Cortisol is one of the most important hormones in your body. The stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands boosts performance, but too much cortisol can also be quite harmful. We tell you how important cortisol is and what tasks the stress hormone takes on in humans.
Cortisol is one of the most important hormones in your bodythat you depend on every day. From a chemical point of view, cortisol is assigned to the so-called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that mainly act on carbohydrate metabolism.
What is cortisol
Like adrenaline and noradrenaline, cortisol is also known as a stress hormone and is produced in the adrenal gland. This is because the hormone cortisol is released primarily during stress. So as soon as you feel tense, nervous or overwhelmed, you set a stress reaction in motion, which in turn leads to an increased release of cortisol in the adrenal gland. By the way, we can also increase our cortisol levels through our thoughts and the consumption of caffeine.
Cortisol: Effects of the stress hormone in the body
Cortisol doesn't just have one great effect on carbohydrate metabolism - the stress hormone can also your Fat metabolism and protein metabolism influence, so that it comes to metabolic disorders.
The stress hormone cortisol has an influence on this:
- Immune Support
- INS Magen
- Electrolyte and water balance in the kidneys
How does cortisol affect metabolism?
The effect of cortisol on the metabolism is very great. The stress hormone ensures that your body has enough energy available in particularly stressful situations.
To balance stress, cortisol stimulates the release of fatty acids from the fat cells, which are then used to generate energy. At the same time, the stress hormone suppresses the absorption of glucose into the fat cells.
At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol promotes the breakdown of proteins into amino acids, so that the stress hormone has a catabolic (breakdown) effect on muscles, connective tissue and bones. The liver then uses some of the amino acids to produce new glucose molecules to provide the body with energy. In addition, cortisol increases the absorption of glucose through the intestine.
The increased concentration of glucose in the blood also increases the insulin level. As soon as insulin levels rise, some of the actions of cortisol are reversed. As a result, the unused glucose is converted back into fat and stored in the fat cells.
Effect of the stress hormone on the immune system
Cortisol inhibits inflammation and can suppress other immune reactions - such as wound healing. The anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects of the stress hormone take advantage of medicine, which uses drugs that are known colloquially as "cortisone". Perhaps your doctor has prescribed it to you before. These drugs usually contain synthetically developed substances that can have a similar effect to hydrocortisone or cortisone.
Chemically, they are similar to the body's own cortisol, cortisone or other glucocorticoids. The body's own cortisone is an inactive form of cortisol. Synthetic cortisone taken as a drug is converted to cortisol in the liver.
Cortisol effects on circulation and blood
Cortisol increases blood pressure and decreases blood flow in various ways. In addition, the stress hormone stimulating blood clotting act. Cortisol can also increase the number of red blood cells and the concentration of the blood pigment hemoglobin. At a certain point, however, there is a risk that the veins will become clogged more easily.
Cortisol effects on the stomach and kidneys
When the cortisol level is high, the kidneys excrete less water. If this is permanently increased, it can lead to water retention in the tissue. The kidneys also increasingly retain sodium and excrete potassium in exchange. This increases the blood concentration of sodium while the concentration of potassium decreases.
Did you know that Cortisol can have a stimulating effect on gastric acid secretion? At the same time, the hormone can limit the protective effect of the gastric mucosa. In the long term, this damages the stomach, which can lead to stomach ulcers and gastric bleeding.
Where is cortisol made in the body?
Cortisol is in the Cells formed by the adrenal cortex and is part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The cells of the adrenal cortex use cholesterol as a starting material so that the cortisol reaches its target sites via the bloodstream. A stimulus from the hypothalamus triggers a cascade of reactions. The release of vasopressin and the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) signal the pituitary gland to release its own hormone.
The hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) released by the pituitary gland of your brain controls the formation and release of cortisol in the adrenal cortex. In the event of stress, ACTH initiates the fight or flight response.
Cortisol serves as feedback for regulation in order to inhibit the release of the messenger substances CRH and ACTH and to close off the stressful moment.
Stress triggers do not necessarily have to represent direct dangers. Even thoughts that trigger tension and stimulants like caffeine can increase cortisol levels and, in extreme cases, lead to excess.
When is cortisol important and helpful?
Your body is absolutely dependent on cortisol, whenever you push it hard. This can include any kind of stress and sport (especially extreme sports), but also hunger, thirst or extreme temperature fluctuations. Cortisol is also - together with the sleep hormone melatonin - indispensable for your sleep-wake rhythm.
First and foremost is cortisol involved in every stress response in your body. Often the stress reaction means a fight or flight reaction of your body in order to prepare the body for stressful and stressful situations. Through an increased distribution of Adrenalin the blood circulation, respiratory rate and physical strength increase immediately.
Since the adrenaline only has a short-term effect, cortisol also comes into play. The stress hormone supports and prolongs the adrenaline effect and provides additional energy. Your body is now under high tension and is prepared for anything.
In terms of sleep, cortisol is the antagonist of melatonin.Many also know melatonin as a sleep hormone. Therefore, a healthy cortisol level fluctuates in the opposite direction to the melatonin level during the day. In the morning, the cortisol level peaks, so that you wake up and slowly become active. Your cortisol level drops in the evening, so you can sleep better at night.
The fact is: Without cortisol, you would neither get out of bed in the morning, nor would you be able to perform at your best during the day.
Why is an excess of cortisol harmful?
With a permanently elevated cortisol level and excess, neither the natural alarm system nor the sleep-wake rhythm work. This daily rhythm is extremely important for our body and unfortunately it gets out of balance far too often.
For example, when we drink coffee in the morning (or consume caffeine) to get the fatigue to fight, we increase our cortisol levels even more. If we consume caffeine too late in the evening, your body will find it difficult or impossible to fall asleep, even with the normal release of melatonin. This is also one of the reasons why caffeine or intense exercise in the evening harms your regulation of cortisol and sleep.
It can also influence certain metabolic processes. The brain, the immune system and physical performance are also affected by too much cortisol.
What are the health consequences of an excess of cortisol?
The supply of energy caused by cortisol through the breakdown of proteins and the increase in glucose concentration in the bloodstream can even be vital in an acute stressful situation. However, if the cortisol level is permanently too high, the bottom line is that the body breaks down muscle mass and builds up fat stores.
In addition to the catabolic effect on protein metabolism, scientists suspect other mechanisms of cortisol that weaken the muscles in the long term. In any case, the consequence of a chronic stress reaction is excess weight, which mainly spreads on the stomach.
At the same time, in connection with a stress reaction, the cortisol keeps the insulin secretion high, so that the blood sugar level rises. The cells become less and less sensitive to insulin, which is why a permanently high blood sugar level ultimately leads to diabetes. The risk of cardiovascular diseases increases not least because of this stressful situation and the associated metabolic processes. In addition, there is the increased blood pressure caused by cortisol and the constant stress and the poorer blood circulation.
Basically all areas of your body can be damaged. After all, the immune system cannot function effectively under the permanent influence of cortisol. So can with stress Infectious diseases become dangerous, which the immune system has under control without constant stress without problems. How you do that strengthen your immune system You can find all the information about this in the Academy.
What happens to the brain when cortisol levels are too high?
The effects of cortisol on metabolism, electrolyte balance and circulation influence your brain indirectly. But there are also direct influences of cortisol on your brain. Cortisol increases the excitability of the brain and causes nerve cells to die if the cortisol level is too high.
The sleep-wake rhythm is also influenced by the brain. The natural rhythm of the cortisol level is disturbed as soon as it can no longer reach the necessary minimum in the evening and at night. There is a relative lack of melatonin, so that melatonin can no longer work sufficiently.
Without melatonin, the brain cannot calm down, so sleep disorders can occur. Sleep disorders not only lead to tiredness and lack of concentration - they can also exacerbate the symptoms that are triggered by high cortisol levels.
What are the causes of high cortisol levels?
Constant stress inevitably leads to a chronically elevated cortisol level. Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise support this effect. The Taking medication containing cortisone in immune diseases and other diseases, such as Cushing's syndrome and certain tumors, increase the level of cortisol.
These diseases can become life threatening in the long term and if left untreated. This shows once again how dangerous cortisol can be in excess.
How can I break down cortisol?
The main thing now is to compensate for a stress-related excess of cortisol as quickly as possible and Minimize stress as much as possible. Of course, that does not mean that you are no longer allowed to be active. But on the contrary: Exercise is great for reducing stress suitable. You can also use the Nutrition do a lot for a balanced cortisol level.
With exercise, your body does exactly what cortisol has prepared for it. It is only important that you do not overdo it with the sport. Only then will you break the vicious circle and the release of cortisol will slowly subside. If you train too hard, your body stays in the tense position, which in turn leads to an increased release of cortisol.
By the way: Targeted muscle training can counteract muscle breakdown caused by cortisol. Well-developed muscle cells can break down cortisol better and lower the cortisol level in the blood.
In addition to exercise and a well-dosed sport, love is another tried and tested means of reducing stress and lowering cortisol levels. You don't even have to be fresh Be in love. Anything that triggers positive feelings in you will help reduce stress. With your love of sport you are thus doubly protected.
How does diet affect cortisol levels?
Unhealthy food really stresses your body and further heats up the stress response. The many advantages of a healthy and balanced diet do not stop at stress. With some foods you can even lower your cortisol level in a targeted manner.
This is how you lower your cortisol level through your serotonin balance
Foods containing the amino acid L-Tryptophan According to scientific studies, they are ideal for slowing down the stress reaction and lowering the cortisol level.1, 2
These include cocoa and soybeans. Namely, they contain L-tryptophan - an amino acid that is the starting material for the happiness hormone serotonin. Since cortisol lowers your serotonin levels, L-tryptophan is the perfect match for combating increased cortisol levels. More tips to improve your Increase serotonin levels you read in the Academy.
The same applies to the seeds of the African black bean (Griffonia Simplicifolia). These are rich in 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), an intermediate in the synthesis of L-tryptophan to serotonin. Other plants such as green tea, black cherry and turmeric also have active ingredients that, according to researchers, can have a positive effect on serotonin and cortisol levels.3, 4, 5 There is also scientific evidence that L-theanine from green tea can lower cortisol levels.6, 7
Melatonin can help relieve stress
Another way to support your melatonin balance is to take melatonin. Melatonin can help to compensate for disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle due to excess cortisol.8, 9 The foods with the highest levels of melatonin are pistachios and cranberries.
Special dietary supplements combine these properties of natural foods and are ideal for lowering the cortisol level.
Did you know that blue light is also a major stress factor in the evening? Blue light inhibits our own production of melatonin. This means that screens and other artificial light sources damage our sleep. Food supplements with melatonin can be of help there.
How does the cortisol level affect your performance?
It's not about demonizing cortisol in general. Maximum performance can only be achieved with cortisol. However, the starting level of cortisol must be low. When it is then poured out in action when needed, it can work optimally.
Cortisol is part of a sophisticated system that has proven itself evolutionarily very well. So that it can work perfectly, the cortisol level must be adapted to your activities during the day. On the one hand, this means that cortisol production has to decrease in the evening and thus gives you a good night's sleep. On the other hand, your cortisol level has to be high in the morning in order to start the day fit.
In addition, the cortisol level has to drive you at the right moments and then drop again in favor of a regeneration and recovery phase. Under no circumstances should it be chronically too high. A permanently too low cortisol level would be just as bad.
Using scientific discussions about cortisol levels in patients who have Burnout suffer, it becomes very clear. Accordingly, there may be a change from a state of constant stress with persistently high cortisol levels to a sudden cortisol deficiency. The burnout patients then fall into a total listlessness and are no longer able to cope with everyday tasks.10, 11, 12 If you feel affected by burnout or have been affected by the symptoms for a long time, talk to your doctor about it.
Cortisol belongs next to adrenaline and noradrenaline to the Stress hormones of the body. The Cortisol production takes place in the body's adrenal cortex. The hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) is released in the pituitary gland of the brain and controls cortisol production and its release in the adrenal cortex. In the event of stress, ACTH then initiates the fight or flight response.
Healthy food, important nutrients, restful sleep and the right amount of exercise ensure balanced cortisol levels and prevent stress. But because even these points can degenerate into stress, it is best to plan enough time in advance to keep your cortisol level in balance. The temporary waiver of caffeine, relaxation methods, meditation and yoga can also be real stress killers.