What is cortisol and what can be done to keep it at healthy levels?

If you've heard of the "stress hormone," then you have an idea of ​​what cortisol is. But to understand this concept a little better, we are going to know in detail what it is about. Cortisol is made by the adrenal glands of the bodyThese are two small glands that are located at the top of each kidney and will act as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Especially when you are in a difficult or stressful situation.

When cortisol levels are balanced in the body, the body and its systems will function normally. But, when this is not the case, an endocrine alteration is present known as hypercortisolism. This has negative effects on the functions of the body's cells.

What is cortisol used for in the body?

We already know that cortisol is a hormone that will have an effect on all organs and tissues present in the body. That alone determines its importance. But, in addition to that, it serves to:

  • Respond to stress.
  • Control and fight infections.
  • Regulate and control blood sugar levels.
  • Maintain blood pressure.
  • Regulate metabolism.

How is cortisol measured in the body?

To measure the cortisol levels in the body a test should be done using blood, urine, or saliva. Blood tests are the most common way to measure cortisol. When cortisol levels are very high or high, it means that there are disorders in the adrenal glands. If not treated, it could be serious.


The normal blood cortisol values, it will be 5 to 25 mcg / dL or 140 to 690 nmol / L, in a sample taken at 8:00 A.M. The latter is important, because everything will depend on the time of day and the clinical context you have. Some use different measurements and analyze different samples. It is recommended that you discuss the test result with your doctor.

What are the symptoms of low cortisol?

When cortisol levels are low they may have the following symptoms:

  • Lack of energy and fatigue. This impairs the activity of the body and the concentration of the muscles.
  • Decreased appetite. It is because cortisol regulates hunger.
  • Muscle and joint pain. It can cause tenderness and weakness in these areas.
  • Low fever This symptom is due to the increased inflammatory activity present in the body.
  • Frequent infections and anemia, because the formation of cells in the blood is impaired.
  • Hypoglycemia You have low cortisol because it is difficult for the liver to release sugar into the blood.


Elevated or high cortisol is caused by the use of corticosteroids for a period of more than 15 days, or by increased hormone production in the adrenal glands, which could be due to chronic stress or a tumor.

Symptoms of elevated cortisol

When cortisol stays elevated for a long period of time it can cause the following symptoms:

  • Weight gain, abdominal swelling due to fluid retention, and redistribution of body fat.
  • Diabetes and increased blood sugar levels.
  • Osteoporosis due to decreased absorption of calcium in the body and reduction of collagen.
  • Increased stress, irritability, and depression.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Reduction of muscles.
  • High pressure.
  • Fragility of the skin, spots on the skin, stretch marks, wounds.


This hormone can be controlled through the physical activity and eating foods that improve stress and blood sugar levels. But when cortisol levels are severe, medical treatment may be necessary, or may even require surgery.

Sleeping irregularly and without schedules is very negative for the body and increases cortisol levels. It is recommended sleep eight hours a day. Relaxation also plays an important role in reducing cortisol, whether you do yoga or meditate, this will calm the body and mind, thus lowering cortisol and stress levels.


Caffeine: caffeine can be very influential on cortisol levels. This substance found in coffee, tea or black cocholate increases cortisol abruptly and maintains it for many hours. This makes the body nervous for a long time. The recommended thing, when you have a high cortisol, is to reduce the consumption of these drinks or eliminate it completely.

Sugars and carbohydrates: both sugar and refined carbohydrates are going to be insulin triggers, leading to diabetes and obesity problems. It is advisable to reduce the consumption of these foods. Instead, you should be incorporating protein, complex carbohydrates, and good fats.

Final recommendations on cortisol

Staying hydrated will ensure that you have your cortisol levels regulated. When not enough water is consumed, the body is in tension, which causes stress. The psychological and physiological aspects impact the level of cortisol, that is why a small change in diet or routine can make a big difference.

Do you already know what you have to do? In Bioguía we also have a very interesting article where we talk about 5 signs that will help you identify that you have elevated cortisol. Read it today and keep your body healthy!

Sources: Medlineplus.gov, Okdiario and Tuasaude