Cortisol is a steroid hormone whose job is to increase blood glucose levels during stressful situations.
Cortisol (hydrocortisone) is a natural steroid hormone produced in the body by the outer layer of the adrenal glands. It has a very large effect on metabolism, and it is also often called a stress hormone – in stressful situations, its concentration increases. Nevertheless, you should be aware that an increase in the hormone, like its decrease, can be a consequence of various diseases, including malignant ones. Therefore, let’s figure out why cortisol is so important for the body and what to do when it rises.
What is cortisol and what it does?
Cortisol, or hydrocortisone, is the main glucocorticosteroid produced in the fascicular adrenal cortex. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released in large quantities in stressful situations. In turn, this causes an increase in blood glucose levels, because in such conditions the body requires more energy.
Cortisol enhances the action of adrenaline and norepinephrine (other stress hormones), making the body better able to deal with so-called stressors.
Cortisol also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, increases sodium levels, and lowers potassium levels in the blood. The hormone affects the production of amino acids and their absorption by the musculoskeletal tissue.
In addition, cortisol affects:
protein management (enhances catabolism or protein breakdown);
carbohydrate metabolism (enhances gluconeogenesis and gluconeogenesis);
fat metabolism (increases lipolysis, that is, the breakdown of triglycerides);
water-electrolyte metabolism (retains sodium in the body and increases the excretion of potassium).
In addition to the above, cortisol has other capabilities, namely:
has an anti-inflammatory effect;
provides immunosuppressive action;
increases blood pressure;
increases the secretion of gastric acid;
releases calcium from bone tissue.
In some cases, cortisol is prescribed as a pill or injection drug. These drugs are used to treat asthma, rheumatic diseases, hyperadrenocorticism, and post-traumatic, postoperative, or transfusion shocks. Cortisol reduces the body’s resistance, so it is prescribed after transplantation to avoid organ rejection.
Normal cortisol levels
Cortisol is secreted at a specific circadian rhythm, highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. Therefore, cortisol levels vary with the time of day.
Normal cortisol levels should be within the following ranges:
8:00 – 5-25 mcg / dl
12:00 – 4-20 mcg / dl
18:00 – 2-9 mcg / dl
24:00 – 0-5 mcg / dl
In the case of urine testing, the hormone level should be between 80 and 120 mcg.
When to think about taking a cortisol test:
mood disorders, depression, and insomnia;
menstrual irregularities in women and weakening of libido in men;
increased thirst and the secretion of a large amount of urine;
infections that are difficult to treat;
constant weakness with a tendency to faint;
poor tolerance to stressful situations.
An indication for testing cortisol levels is suspicion of Cushing’s syndrome, which is the result of excess cortisol in the blood. Its symptoms include changes in body structure (fatty deposits on the face, neck, and abdomen), weakness, and weakening of the musculoskeletal system.
Increased cortisol levels
The reason for the increased level of cortisol in the blood may be excessive secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which develops against the background of certain pathologies:
ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma;
ACTH-secreting adrenal tumors.
An excess of normal cortisol levels can also be the result of a cortisol-secreting adrenal tumor or prolonged and intense glucocorticoid treatment.
In addition, an increase in the hormone in the blood can be the cause of chronic or sudden stress, long-term depression, and anorexia.
Elevated cortisol levels also lead to high blood pressure, drowsiness, and depression.
How to lower the level of cortisol in the body
You can try to lower your cortisol levels using natural methods, such as:
learn to cope with stress, if necessary, take medications that will reduce anxiety, feelings of tension, and anxiety;
exercise regularly and get enough sleep (ideally, do not go to bed later than 23.00);
exclude foods rich in simple sugars. Instead, eat lots of vegetables and fruits, especially those rich in vitamin C.
A constant excess of cortisol in the body negatively affects health – it causes obesity, increasing appetite and promoting fat storage. Ultimately, the development of metabolic syndrome is possible, which is accompanied by insulin resistance. If the increase in cortisol is caused by stress and persists for a long time, problems with sleep, concentration, and memory develop.