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Stress hormone cortisol why it leads to obesity and muscle breakdown


With trastovyy hormone called cortisol when it is produced by the body, why it leads to obesity and muscle breakdown, and whether it is possible to reduce the levels.

What is cortisol?

The hormone cortisol is produced by the body in stressful or emergency situations, with a strong physical exertion or lack of nutrition. The normal level is 10 μg/dl, but under stress he rises to 80 μg/dl, and a strong shock

to 180 μg/dl.

Considering the cases of increasing cortisol, it is easy to see that this is a kind of protective reaction of the organism: in shock cortisol helps to act faster, with little food makes you look for food. during exercise gives you explosive strength (1) .

The mechanism of action of cortisol

Urgently increase the level of cortisol, the body tends sharply to mobilize energy reserves. Glucose (exactly as amino acids) is withdrawn from the tissue and sent into the bloodstream to enhance brain activity and maximize concentration.

On the one hand, concentration helps in faster decision making, but, on the other hand, a person’s behavior in this case can be seen as overly aggressive, and constantly being in this state causes chronic stress.

Why cortisol destroys muscle?

As we have already mentioned, increased levels of cortisol can lead to destruction of tissues: muscles are broken down are capable of binding to amino acids and glucose (glucose is present in the muscles as glycogen to ensure their work ).

High blood pressure speeds up the area in the brain which are released in large number of glucose that, in turn, causes a dramatic burst of energy and a kind of “adrenaline shock. All this is a big burden on the body.

Negative effects of cortisol

If a sharp increase in cortisol destroys muscle, chronically high content of this hormone in the blood leads to a constant stress, increased irritability, and changes associated with deterioration of metabolism (1) .

In addition, there are the opinions of experts who believe that high levels of cortisol disrupts metabolism and causes as obesity and increased fat storage in problem areas (for men in the abdomen and back. women — on thighs).

Cortisol and physical activity

According to the research Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2). in the first minutes of physical activity the level of cortisol rises to 60-65 μg/dl, then reduced to 35 μg/dl, and after 40-50 minutes begins to grow again (see chart, upper line).

Recommendation on duration of strength training (45 minutes away) is based largely on the fact that after this time, the cortisol level increases, begin anabolic processes and the body starts the destruction of the muscles.

How to lower cortisol levels?

In the aforementioned study, the trainees were divided into two groups: those who took supplements and those who took special supplements containing phosphatidylserine (PS, phosphatidylserine) in an amount of 600 mg per day.

Among the products containing phosphatidylserine are the following: bovine brains (713 mg/100 g), Atlantic mackerel (480 mg/100 g), chicken heart (414 mg/100 g), Atlantic herring (360 mg/100 g), acne (335 mg/100 g), offal (305 mg/100 g) (3) .

Supplements during exercise

There are studies (4). showing that if during weight training to consume 5-10 g of BCAAs (the abbreviation stands for the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine ), mixed with 20-30 g of simple carbohydrates, the level of cortisol is also reduced.

This fact can be explained by the fact that cortisol, primarily produced by the body for extra energy. If present in the blood essential amino acids and glucose, it is likely that the body does not so much increase the level of cortisol.


Production of cortisol is an emergency reaction to a stressful situation. In the short term, cortisol destroys muscle, in the long term, affects the metabolism, stimulates the deposition of fat in problem areas and causes chronic stress.

Read on:


Cortisol and Stress, source

The effects of phosphatidylserine on endocrine response to moderate intensity exercise, source

Phosphatidylserine, Wikipedia Article, source

Sharp, Carwyn P M; Pearson, David R. Amino Acid Supplements and Recovery from High-Intensity Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.