What Is Cortisol – The Stress Hormone What It Is and How It Affects You

Lower Cortisol With Exercise

Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is a molecule synthesized by the body to react to extreme situations. The clearest example is when a person senses danger: the stress hormone forces the body to run or attack. In other words, in an emergency, one of its functions is to increase physical activity.

Normal cortisol values are 10 μg/dl. However, in stressful situations, this figure can reach values up to 15 times higher. This article describes the effects of cortisol in the body, its function, and effective ways to lower its levels.

The function of cortisol in the body

The main function of cortisol is to find a quick response to a problem. In a state of shock, cortisol has the function of stimulating the synthesis of other hormones and forcing the brain to react. By releasing cortisol into the blood, the body can immediately mobilize energy reserves. Glucose is released from the tissues into the bloodstream. The function: to increase brain activity and concentration.

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In addition, the hormone cortisol is part of the body’s immune response. In fact, one of the essential roles of cortisol is to act as an anti-inflammatory. However, when the increase becomes chronic it can cause the immune system to become “resistant”.

There is then an accumulation of stress hormones and increased production of cytokines. (1, 2) These molecules promote inflammation and can compromise the immune response.

While increased cortisol can be helpful in achieving rapid decision making. This can have side effects such as changes in a person’s mood and behavior. Under the effects of cortisol appears aggressiveness, and sleep disorders.

Consistently high cortisol levels can have serious health consequences and impair other body functions.

In addition, research affirms that there is a direct relationship between increased cortisol, overweight, and obesity. Its function of generating a state of alertness can trigger effects associated with eating behaviors, which ultimately leads to increased visceral fat.

The effects of cortisol are directly related to those of the hormone leptin, the satiety hormone. Just as the stress hormone is known to act in the opposite pathway with the hormone serotonin and testosterone.

Symptoms of High Cortisol – How Do You Know?

One of the ways to know if you have high cortisol is to measure your blood pressure in the morning. If they are above normal values, then you probably have high cortisol levels.

RELATED: Herbs That Lower Cortisol Levels and Relieve Stress

An increase in cortisol levels can cause all kinds of symptoms in the body. In fact, it is one of the causes of serious psychological disorders such as chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.

The most frequent symptoms of high cortisol are:

  • Irritability
  • Muscle loss
  • Mood swings
  • Altered vision
  • Hair loss
  • Lower yields
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Dry skin
  • Constant fatigue
  • Eating disorders

How to lower cortisol

To lower cortisol, balanced nutrition should be observed. One of the best strategies to lower the stress hormone is to combine a healthy diet with moderate physical activity.

Including relaxation techniques such as meditation in your daily life and following healthy eating, rules are the best strategy to lower your cortisol levels, and there are also methods and medications to regulate your cortisol levels.

8 Tips To Lower Cortisol Levels:

1. Sleep well

Sleeping well is directly related to lowering stress hormone levels. Improving sleeping posture is a basic tip to achieve this.

2. Taking Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that acts in the opposite way to cortisol. In tablet form, it is safe for health and can improve the quality of sleep and therefore a person’s stress levels.

3. Outdoor physical activity

Practicing some type of physical or sports activity of moderate-intensity lowers cortisol. The results are even better when group exercises are performed outdoors.

4. No driving, or less driving

Driving is an activity that keeps the brain on constant alert. This is because the unconscious detects a faster speed than the natural one. In addition, traffic jams and traffic jams trigger their levels. Interspersing driving days with a coworker is a simple method to lower cortisol.

5. Avoid excess caffeine

Caffeine has the function of stimulating the central nervous system. Although under the effects of caffeine productivity increases, its excessive consumption is counterproductive in lowering cortisol.

6. Meditation and yoga

Meditation and cortisol are two closely related concepts. Studies affirm (3) that through this method it is possible to lower cortisol by up to 20%. Yoga is a type of active meditation, its additional advantage is the increase in muscle toning and flexibility.

7. Changing eating habits

Both an excess of sweet foods and eating a low-carbohydrate diet can increase cortisol. Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet will help reduce food cravings – one less problem for your brain.

8. Walking outdoors and listening to soothing music

One of the benefits of walking outdoors is to lower stress hormone values. Ten minutes is enough to give the neurons a rest. Adding music can bring additional benefits. The exact function of music on the brain is still a mystery to science. However, no one can deny the effects in generating greater relaxation.

Can foods help lower cortisol levels?

Foods with magnesium and foods with tryptophan are the raw material for the production of hormones contrary to the stress hormone: serotonin and dopamine. Including these foods in the diet can help lower cortisol.

RELATED: Herbs That Lower Cortisol Levels and Relieve Stress

Foods rich in antioxidants, such as foods rich in vitamin C, can prevent the oxidative effects of cortisol. Long term they prevent the effects of aging. A higher intake of antioxidants is associated with a lower risk of developing cancer.

A diet with excess sugar and flour is counterproductive to lowering cortisol. Replacing sweet foods with complex carbohydrates is a good strategy to lower stress with food.

Sugar causes sudden changes in insulin levels. When insulin levels drop, they generate an increase in food cravings. In the long term, they can negatively affect cortisol values in the body.

Stress hormone and physical exercise

According to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (4) cortisol and exercise are two closely related concepts. It has been proven that when doing physical exercise cortisol increases to values of 60-65 μg/dl in the first 30 minutes. In the next 10, the body gets used to it and they drop to 35 μg/dl. After 40-45 minutes they begin to increase again.

When doing muscle hypertrophy exercises, the values increase due to the breakdown of muscle fibers. This is known as muscular stress. On the other hand, the advice not to train for more than 45-60 minutes is based on cortisol values in the body. After an hour and a half, one of its effects is muscle destruction.

While daily, moderate physical exercise helps regulate stress hormone levels, overdoing it is not the solution.(5)

Stress hormone destroys muscles

Having high cortisol values for long periods of time causes the destruction of muscle tissues. (5) Muscles are broken down due to increased consumption of essential amino acids and glucose.

Taking BCAA Amino Acids (Branch-Chain Amino Acids) prior to training is an effective strategy to lower cortisol caused by muscle stress. In addition, studies confirm that cortisol acts in the opposite way to hormones related to muscle growth. Increasing testosterone under stress is not possible.

Role of supplements in lowering cortisol

Studies claim that taking 10 g of branched amino acids per day can be an effective strategy to reduce muscle cortisol values. In addition, some natural supplements such as Rhodiola Rosea, and Malaysian ginseng can reduce cortisol values by up to 17%.

Omega-3 capsules can significantly reduce the oxidative effects of cortisol. Studies associate this function with DHA and EPA molecules. (8)


The main function of the stress hormone cortisol is to improve the ability to make quick decisions in a stressful situation. The relationship between physical exercise and the stress hormone is complex. The best way to lower cortisol is short training sessions of no more than 45 minutes.

Simple measures such as walking outdoors, meditation, and changing sleeping posture can help lower cortisol. Taking amino acids before training is one solution to reduce the effects caused by muscle stress.

Natural supplements capable of lowering the stress hormone are Malaysian ginseng and Rhodiola Rosea. Limiting the consumption of sugar and flour helps to lower the stress hormone. It is also a good strategy to increase testosterone in men.

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