Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

In stressful situations, the body will start to release adrenaline and norepinephrine to prepare you for the situation that might ensue. These molecules get released within seconds. It initiates the body’s fight or flight response. Then, after a couple of minutes, your body would be flooded with the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is supposed to be important to keeping you healthy in stressful situations. It regulates the changes that occur in the body as a result of stress, including immune response, blood pressure and blood sugar.


Too much stress can cause wounds to heal slower and cravings of sugary and fatty foods. Flickr / Creative Commons / Gal Comans

When one stays stressed for too long a time, cortisol can be detrimental to the body instead of beneficial. The purpose of cortisol is to restore order to your body in tense situations. The hormone puts more glucose in the body to avoid a crash when the adrenaline wears off.

It activates the liver response to filter out the excess glucose that is pumping inside of your body. Our body’s stress response has evolved from early days when we were fighting for survival. In present times, sources of stress can come from financial worries and work concerns.

This kind of stress does not fade after an encounter. It stays ever present in the body. This means that cortisol levels will stay elevated. Elevated cortisol levels for prolonged periods of time can lead to health problems.

The hormone can inhibit some of the body’s immune responses. Under intense stress, people may be more likely to get sick, or it might take longer to get back to a healthy state. The stress hormone also slows bone growth, so sustained levels can cause weaker, more fragile bones. Cortisol also works on a part of the brain that controls appetite, so you have an increased desire for fatty and sugary foods, which can be detrimental to your overall health. In colloquial terms, we call this “stress eating.”

However, the lowered immune response can be good in some ways. Cortisol is just another term for hydrocortisone. It helps reduce swelling and itching, which is how the immune system responds to certain threats.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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