
  • soy;
  • beans;
  • mustard;
  • kelp;
  • spinach;
  • chard.

A diet with elevated cortisol includes vitamin C intake. It is involved in the production of the stress hormone, and its lack worsens the condition. Vitamin enters the body with fruits and vegetables.

Grapefruit – a dietary fruit discovered by a Welsh priest
Grapefruit – a dietary fruit discovered by a Welsh priest

If, for some reason, the hormone cortisol is elevated in women, men, the diet includes:

  • pepper (hot, sweet);
  • kiwi;
  • cabbage (cauliflower, white, broccoli);
  • radish;
  • strawberries;
  • citruses;
  • papaya.

The stability of the nervous system, the content of dopamine and cortisol depend on the saturation of the body with B vitamins. They are obtained from:

  • bird liver;
  • sea fish;
  • mushrooms;
  • sunflower seeds;
  • yogurt;
  • avocado.
Avocado – a berry that the Aztecs called “forest oil”
Avocado – a berry that the Aztecs called “forest oil”

If adrenaline and cortisol are above normal, useful:

  • olive oil;
  • rose hips;
  • currant;
  • sea buckthorn;
  • sesame;
  • almonds;
  • bitter chocolate;
  • berries;
  • curcumin

Low Cortisol

Sometimes you have to look not for how to lower cortisol, but for measures to increase the content of a substance in the blood. Most often, low cortisol indicates malfunctions in the endocrine system.

Causes of low hormone levels

  • hypopituitarism;
  • Addison’s disease;
  • cirrhosis;
  • hepatitis;
  • hypothyroidism;
  • congenital weakness of the functioning of the adrenal cortex.
Picture: Radius06 | Dreamstime

Indicators are observed below the norm of cortisol in the blood if a person takes barbiturates, ephedrine, dextroamphetamine and some other medicines. If the patient received glucocorticoids, against the background of withdrawal, the decrease in the production of a hormonal substance is explained by the rebound syndrome. With this premise, the lack of cortisol will soon level out.

Often, against the background of a decrease in cortisol, treatment is required:

  • diseases of the adrenal glands;
  • digestive infection;
  • brain injury.

Low cortisol in women

This may indicate adrenogenital syndrome. Its feature is an excess of androgins produced by the body, which determine the secondary signs of gender.

Symptoms of low cortisol in a woman

  • active hair growth on the face, body;
  • changing voice.

A decrease in the hormonal substance in women leads to instability of the menstrual cycle. If the menstruation completely disappears, the reproductive function is impaired.

Low cortisol in men

Scientists know a lot about cortisol: what it is in men and women, how it affects the body, what it affects. If there is a shortage of this hormone in the male body, a person loses sexual attractiveness and activity.

Meditation – find harmony with yourself
Meditation – find harmony with yourself

The body can not cope with stress, physical activity. You have to think about what is the reason and how to increase cortisol if a man aspires to a sports career. A low concentration of the substance is accompanied by pain, chronic fatigue, apathy.

Symptoms of low cortisol in men

The need to change habits and diet, taking drugs against the background of a decrease in cortisol is indicated by the following phenomena:

  • weakness;
  • weight loss;
  • hypotension;
  • worsening of appetite.

A decrease in cortisol levels and weight loss, combined with a decrease in blood pressure, indicate an increase in the risk of tuberculosis. The patient has poor sleep; cortisol in low concentration is associated with glycemia, depression, muscle weakness.

How to increase cortisol levels

If the concentration of cortisol is lowered, which treats the patient, the doctor will determine based on the results of the examination. Therapy is chosen, focusing on the cause of the condition.

Picture: Ivan Shidlovski | Dreamstime

The course is compiled by an endocrinologist after a detailed diagnosis. If the cause cannot be identified, the therapy will not work. The standard program includes hormonal preparations. If medicines do not give a stable improvement, an operation is prescribed.

Foods that increase cortisol

To normalize the content of hormonal substances in the blood, it is necessary to review and balance the diet. They refuse flour and sugar-containing foods – under the influence of such food, the concentration of hormones jumps sharply.


  • whole grain bread;
  • vegetables;
  • fruit.
Superfood – food that should be in the diet
Superfood – food that should be in the diet

Particular attention is paid to grapefruit. It contains substances that neutralize cortisol antagonists. Useful supplements with licorice. It contains glycyrrhizin, which affects the enzymes that destroy the hormone.

Low cortisol leads to weight loss; but the thought of losing weight provokes the release of more hormone into the blood, which provokes weight gain.


Cortisol is a vital hormonal compound whose concentration determines human health. Elevated, low levels in the blood are equally dangerous and lead to negative consequences.

If you notice suspicious symptoms, you should consult a doctor to determine the cause and treatment tactics. It must be remembered that the compound is not in vain called the “hormone of death”: it activates the muscles, affects the heart. Sometimes the load is such that the vessels can not cope, a heart attack develops.