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The Stress Hormone

Cortisol is involved in response to stress and anxiety Its primary function is to increase blood sugar and stores of sugar in the liver as glycogen, and also suppresses the immune system. Various synthetic forms of cortisol are used to treat a variety of different illnesses. The most well-known of these is a natural metabolic intermediary of cortisol called hydrocortisone.


In normal release, cortisol has widespread actions which help restore homeostasis after stress. Cortisol raises blood sugar by converting protein into sugar and counteracting insulin. Collagen. Cortisol causing loss of colagen thus accelerating aging of the skin and joints. Gastric secretion. Cortisol stimulates gastric acid secretion which can cause stomach ulcers and heartburns.

Cortisol also acts as an anti-diuretic hormone and causes water retention.

  • Immune system Cortisol weakens the activity of the immune system.
  • Bone metabolism It lowers bone formation thus favoring development of osteoporosis in the long term.
  • Memory It cooperates with epinephrine (adrenaline) to create memories of short-term emotional events; this is the proposed mechanism for storage of flash bulb memories, and may originate as a means to remember what to avoid in the future. However, long-term exposure to cortisol results in impaired learning.

Additional Effects

  • It increases blood pressure. In the absence of cortisol, dangerous drop in blood pressure occurs.
  • It allows for the kidneys to produce diluted urine.
  • It shuts down the reproductive system, resulting in an increase for the chance of miscarriage and, in some cases, temporary infertility. Fertility returns after cortisol levels are reduced back to normal levels
  • It has anti-inflammatory effects
  • It stimulates hepatic detoxification
  • There are potential links between cortisol, appetite and obesity

Factors affecting cortisol levels

Factors generally reducing cortisol levels
  • Magnesium supplementation decreases serum cortisol levels after aerobic exercise but not in resistance training.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids, in a dose dependent manner (but not significantly) can lower cortisol release influenced by mental stress Omega 6 fatty acids, on the other hand, acts inversely
  • Music therapy can reduce cortisol levels in certain situations.
  • Massage therapy can reduce cortisol.
  • Laughing and the experience of humour can lower cortisol levels.
  • One study by a Japanese cosmetics company has asserted that makeup reduces cortisol levels in a mental stress situation.
  • Soy derived Phosphatidylserine interacts with cortisol but the right dosage is still unclear.
  • Vitamin C may slightly blunt cortisol release in response to a mental stressor.
  • Black tea may speed up recovery from a high cortisol condition.
  • Maca Root Powder is also known to reduce cortisol levels and restore the adrenal glands to health (needs reference)
Factors generally increasing cortisol levels
  • Caffeine may increase cortisol levels.
  • Sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels.
  • Intense or prolonged physical exercise stimulate cortisol release in order to increase gluconeogenesis and maintain blood glucose. Proper nutrition and high-level conditioning can help stabilize cortisol release.
  • Low Estrogen and melatonin supplementation increases cortisol levels in postmenopausal women.
  • Burnout is associated with higher cortisol levels.
  • Severe trauma or stress events can elevate cortisol levels in the blood for prolonged periods.
  • Subcutaneous fat regenerates cortisol from cortisone.
  • Anorexia nervosa increases cortisol levels.
  • The serotonin receptor gene 5HTR2C is associated with increased cortisol production in men.
  • Some formulations of combined oral contraceptive pills increase cortisol levels in young women who perform whole-body resistance exercise training.
  • Commuting increases cortisol levels, related to the length of the trip, the amount of effort involved and the predictability of the trip

The content on this page is excerpted from Wikipedia and released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.