Ketosis cortisol levels in a person exercising
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What are ketosis cortisol levels?

Cortisol is a major hormone in the human body. It has similar functions to adrenaline, but also manages several long term effects on the human body. This includes managing the circadian rhythm.

Cortisol is very closely related to the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Since the ketogenic diet is a carbohydrate-restricted diet, what does that do to cortisol levels?

What are ketosis cortisol levels in the body? Do they drop drastically? Do they affect the human body negatively. Is there an adverse response? Here is everything you need to know.

What is Cortisol?

What is cortisol and how does it work?

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands in the human body. This hormone is normally produced during the “fight or flight” instances that a human being encounters. While these hormonal responses are commonly associated with the adrenaline chemical, cortisol production is ramped up when this situation arises.

Hence, whenever the human body faces chronic stress, your adrenal glands begin to pump out cortisol and prepare your body for immediate action.

How Does Cortisol Work?

Effects of high cortisol levels

There is a very specific action-route that cortisol takes throughout the human body. Cortisol binds to the glucocorticod receptor in the human body and activates it. This changes the behavior of various cells in the human body. Depending on the cells that cortisol interacts with, there are many different roles that it plays.

What are the Short-Term Effects of Cortisol?

Cortisol’s release prompts the release of glucose into your bloodstream. The absorption of that glucose result in greater energy reserves in the body.Your heart rate also increases as well as your blood pressure. The digestive and reproductive functions of the body are also shut off during this time, diverting more energy to your body’s survival instincts. Hence, all the energy in your body is diverted towards keeping you alive and surviving the stressor.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Cortisol?

The long-term effects of cortisol can range from regulating your body’s daily functions to keeping you in homeostasis. This keeps your blood pressure and heart rate in check and as well as your sleep-wake cycle. Both these aspects ensure that you’re at your best when you wake to start your day. They also make you alert enough to respond quickly to stimuli should the opportunity present itself.

Cortisol also works with the hormone insulin in your body and regulates the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Insulin levels rise and fall according to the cortisol production. Cortisol keeps the levels of these nutrients in your body according to the body’s needs. Hence, it’s a nutrition regulator as well.

What Affects Cortisol Levels in the Body?

Cortisol levels in the body are affected by natural light, and even artificial light exposure. The levels depend on the season, day length, and the timing of the meals that you eat. Even the urban or natural environments that you live in can affect the levels of cortisol in your body.

Cortisol levels are usually highest in the body during the morning. When you wake up, cortisol delivers the awakening physiological response which helps you jump out of bed if necessary. This cues the dramatic rise in the morning.

Cortisol is secreted through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This is a feedback system which involves your hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The loop that adjusts your cortisol levels depends on the time of day.

Other Effects of Cortisol in the Human Body

Does Ketosis Affect Cortisol Levels?

What are ketosis cortisol levels?

The short answer is a clear year. If you go on the keto diet then you will affect the body’s cortisol levels. This is due to limiting your carbohydrate intake. To the degree that you follow through with the keto diet, this can cause a starvation response in the human body.

In an effort to increase the energy levels in the human body, a response is triggered. This will release stress hormones in the body like cortisol. As a result, cortisol will increase insulin resistance in the body and stimulate a process called gluconeogenesis.This reduces insulin sensitivity for a short time.

You can read more about the process in detail in this blog. However, in short, it’s a process which allows the body to synthesize its own glucose to compensate for energy. The body requires glucose for brain function. Proteins and fats just don’t cut it. Cortisol stimulates the response necessary to fill that gap and increase blood sugar levels. With this, the blood sugar imbalance is removed.

Also, the keto diet results in increased water loss for the body. This results in a loss of electrolytes as well including sodium. If sodium drops to a critical point in the body, the brain will send signals to the adrenal glands to increase stress hormone levels. This is in an attempt to regulate fluid balance. Cortisol is released along with these hormones.

This bolsters evidence for the fact that the keto diet can exert excessive stress for the body. For other side effects of the keto diet and how you can avoid them, you can read this blog.

Cortisol Levels Return to Normal Under Consistent Ketosis

Just like other bodily functions return to normal after the body adjusts to the keto diet, elevated cortisol levels “level off”. This means that once you’re in ketosis regularly, your cortisol levels will return to normal and start regulating things like your circadian rhythm again.

Also, alternative sources of energy like ketones and fat will have a greater capacity to spare glycogen for your body. Thus, it won’t trigger as many stress hormones to spike blood glucose levels.

How You Can Use the Keto Diet to Lower Cortisol Levels

Can ketosis cortisol levels be managed for better health?

There are certain changes you can make to your keto diet to keep production of cortisol low, even from the beginning. These involve a mixed diet rather than the low-carbohydrate diet that keto is known for.

Go for the Cyclical Keto Diet

You can use techniques like the cyclical keto diet to ward off unpleasant effects of low cortisol levels. The cyclical keto diet allows you 1-2 cheat days where you can eat carbs.

This allows the body more time to adjust to a full keto diet. Hence, it eases into the new routine. You can read more about the cyclic keto diet here.

Try the Targeted Ketogenic Diet

You can also try the Targeted Ketogenic Diet. This diet basically allows you to consume carbs when you’re exercising or doing physically stressful activities. it foregoes the carbohydrate restriction imposed by the keto diet. This can help you body adjust to physically demanding situations while under ketosis. Read more about the targeted ketogenic diet here.

Side Effects of Low Cortisol Levels

Side effects of low cortisol levels

While we’ve seen what high cortisol levels can do for the body, low cortisol levels are harmful too. As with most chemicals and nutrients in the human body, a balance is preferable to extreme loss or gain.

These side effects include nausea and vomiting as well as a loss of appetite and weight. However, abnormally low levels of cortisol can result in more serious side effects.

Here are some of the side effects of low cortisol levels in the human body.

Darkening Skin

Low levels of cortisol can trigger the release of another hormone in the human body called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone is meant to stimulate the release of cortisol in the human body. However, it has a side effect. ACTH also raises the levels of melanin in the body. This gives the skin its color and a higher concentration can result in darkening skin and hyper-pigmentation.


The fatigue associated with low cortisol levels is different from normal fatigue brought on by excessive physical activity.

Cortisol controls the circadian rhythm of the human body, meaning it regulates sleep. Without it, you don’t get the jolt you need to wake up in the morning and your will to jump out of bed is lessened. Hence, low levels of cortisol can leave you feeling sleepy or tired.


Low cortisol levels or a regular variation in cortisol production in the human body can cause diarrhea. There have been studies citing the relation of diarrhea during the day to low cortisol levels before bedtime and a steeper diurnal cortisol slope in the day. That is essentially the changes in the nighttime cortisol levels in the human body.

Muscle Weakness

Too little cortisol has also been linked to problems in the pituitary gland on the adrenal gland also known as Addison’s Disease. The symptoms for this can include dizziness and muscle weakness. Elevated blood sugar is needed to supply muscles with energy from time to time. Without cortisol, that becomes rarer.

Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure has also been associated with low levels of cortisol in the human body. Cortisol is associated with raising the blood pressure in the human body. Hence, too little would ostensibly result in low blood pressure.

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