Cortisol belongs to the class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which affect almost every organ and tissue in the body. Cortisol’s most important job is to help the body respond to stress. Among its many tasks, cortisol helps

  • maintain blood pressure and heart and blood vessel function
  • slow the immune system’s inflammatory response—how the body recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, and substances that appear foreign and harmful
  • regulate metabolism

The amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands is precisely balanced. Like many other hormones, cortisol is regulated by the hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain, and the pituitary gland. First, the hypothalamus releases a “trigger” hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which signals the pituitary gland to send out ACTH. ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol then signals back to both the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to decrease these trigger hormones.

Source: NIDDK (NIH)1

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Cortisol is produced by the body’s two adrenal (pronounced uh-DREEN-l) glands either in response to stress or when the cortisol levels in the blood are lower than they should be. Cortisol is a type of glucocorticoid (pronounced GLOO-koh-KAWR-tuh-koid) or steroid (pronounced STEER-oid or STER-oid) hormone.

In the right amount, cortisol helps the body with several vital tasks:

  • Maintaining blood pressure and heart function
  • Controlling the immune system
  • Converting fat, protein, and carbohydrates into energy
  • Raising blood sugar levels as needed
  • Controlling bone formation

When the body continually receives or produces too much cortisol, either from medication or as a result of a tumor, Cushing’s syndrome can develop.

Source: NICHD (NIH)2

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  • Viruses: Viruses are capsules with genetic material inside. They are very tiny, much smaller than bacteria. Viruses cause familiar infectious diseases such as the common cold, flu and warts. They also3 ...

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  1. Source: NIDDK (NIH): health-information/ endocrine-diseases/ adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease
  2. Source: NICHD (NIH): health/ topics/ cushing/ conditioninfo/ Pages/ default.aspx
  3. Source: MedLinePlus (NIH): viralinfections.html
  4. Source: MedLinePlus (NIH): benigntumors.html

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