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Cortisol it functions and effects

Do you know the effects of cortisol on the body? You already know that one of my favorite topics are hormones, and today I dedicate my blog post to cortisol. Knowing how our body acts when it is released and the situations in which this process occurs, will help you to prevent possible adverse effects or related diseases. If you are an athlete and you do not recover optimally, you have a very demanding night job or you do not rest well, this post will allow you to know the link that your problems have with cortisol.


Cortisol is the anti-inflammatory hormone par excellence and one of the most controversial . It is a steroid hormone, which means that it comes from cholesterol and is a glucocorticoid produced by the adrenal gland before the response of adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), hormone released by the pituitary gland in times of physical or emotional stress. At any time when we are in a situation of alert or danger, have a drop in glucose or energy demand, the body will always respond with a release of compensatory cortisol.



All animals of nature need cortisol to raise blood glucose and blood pressure enough to be able to cope with all stressful situations.

The main functions of cortisol are: to raise the blood sugar level through gluconeogenesis, to modulate the immune system(mainly lowering the inflammation and the production of antibodies) and is closely linked to the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. On the other hand, it also has to do with demineralization or weak bones. The release of cortisol is governed by the circadian rhythm of the adrenocorticotropic hormone, which increases in the early hours of the morning in order to raise blood glucose levels and energy parameters are higher in this part of the day; all animals of nature need cortisol to raise blood glucose and blood pressure enough to be able to cope with all the stressful situations that may arrive in the following hours of the day.

These biorhythms cause that normally the highest peaks of cortisol are found around eight o’clock in the morning, while the lowest levels usually occur between midnight and four o’clock in the morning, usually 3-4 hours after the appearance of sleep. . The regulation of cortisol release depends to a large extent on the retina capturing photons from the sun, therefore the control of biorhythms is closely linked to night-day cycles, so that when the retina captures photons the information reaches the nucleus suprachiasmatic hypothalamus, which is what informs the pituitary gland to release ACTH and in turn the adrenal gland to release cortisol in the early hours of the day. When human beings are exposed to daylight, the organism will understand that at 12-14 hours of that cortisol peak,



As we have said, cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to physical and emotional stress and acts in order to restore the body’s physiological homeostasis, that is, the balance in many metabolic and immunological areas. Cortisol is neoglucogenic, which means that when there is a decrease in glucose (due to excessive exertion, fasting or excessively low carbohydrate diets) and the body detects that there is a need for it, cortisol is one of the the hormones that are responsible for obtaining glucose from other active ingredients such as fatty acids or muscle amino acids (this process is called neoglucogenesis).

This can lead to a person who has a lot of stress (even with a normal diet in which there is no lack of carbohydrates) end up suffering from hyperglycemia in the plasma, that is, very high levels of glucose as a result of that throughout the day and by being exposed to physical and emotional stress (anxiety, depression, obsessions, etc.), your body releases cortisol and it is producing neoglycogenesis to raise plasma glucose. In the worst case, neoglycogenesis would be carried out through muscle amino acids, so that these people could fall in the long term in a metabolic syndrome caused by the fact that glucose rose more and more. Indirectly and compensatoryly the body could release insulin to lower these glucose levels,


It has been observed that when there is a release of cortisol, a very high degradation of collagen (protein that can be found in the extracellular matrix) occurs. This would be a dramatic consequence in people or athletes with high cortisol levels as it can lead to injuries.


Cortisol produces an inhibition regarding the loss of sodium, accumulating this mineral in the extracellular fluid (for example the blood plasma) and causing that when a person is stressed he may end up suffering a secondary blood hypertension. Likewise, cortisol also affects the loss of potassium. By increasing sodium and decreasing potassium, in individuals with an excess of cortisol, there is a greater amount of water, which would explain why we often find cases in which, despite having a correct and balanced diet, certain people have  a swollen appearance , with subcutaneous tissues having too much fluid.


Cortisol can produce a downward modulation of the immune system and cause an inhibition in the proliferation of T cells, inhibition in the release of certain interleukins and cytokines, and also a decrease in the release of antibodies. This makes the body dependent on cortisol to deflate any aggressive process that originates in the body (therefore, in cases of allergy or inflammation we usually inject exogenous corticosteroids).


It has been observed that this hormone can cause loss of minerals in the bones, which could lead to a lower bone density and long-term osteoporosis.


Elevated cortisol generates an inhibition of the sexual hormonal axis, so that prolactin increases and there is a decrease in GNRH and gonadotropins LH and FSH. In short: a decrease in the release of testosterone by the testicle, or progesterone and estrogen in the ovary, which evidently influences both sports performance and fertility.


People who suffer from long periods of stress with cortisol release, are at risk of reaching times when the body decompensate and suffer from hypothyroidism.


It is important to know that every time the gastric mucosa is inflamed or irritated, when we take high amounts of protein or we are exposed to gluten or dairy, the body can generate a release of cortisol looking for a digestive and intestinal inflammation. The price to pay is that the large amounts of cortisol favor the appearance of the intestinal permeability syndrome. In the long term, it would destabilize the flora and generate alterations at the immunological level as a result of the passage of toxins from the intestinal lumen to the blood plasma.



Our body is adapted to maintain homeostasis and balance many physiological parameters through cortisol. Before each acute stress process our body is able to release cortisol to reduce inflammation, raise glucose levels, modulate the immune system or other hormones etc. The problem comes when the person lengthens the processes of physical or emotional stress, because in these situations the body can force the adrenal gland to continue releasing amounts of cortisol until all the reserves of it are exhausted.

When someone goes into adrenal fatigue or chronic cortisol deficiency, the first thing they usually experience is mental and physical fatigue. These symptoms do not usually improve with rest or trying to sleep more hours, the problems are extended over time. As we have noted, adrenal fatigue occurs due to prolonged stress that causes the adrenal gland to have been releasing an excess of cortisol for a long time to produce exhaustion. In patients with this disorder we usually find alterations in the concentrations of serotonin and dopamine, so that these people tend to suffer from emotional fluctuations, greater tendency to obsessive thoughts and little satisfaction with themselves. The lack of serotonin often causes it to fall into an abuse of high glycemic carbohydrates or refined flours, which further increases the chronic base inflammation that exists in all these cases. Having also a deficiency of dopamine, these patients are at risk of falling into depressions that can become chronic if quick solutions are not found.

Why does a person with adrenal fatigue have problems getting out of bed? Having lost the neoglucogenic effect of cortisol, is unable to raise enough glucose and blood pressure to face the first few hours of the day with guarantees. The fact of not releasing cortisol makes any minimal gesture such as a hug or a small effort, generate muscle pain. Having no anti-inflammatory capacity usually fall into allergies or autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, intestinal permeability syndrome, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, this occurs because the immune system is very exalted and releases a high amount of antibodies against many molecules.



To reduce cortisol levels when they are too high, the first advice I can give you is to rest more, but also observe if there is overtraining, wear or stress. It is essential to reduce the consumption of caffeine, since it has been observed that 200mg of this substance can increase plasma concentrations of cortisol by 30%, a fact to be taken into account. You also have to control and even eliminate all those supplements designed to increase the adrenaline before training.

I recommend the Rodiola (since it allows to minimize the levels of cortisol), the Vitamin C or the Phosphatidylserine (about 1000 mg per day can be very useful). In the face of dehydration, the body responds by increasing the concentrations of cortisol, so we must not forget the consumption of water and mineralizing beverages. Resorting to Omega3 (either as a supplement or with foods such as blue fish, flax or walnuts) will be a good choice.

In case of patients with adrenal fatigue in which there is a deficit in the production of cortisol, the adrenal gland can be regulated from certain supplements. In many occasions one of the mistakes that is made is that when a patient feels the first symptoms of improvement, he wants to feel like in the previous phase of the fatigue process, nevertheless it is necessary to be prudent and wait for the right time so that the Adrenal capsule can regenerate.

To help it, there are some products such as eleutherococcus, ginseng, maca, DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone), magnesium and seawater as a mineral supplement. Finally, indicate the importance of maintaining a diet with a high content of essential fatty acids and cholesterol in this period, since cholesterol is a precursor when forming steroid hormones such as cortisol.



A healthy lifestyle and establishing schedules that allow linking the wake / rest cycle with day and night will help maintain recommended levels of cortisol. However, this is not always possible since many people have to face changes in shift and schedule due to their work. However, risks can be minimized with some of these tips:

-Practice exercising regularly and try to go to sleep at the same time.

-Avoid the energy drinks and caffeine near the hours of rest, as well as try not to expose in the hours previous to an excess of artificial light produced by telephones, computer screens etc.

– Sleeping can also help to compensate rest hours in the event of a deficit.

-Recognize situations of physical and emotional stress that may end up generating dysfunctions in the release of cortisol.



Conclusion,we must understand the importance of cortisol. This hormone has been linked many times to stress, assuming that we must control it and try to ensure that its values ??are not high. However, what is really important is to understand that because our body has the ability to raise cortisol levels, we are able to cope with the daily inflammation caused by workouts, work, fight infections or allergies etc. In some way it is the price to pay for the model of life that is imposed in our society, therefore, the best formula to counteract this physical and emotional stress that society demands, is to maintain correct rest habits and a healthy lifestyle .

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