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Cortisol is produced by the cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are triangular organs located on the top of each kidney. They are part of the endocrine system, a network of glands that produce hormones that act on organs, tissues, and other glands and that help to regulate systems throughout the body. The adrenal cortex produces the steroid hormones cortisol, aldosterone and the adrenal androgens, primarily dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Production of cortisol is controlled through a feedback system. When cortisol levels are low, the hypothalamus, a gland located in the lower portion of the brain, produces corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH). This stimulates the pituitary gland, located below it, to produce adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), which then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol. When cortisol levels are high, production of CRH and ACTH are diminished.
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