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Intermittent Fasting Increases Cortisol – How to Control

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Intermittent Fasting Increases Cortisol – How to Control – Thomas DeLauer

Longer Fasts DO Increase Cortisol

Study #1 – The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

Prolonged fasting increases cortisol levels – it does so by increasing the size, rather than the frequency or duration, of cortisol pulses

Cortisol is released in a pulsatile, rather than in a continuous fashion from the adrenal cortex

In this study, 8 normal men by analyzing serum cortisol concentrations measured in blood obtained at 5-min intervals over 24 h on a control (fed) day and on the fifth day of a fast (water only) assigned in randomized order

Five days of fasting induced a 1.8-fold increase in the 24-h endogenous cortisol production rate (fed, 2504; fasted, 4528 nmol/L distribution volume)

This enhanced cortisol production rate was accounted for by a 1.6-fold increase in the mass of cortisol secreted per burst (fed, 115 +/- 12.1; fasted, 183 +/- 17.3 nmol/L)

Cortisol secretory event amplitudes (maximal rates of cortisol release attained within a burst) increased in seven of eight men, and mean secretory burst durations remained unchanged by fasting

Moreover, the number of computer-resolved cortisol secretory bursts per 24 h (fed, 22 +/- 1.4; fasted, 25 +/- 2.0; P = NS) and the interburst interval (fed, 65 +/- 4.0; fasted, 57 +/- 4.4 min) did not change significantly during a 5-day fast.


Shorter Fasts Do NOT Increase Cortisol

Study – Cell

In 8 prediabetic men that 5-weeks of a time restricted feeding (TRF) program (6 hour feeding window) did not increase cortisol as compared to controls (12 hour feeding window)

In other words, the men were randomized to eTRF (6-hr feeding period, with dinner before 3 p.m.) or a control schedule (12-hr feeding period) for 5 weeks and later crossed over to the other schedule.

Morning fasting levels of cortisol (and IL-6) were all unchanged

*Note: reduced levels of 8-isoprostane (D), a marker of oxidative stress to lipids. Because it reduces lipid peroxidation, it may, in turn, reduce the risk of atherosclerosis*

This study was conducted in a randomized-crossover fashion with isocaloric and eucaloric diets.


Cortisol & Ghrelin – Study – The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
33 male and female subjects underwent 3.5 days of fasting, during which their cortisol increased gradually as the duration of the fast increased, much like the previous study
However, this study also found that there is a strong inverse association between ghrelin and cortisol – as cortisol rises, ghrelin becomes suppressed

Electrolytes (sodium)

Study from The Journal of Endocrinology had 17 subjects fast without electrolyte replacement for 3 days and marked increases in plasma cortisol, ACTH, beta-endorphin, adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine were found

Unfortunately, this study didn’t compare the effects against those who would supplement with electrolytes, but it seems logical that depriving your body of them would enhance the stress effect



No cell in the human body can function without salt – our electrolytes drive every intracellular process, and, without salt, the human body cannot produce energy, and when fasting, you’re essentially depriving your body of salt

A lack of sodium causes the brain to send signals to the adrenal gland to increase the release of hormones responsible for water balance (aldosterone & vasopressin)

Cortisol is released alongside these hormones

Minimize Caffeine (Tea over Coffee)

Men (48) and women (48) completed a double-blind, crossover trial conducted over 4 weeks – on each week, subjects abstained for 5 days from dietary caffeine and instead took capsules totaling 0 mg, 300 mg, and 600 mg/day in 3 divided doses

In contrast, 5 days of caffeine intake at 300 mg/day and 600 mg/day abolished the cortisol response to the initial 9:00 AM caffeine dose, although cortisol levels were again elevated between 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM after the second caffeine dose taken at 1:00 PM

Concluded that cortisol responses to caffeine are reduced, but not eliminated, in healthy young men and women who consume caffeine on a daily basis


Small Meal Upon Breaking Fast

In the fed state, when insulin is around in high amounts, HSL activity is turned way down while LPL activity is cranked up – in this way, insulin magnifies cortisol’s fat storing properties while blocking its fat burning activity

Cortisol and insulin also block the action of each other by decreasing the sensitivity of their respective receptors

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