What is cortisol and its Types


Cortisol is a stress hormone and performs different functions throughout the body. Cortisol is a primary form of glucocorticoid that is released from the zona fasciculata layer of the adrenal cortex.

The production and secretion of cortisol are regulated by the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis. When there is a loss of regulation or excess production of cortisol, it can lead to disorders like Cushing’s syndrome and Addison’s disease.

Cellular functions

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is synthesised from cholesterol [specify]. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is released from the anterior pituitary. The hormone functions to increase the LDL receptors, which in turn increases the activity of cholesterol desmolase.

The cholesterol desmolase converts cholesterol to pregnenolone. The glucocorticoids circulate most of the time circulate in an inactive form. This inactive form is converted to its form by 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1 (11-beta-HSD1) in the tissues. The 11-beta-HSD2 inactivates the cortisol to cortisone which will be stored in the kidney and pancreas.

Is cortisol a stress hormone?

Cortisol is commonly called as the “stress hormone”. However, apart from regulating stress, it also performs other functions. The hormone regulates the brain, which controls your mood, fear and motivation.

It also performs other functions like

What type of stress produces cortisol?

When talking about stress hormones, it is also important to know the different types of stress.

Acute stress

Acute stress occurs in a short span of time. When you sense danger, you tend to experience this type of stress.

Examples of acute stress are being chased by animals, trying to avoid any kind of accident or managing a sudden fall.

Chronic stress

The stress that occurs for a prolonged time is called chronic stress. Chronic stress occurs when your frustration and anxiety are prolonged for a long time. For example, when you stress yourself due to certain personal problems in life or while working in a high-pressure job.

Traumatic stress

Traumatic stress can occur when a life-threatening situation happens. You tend to experience fear, and this will be strongly captured by your brain. For example, when you experienced physical trauma.

Effects of cortisol on the body

Cortisol can have an impact on the body’s system. The impacts that a body can have are discussed below.

Nervous system

The nervous system plays a major role in the production of the stress hormone. When cortisol is produced, it increases the glucose level and increases the availability of the substances that are required for the repair of the tissues.

Cortisol changes certain physiological functions like metabolism and immunity. According to NCBI, cortisol augments the activity of various autonomic systems, like a cardiovascular response to stress.

Cortisol also regulates weight, appetite, blood pressure, metabolism and blood glucose levels when you are under chronic stress.

Immune system

Cortisol usually mediates immune responses, but when a person is subjected to chronic stress, cortisol can curb immune responses. The responses can also become resistant to certain infections.

The accumulation of stress hormones can lead to increased production of inflammatory cytokines that can compromise immune responses.

When a person is under chronic stress, cortisol is produced. The production of cortisol can prevent the production of other inflammatory mediators. This can also suppress the immune reaction.

When cortisol is overproduced, it produces inflammatory mediators, which can affect the function of the immune system.

Cardiovascular system

Overproduction of cortisol can result in various complications. Studies suggest that long-term stress, which produces an increased amount of cortisol, can lead to increased blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar.

The other risks include heart disease. Cortisol buildup also increases the risk of plaque deposition in the arteries.

Respiratory system

According to NCBI, cortisol will not have any effect on pulmonary function. However, it can improve flows and decreases the ratios of residual volume to total lung capacity in asthmatics.

Stress can trigger adrenal glands to release cortisol. This increases the respiration rate. People affected with lung conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma can get affected the most by the release of cortisol.

Reproductive system

Stress boosts the production of stress hormones. When cortisol is produced in high quantity, it can lead to inhibition in the production of the sex hormone. As a result, there can be reduced sexual drive for both men and women.

Musculoskeletal system

Cortisol production can affect the functions of muscular system functions. A low cortisol level can increase pain in young adults with increased sensitivity, according to data published in NCBI.

When cortisol is produced, it can lead to decreased uptake of glucose by the muscles and increases protein degradation. These reactions can have a negative effect on the body.

How does the body control cortisol level?

The body uses a complex and elaborate system to regulate the cortisol levels in the body. The cortisol level is continuously monitored by the body to maintain homeostasis. The cortisol levels are usually high in the morning and low at night.

The cortisol levels are maintained by your pituitary glands. When there is a fall in cortisol levels, the hypothalamus releases a corticotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone will signal the adrenocorticotropic hormone to produce cortisol.

The production of cortisol by the body is a set of reactions, and the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands should function properly to keep the cortisol levels in check.

Level of cortisol in the body

Normal cortisol level

The normal cortisol level should be 140-690 nmol/L or 10-20 micrograms per decilitre (mcg/dL). When the blood is drawn in the morning, this measurement can be considered normal.

High cortisol levels in the body

When cortisol production exceeds 20 micrograms per decilitre, it is considered a high cortisol level.

Symptoms of high cortisol levels in the body

When cortisol is produced at high levels, it can lead to certain disorders like Cushing’s syndrome. Some of the symptoms of high cortisol production are listed below.

Low cortisol

Production of low cortisol levels can also result in certain complications. This condition can also lead to adrenal insufficiency. There are two types of adrenal insufficiency— Primary and secondary insufficiency.

Primary insufficiency is caused when the immune system attacks the healthy adrenal glands in the body. Secondary insufficiency can be caused if the pituitary glands limit the production of ACTH production. This can occur because the pituitary glands are underactive or not functioning properly.

Symptoms of low cortisol in the body

When a person has low cortisol levels in the body, it can show certain symptoms.

How to maintain an optimal level of cortisol?

Cortisol levels can be maintained with certain activities and lifestyle changes.


Sleep is important to keep your cortisol levels under control. When you don’t maintain a healthy sleep cycle, it can affect your cortisol production.


Exercise can help you to sleep well. When there is an increase in physical activity, your body might feel tired, and you will sleep easily.

Stress management

Learn to handle your stress to keep the cortisol levels in control. Stress can also affect your sleep cycle. Meditation can help with stress.

Maintain healthy relationships

Relationships play a major role in everyone’s life. We tend to reach out to our loved ones when we feel low or lonely. So when this relationship is affected, it can lead to mental and physical stress. Unhealthy relationships can lead to stress.

When should you visit a doctor?

Consult your doctor when you have symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency.

  • Fatigue,
  • Unintentional weight gain or loss,
  • High blood sugar level,
  • Excess hair growth,
  • Weak bones and Poor appetite.


Cortisol is essential for our body to perform various functions. When there is a deficiency or increased production, it can lead to complications and disorders.

Excess cortisol production can lead to stress, and it can affect your sleep cycle. Overproduction of cortisol can affect your mental health.


What does cortisol do to the body?

Cortisol increases blood glucose levels in the blood when there is a deficiency and increases the availability of the substances that are required for tissue repair.

How to manage high cortisol?

High cortisol levels can be managed by certain diet changes and lifestyle changes.
1. Consume whole foods and fruits.
2. Cut your caffeine intake.
3. Exercise regularly and
4. Get adequate sleep.

How does high cortisol feel like?

High cortisol levels can result in nausea and vomiting. It can always keep you alert, and your sleep cycle will be affected.

Scroll to Top