Cortisol – friend or foe?

 We usually associate cortisol as a bad hormone, which slows down slowly, builds muscle tissue, and regenerates. However, it is necessary for the proper functioning of our body. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that prepares the body to fight stress associated with illness, trauma, and fear – it raises sugar in these situations, increases the frequency of breathing, and speeds up the heartbeat. It is our protection, which in itself says that it works best in exceptional situations.

When its increased secretion is excessive then our body falls out of balance – sleep problems, anxiety, lack of regeneration, nervousness. It is also responsible for muscle catabolism by reducing protein synthesis. It can therefore be said that it has the opposite effect on testosterone in this regard. Of course, cortisol does not have only a negative effect – it helps to reduce inflammation.

The level of cortisol during the day changes. It is highest in the morning, then it decreases during the day. It is not a gradual decrease, because the stimuli we have during the day can affect it, for example, training, stress at work. That is why it is so important to avoid overtraining or permanent contact with stressful factors, because then our training goals may go into oblivion.

How to prevent the maintenance of high cortisol? How to control it?

Besides taking care of an appropriate lifestyle, it is also worth taking a look at diet and supplementation. One of our allies is fish oil. In addition to regulating cortisol levels, it also helps to burn body fat and improves overall health. Many studies have shown that regular fish oil supplementation significantly reduces cortisol levels by managing the level of proinflammatory levels of cytokines and norepinephrine.

Quite recently, a group of Italian scientists from Universita Politecnica delle Marche recruited 31 alcoholics for the study. The aim of the study was to check what dose of fish oil will affect the level of their cortisol. This group was chosen because at the moment when the alcoholic stops drinking, his level of stress hormone increases significantly. The group was divided in half – the first one received 21 days a capsule daily from 1g fish oil 252 mg DHA and 60 mg EPA and the other, a placebo. The results revealed that in the first group, cortisol levels decreased, anxiety and stress also decreased, and the cortisol production remained unchanged in the placebo group.

There is a significant difference between alcoholics and healthy people in many biological processes, but the effect of fish oil on cortisol levels in both groups has had positive effects.

Research has suggested that fish oil supplementation also applies to athletes, allowing them to fully utilize their exercise potential. As previously mentioned, cortisol rises with increased physical effort and long-term maintenance of high levels lowers anabolic possibilities.

When is best to supplement fish oil? Research suggests that the optimal time is the evening, for example, for dinner or just before bedtime.

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