Get Enough Quality Sleep
One of the ways to prevent suffering from the symptoms of high cortisol is to get enough sleep.
The reason that not getting enough sleep impacts your health so much is that it affects the HPA axis and cortisol levels. Scientists have found that getting quality sleep is just as important as getting enough sleep to help maintain proper cortisol levels.
Excess cortisol levels are just one of the ways a lack of sleep affects your body. Find out what else happens to your health when you dont get enough sleep.
If you have trouble getting to sleep, find out which foods can help to get a better nights sleep.
Relieve Stress With Adaptogens
For thousands of years, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda have used adaptogenic herbs ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, eleuthero, and others to relieve stress.
Adaptogens can be a good way for some people to bring their cortisol back to a healthy pattern, says Trindade. Some are very well-researched and can make a big difference, no matter what type of adrenal issues youre dealing with.
Adaptogens not only reduce stress levels, but also help restore cortisol levels to their natural curve. These herbs support the adrenal and pituitary systems, helping them operate more efficiently. With those systems functioning properly, cortisol is more likely to be released when it should be, instead of spiking up and down.
Highs Of High Cortisol Levels
Dr. Gottfried says that what’s tricky about cortisol imbalance is that many people experience both too highs and too lowsoften in the same day. “I’ll have a patient who has cortisol levels that are too high when she first wakes up, then they dip too low in the afternoon,” she says. “This happens because when the body is depleted of cortisol, it will try to make up for it by producing too much, and then you’re stuck in this vicious cycle.”
This is why she says if you feel your cortisol levels are out of whack, it’s important to see your doctor who can check your cortisol levels through blood, saliva, or urine testsideally a few times over the course of a day since, to her point, cortisol levels can fluctuate. But there are some classic signs of high cortisol levels to watch for, which could in turn prompt consideration of a doctor’s visit:
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How To Balance Cortisol Levels And Relieve Your Symptoms Of Chronic Stress
Cortisol is essential to health. Our bodies normally produce cortisol throughout the day in a cyclemore in the morning as we wake, less in the evening to prepare us for sleepto support our daily physical and emotional well-being. But when cortisol levels become higher or lower than normal for prolonged periods, that wellbeing can be severely compromised.
When were chronically stressed, our bodies maintain excessive levels of cortisol throughout the day. After months or years, elevated cortisol can cause serious problems across the bodys many systems. It can also lead to a suppressed HPA axis, formerly known as adrenal fatigue, where one can produce too little cortisol, which brings its own set of challenges and may require a variety of therapies to resolve. But by learning how to balance cortisol levels naturally and seeking the right care when needed, you can enjoy a calmer and healthier life.
What’s Considered Too High
According to Dr Mitchell, “Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. It is released into the bloodstream and has several vital functions, such as regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Cortisol levels can be measured using a blood test, and the results are typically reported as nanomoles per liter .The normal range for cortisol varies depending on the time of day, but it is generally between 5 and 25 nmol/L. A level above 25 nmol/L is considered high, and levels above 50 nmol/L may indicate Cushing’s disease. However, it is essential to note that cortisol levels can be affected by factors such as exercise, so a single high reading does not necessarily mean a problem. If cortisol levels are consistently elevated, it is advisable to see a doctor for further testing.”
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The Negative Effects Of Too Much Cortisol
Cortisol is an essential hormone produced and released by adrenal glands. Many people associate cortisol as being the stress hormone, but it actually has many important functions, including helping to regulate the bodys response to stress, control metabolism, suppress inflammation, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and help control the sleep-wake cycle, Dr. Jeffrey Dlott, Medical Director of Consumer Health at Quest Diagnostics, explains.
When your body is under stress, it sends a signal to the adrenal glands to release hormones including cortisol and adrenaline. Its the bodys way of prepping for a potentially dangerous, harmful or tense situation, and once the threat passes, hormones typically return to normal levels.
If youre constantly stressed, though, that return to normal levels might not always happen. Long-term, this can influence many of the bodys systems and processes and increase the risk of health conditions like heart disease, anxiety, depression, insulin resistance and diabetes, and obesity, Dr. Dlott adds.
Other issues that can contribute to high levels of cortisol include issues with the pituitary gland, an organ at the base of the brain that helps control hormone secretion, adrenal gland tumors, or estrogen. Certain medications can also contribute to high cortisol levels, such as certain steroids or oral contraceptives, so its important to work with your doctor to determine appropriate dosage levels and for monitoring.
Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
According to research done by the Genetics Learning Science Center, the long-term danger of having high cortisol is that it activates the fight-or-flight response, which temporarily shuts down normal reproductive, digestive and immune functions. The body targets these systems for shutdown because it doesnt need them for immediate survival.
Sensory nerve cells pass the perception of a threat, or stress, from the environment to the hypothalamus in the brain. This signals the pituitary and primary adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. If this cycle goes on for too long, someone becomes more susceptible to all sorts of illnesses, infections and hormonal problems.
Some clues that may signal youre living with high cortisol levels include:
- weight gain, especially around the abdomen/stomach
- a puffy, flushed face
- higher susceptibility to infections
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What Causes Low Levels Of Cortisol
Having lower-than-normal cortisol levels is considered adrenal insufficiency. There are two types of adrenal insufficiency: primary and secondary. The causes of adrenal insufficiency include:
- Primary adrenal insufficiency: Primary adrenal insufficiency is most commonly caused by an autoimmune reaction in which your immune system attacks healthy cells in your adrenal glands for no known reason. This is called Addisons disease. Your adrenal glands can also become damaged from an infection or blood loss to the tissues . All of these situations limit cortisol production.
- Secondary adrenal insufficiency: If you have an underactive pituitary gland or a pituitary tumor, it can limit ACTH production. ACTH signals your adrenal glands to make cortisol, so limited ACTH results in limited cortisol production.
You can also have lower-than-normal cortisol levels after stopping treatment with corticosteroid medications, especially if you stop taking them very quickly after a long period of use.
What are the symptoms of low cortisol levels?
Symptoms of lower-than-normal cortisol levels, or adrenal insufficiency, include:
Should I See A Doctor
If you think you might have high cortisol, its important to see a doctor for a blood test. High cortisol causes common signs and symptoms that can be caused by many other diseases, so its important to confirm whats causing your symptoms.
If youre experiencing symptoms that may be caused by high cortisol levels, your doctor may recommend the following tests:
- Cortisol urine and blood tests. These tests measure the levels of cortisol in your blood and urine. The blood test uses a sample of blood drawn from your vein. A test called the 24-hours urinary free cortisol excretion test is used to check your urine. This entails collecting urine over a 24-hour period. Blood and urine samples are then analyzed in a laboratory for cortisol levels.
- Cortisol saliva test. This test is used to check for Cushing syndrome. A sample of saliva collected at night is analyzed to see if your cortisol levels are high. Cortisol levels rise and fall throughout the day and drop significantly at night in people without Cushing syndrome. High cortisol levels at night would indicate you may have Cushing syndrome.
- Imaging tests. CT scans or an MRI may be used to obtain images of your pituitary gland and adrenal glands to check for tumors or other abnormalities.
Unmanaged high cortisol levels can have serious consequences on your health. Left untreated, high cortisol can your risk of serious health conditions, including:
- cardiovascular disease
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Signs You Have Way Too Much Cortisol
We all know stress is bad for us, yet many of us wear it like a badge of honor. See if this sounds familiar:
Dude: OMG, Im so stressed out! Im working 14 hour days and havent used my vacation days for two years now, but hey sometimes you just gotta keep your eye on the prize, right? Hey, you still seeing that guy? Dudette: Nah. We tried to make it work, but it was such a headache. Relationships are just too stressful. Plus, who has time for a relationship when youre on a deadline and youve got the boss lady to impress?
You know the drill.
Many of us are stress addicts. We claim to want inner peace, but if life gets too peaceful, we go seeking our next hit of our drugs of choice cortisol and epinephrine. Its almost as if being stressed makes us feel important, valuable, and useful. What we forget is that were already worthy souls deserving of love and a sense of worth, simply because we are all little sparks of divinity, shining our lights on the planet.
What Is Cortisol And Why Should You Care
In general, cortisol levels range between 10-20 milligrams per deciliter throughout the day, but peak in the afternoon. When cortisol levels are at their peak, they can reach 3 to 10 mcg/dL.Cortisol levels can vary depending on factors such as stress, anxiety, and illness. If you have an unusual level of cortisol, consult with your doctor.
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Tips To Lower High Cortisol
Here are some tips that can help you lower your high cortisol levels and thus prevent long-term health problems associated with high cortisol.
- Eat a well balanced meal with plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid sugars, consume low glycemic index foods, avoid processed foods, eat a wide variety of health foods to ensure you receive all essential vitamins and nutrients
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Take time out of each day to relax listen to music, meditate, pray, perform your favorite hobby, anything that promotes relaxation
- Take up yoga or tai chi
- Ensure you are getting adequate sleep
High Cortisol Symptoms: What Do They Mean
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because of its role in the bodys stress response. But cortisol is about more than just stress.
This steroid hormone is made in the adrenal glands. Most of the cells in our bodies have cortisol receptors that use cortisol for a variety of functions, including
- blood sugar regulation
- metabolism regulation
- memory formulation
Cortisol is important for your health, but too much of it can wreak havoc on your body and cause a number of unwanted symptoms.
High cortisol can cause a number of symptoms throughout your body. Symptoms can vary depending on whats causing the increase in your cortisol levels.
General signs and symptoms of too much cortisol include:
- weight gain, mostly around the midsection and upper back
- weight gain and rounding of the face
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How To Restore Your Cortisol Balance
You might now be thinking of cortisol as a frenemy, especially if youve experienced any of the problem patterns described above. Heres the good news: There are concrete ways to befriend the hormone and normalize your levels, says Gottfried none of which requires a trip to the pharmacy. When it comes to controlling cortisol, basic lifestyle and supplement strategies powerfully effective for most people, she says.
Read on for tactics that can help you get your cortisol levels in check.
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How Cortisol Functions In The Body
While many people are concerned with lowering the amount of cortisol in their body, the truth is that a healthy balance of this hormone is necessary for optimal healthand can actually be lifesaving in the right circumstances. Thats because cortisols main job is to help fuel your bodys fight or flight response. When you encounter a dangerous situation, your adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream. Your blood pressure rises, enabling your fight or flight response and prepping your body for immediate action. Your blood sugar also increases to provide immediately available fuel for your muscles. After the threat passes, your cortisol levels go back to normal and homeostasis returns.
The trouble comes when constant stress causes our cortisol levels to remain elevated above a natural baseline. This can cause a variety of symptoms that can be quite uncomfortable and compromise your quality of life.
What Do High Cortisol Levels Mean
A high cortisol level can mean several things.
High cortisol may be referred to as Cushing syndrome. This condition results from your body making too much cortisol. .
Some common symptoms of Cushing syndrome include:
- fatty deposits in the midsection, face, or between the shoulders
- purple stretch marks
Several things can contribute to the development of high cortisol.
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The Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system is part of your body’s nervous system and is made up of:
- The sympathetic nervous system , also known as the fight-or-flight response
- The parasympathetic nervous system , commonly known as the rest-and-digest or feed-and-breed response
The ANS works in tandem with the HPA axis to react to external stressors. But, what exactly is the HPA axis?
Risk Factors For Cushings Syndrome
A few inherited endocrine tumor syndromes increase a persons risk for pituitary and adrenal tumors, which can produce cortisol. The most common one is MEN1. Any patient with confirmed macronodular hyperplasia also should be tested. Genetic testing and counseling are recommended for people with more than one hormone-producing tumor. It should also be considered for patients who have multiple family members with these tumors.
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What Causes High Cortisol Levels
Many things can cause high cortisol levels, including:
- physical and emotional stress your body can’t gauge the seriousness of a stressful situation, so something simple like a traffic jam can kick-start your stress response system, as can being ill with a cold
- medication certain medications like corticosteroids and oral contraceptives might increase your cortisol levels
- oestrogen high oestrogen levels in women, for example, in pregnancy, is linked to raised cortisol levels
- an adrenal gland tumour your adrenal glands produce cortisol, so any issues with them can affect your cortisol levels
- a pituitary gland issue an overactive pituitary gland stimulates your adrenal glands to make too much cortisol
- malnutrition for example, if you suffer from an eating disorder
Conditions like depression, diabetes, PCOS, and alcoholism are also linked to high cortisol levels.
Cushings Syndrome Or Cushings Disease
Cushings syndrome is the chronic overproduction of cortisol.
The most common cause of Cushings syndrome is the long-term, high-dosage use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone.
Injectable steroids for the treatment of back or joint pain can also cause Cushings syndrome if used in high doses over a long period of time.
Cushings disease isnt the same as Cushings syndrome.
With Cushings disease, elevated cortisol levels are caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. This tumor causes the gland to create a high level of ACTH. This hormone then instructs your body to produce more cortisol than it needs.
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How To Fix High Or Low Cortisol
Resting is the best way to correct high or low cortisol.
“It’s not super sexy,” Azzaro says, “but your body is telling you to rest. The dirty work of correcting a cortisol imbalance is to identify what the root cause of the imbalance is and then correct that to bring cortisol back into balance.”
We discussed general causes of cortisol imbalance above, but dig deeper. Go past “diet” or “exercise” and ask yourself if your hormone levels are wacky because of:
- Relationship stress
- Hustle culture/doing too much