Cortiwatts?! Cortisol

What do you say, cortisol? What is that then? Cortisol, the hormone that travels through our body in the event of a stressful situation together with the hormone adrenaline and the hormone norepinephrine. People often talk about the negative effects of cortisol, but cortisol is in our system for a reason. It has several functions and positive effects.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is also called a stress hormone, or more accurately an anti-stress hormone. It is released during any form of stress, both physical and psychological, and it brings the body more into balance after the first burst of adrenaline has put us on high alert. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone and is produced in the adrenal cortex from cholesterol. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys. Cortisol ensures that we can deal with stress. However, cortisol is not only released when there is stress. Cortisol also plays a role in the digestion of food, the sleep-wake rhythm and the immune system.


Cortisol is one of the ‘stress hormones’ and, as I mentioned, is released during both psychological and physical stress. Stress therefore causes cortisol levels to rise. Cortisol ensures that you can cope better with long-term stress. Cortisol ensures that your blood pressure does not become too high and limits serious inflammation. It gives you more stamina, so to speak, to deal with long-term stress. It releases extra energy for this. There is a higher concentration of glucose in your blood, which causes blood sugar levels to rise and more energy to be used. People with low cortisol levels are sensitive to stress. They are less able to allow the body to cope with long-term stress.

Digestion of food

Cortisol plays an important role in the formation of sugar from proteins in the liver. Cortisol also contributes to raising blood sugar levels.
When the concentration of cortisol is increased during stress, this has consequences for digestion. In stressful situations, where the body used to use everything to flee or fight with, for example, a tiger or rival tribe, digestion was not a priority. Digestion is therefore stopped by cortisol. Long-term stress can lead to chronic constipation. In addition, cortisol increases your appetite after a longer period of stress, while it inhibits appetite during short-term stress. When the stressful period is completed and time is taken to recover, the appetite, which is inhibited by cortisol, becomes normal again. If the stress continues and no time is taken for the body to recover, the appetite will return to a greater extent, which, in combination with the shutdown of digestion, can be very detrimental.
In addition, cortisol also plays a role in the breakdown of fats and the conversion of proteins.

Sleep-wake rhythm

Cortisol plays a role in the sleep and wake rhythm. It therefore has a 24-hour pattern in terms of the amount of cortisol in the body. The cortisol level is at its highest around eight o’clock in the morning. This ensures that you wake up and feel hungry. After which the level shows a sharp drop until about eleven o’clock in the morning. After this sharp drop, the cortisol level slowly drops further to its lowest point. This takes place approximately between twelve and two o’clock at night. This makes one drowsy and induces sleep.

The immune system

Cortisol suppresses the immune system. Isn’t that strange? Perhaps it makes more sense to you to make the immune system work harder during times of stress? That’s true. Almost the same principle applies here as with the decrease and increase of appetite under the influence of cortisol. Initially, the functioning of the immune system increases during stress, under the influence of cortisol. However, when the ‘stress cycle’ is not followed; the stress continues and there is no time for the body to relax and recover, the functioning of the immune system is suppressed. It happens that the immune cells no longer do their work properly by no longer attacking ‘invaders’ such as germs, but also by attacking healthy cells. This can result in various allergies.
However, suppressing the immune system through cortisol and thus suppressing inflammation also has a positive side. Synthetic forms of cortisol can therefore be used to suppress or treat all kinds of reactions in the body. An example of a synthetic form of cortisol is Prednisone. Cortisol-like medications can work very well for skin infections and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, colitis and asthma. Cortisol-like substances are also used during organ transplants to reduce the chance of rejection of the new organ by suppressing the immune system. In addition, cortisol is used in people with reduced functioning of the adrenal cortex.

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