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These negative effects also often come with their own consequences. For example, increased abdominal fat is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat include an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, metabolic syndrome, higher levels of bad cholesterol , and lower levels of good cholesterol .
Cortisol is important for your body to function normally, but too much cortisol can be bad for your health.
Chronic high cortisol levels can also lead to a condition known as Cushing syndrome. Causes can include adrenal tumors or the prolonged use of glucocorticoids. Symptoms of Cushing syndrome can also include high blood sugars with increased thirst and urination, osteoporosis, depression, and more frequent infections.
What Happens When Cortisol Is High
Over the last 20 years, studies have increasingly revealed that moderate to high cortisol levels may lead to an array of health issues, such as :
- Chronic disease. Long-term increased cortisol may increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
- Weight gain. Cortisol may increase appetite and signal the body to shift metabolism to store fat.
- Lack of energy/difficulty sleeping. It can interfere with sleep hormones which may impact sleep quality and length.
- Difficulty concentrating. Also referred to as brain fog, some people report trouble focusing and lack of mental clarity.
- Impaired immune system. Increased cortisol can hamper the immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections.
- Cushings syndrome. In rare cases, very high cortisol levels can lead to Cushings syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
Elevated cortisol levels can be caused from many underlying issues such as overactivity or cancer of the pituitary or adrenal glands, chronic stress, and medication side effects .
Further, existing chronic disease may lead to higher cortisol levels, causing a chicken or the egg type of scenario .
Therefore, its best to work with a qualified health professional to establish the root cause of your health issues. Along with this, you may want to introduce some effective lifestyle habits that may help you better manage your cortisol levels. Here are some recommendations:
Learn To Recognize Stressful Thinking
Paying attention to stressful thoughts may help you reduce them.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a strategy that involves becoming more self-aware of stress-provoking thoughts, accepting them without judgment or resistance, and allowing yourself the ability to process them .
Training yourself to be aware of your thoughts, breathing, heart rate, and other signs of tension helps you recognize stress when it begins .
Recognizing stressful thoughts allows you to formulate a conscious and deliberate reaction to them. For example, a study involving 43 women in a mindfulness-based program showed the ability to describe and articulate stress was linked to a lower cortisol response (
Tending to your own happiness can help keep cortisol down. If youre feeling stressed, try listening to music or making yourself laugh.
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How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels
If your cortisol levels are high, how you lower them will depend on the underlying cause. If its because of issues with your pituitary gland, adrenal glands, or medication youre taking, youll need to work with your GP or health professional to lower them. If its because of chronic stress, there are lots of lifestyle changes you can make to lower your stress levels:
- enjoy yourself do something you love every day, like dancing or listening to music, to improve your mood
- practice mindfulness for example, daily meditation or yoga
- connect with your friends, family, and even your pet a strong social support system is important for your mental health
- make sleep a priority do your best to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night
- break a sweat aim for at least 75 vigorous minutes of activity or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week
- eat a healthy diet aim for a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish
- breathing exercises for example, deep nose breathing or counting breaths
- try a supplement omega-3, vitamin B-complex, magnesium, L-theanine, lemon balm, valerian root, and ashwagandha are linked to lower cortisol levels
Is Cortisol A Stress Hormone
Cortisol is widely known as the stress hormone. However, it has many important effects and functions throughout your body aside from regulating your bodys stress response.
Its also important to remember that, biologically speaking, there are multiple different kinds of stress, including:
- Acute stress: Acute stress happens when youre in sudden danger within a short period of time. For example, barely avoiding a car accident or being chased by an animal are situations that cause acute stress.
- Chronic stress: Chronic stress happens when you experience ongoing situations that cause frustration or anxiety. For example, having a difficult or frustrating job or having a chronic illness can cause chronic stress.
- Traumatic stress: Traumatic stress happens when you experience a life-threatening event that induces fear and a feeling of helplessness. For example, experiencing an extreme weather event, such as a tornado, or experiencing war or sexual assault can cause traumatic stress. In some cases, these events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder .
Your body releases cortisol when you experience any of these types of stress.
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Techniques To Counter Chronic Stress
Many people are unable to find a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, much like a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress.
Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.
Fortunately, people can learn techniques to counter the stress response.
Relaxation response. Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word , visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.
How Do You Lower Cortisol Levels
In the long run, the best way to lower cortisol levels is to manage stress. We know this can be easier said than done, but when you begin to incorporate the healthy living practices that work best for you, you will likely stay motivated to continue them because of how great they make you feel. Some of the best ways to lower cortisol levels in the body include:
- Getting regular exercise
When you exercise regularly, you reduce levels of the bodys stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. On the flip side, you stimulate the production of endorphins, which are the bodys natural painkillers and mood elevators, so its a win-win.
- Getting adequate sleep
If you are not getting enough sleep, the body is more likely to produce high levels of cortisol. After a period of sleep deprivation, subjects have displayed higher levels of cortisol later in the day, which is the time that the body should ideally be preparing for rest.
- Spending time in nature
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology showed that spending at least 20 to 30 minutes submerged in nature was associated with the biggest drop in cortisol levels. Throughout the years, studies have shown time and time again that heart rate and blood pressure lowered when individuals spent more time in outdoor environments. As it turns out, the great outdoors can actually facilitate greater health.
- Establishing mind-body practices
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Signs Of Chronic Stress
Stress becomes harmful when it doesnt abate. Before you know it, we get caught up with it, we dwell on it, and it is prolonged. We all have stress, said Tina Halliday, LCSW, behavioral sciences manager and CAT admissions coordinator for University of Utah Health. Stress can be produced from unpleasant situations as well as great situations like getting a new job, moving into a new home, or even falling in love.
There are a variety of different feeds that create stress. One example that is notable is related to your thought process, how we perceive an experience, said Halliday. Our minds can create stress. Halliday likens chronic stress to an everyday experience: like peeling out every time a red light turns green. You are over using a response that is not necessary to the situation every time a light turns green, hence leading to unnecessary wear on the vehicle. This is similar to our responses and perceptions to stress producing events. Can some of those events be managed in a way that brings them down to size and does not produce unnecessary wear on an individual? Back to our car analogy, if you can accelerate from a full stop in a more gradual way, its going to be much better on your engine in the long run. Halliday said.
What Is The Treatment For Adrenal Adenoma
Your treatment depends on whether the tumor is nonfunctioning or functioning . If a nonfunctioning tumor is small, your healthcare provider may recommend periodic CT scans to ensure it doesnt increase in size or become functional. If the tumor grows rapidly or gets bigger , your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. Large tumors and rapid growth increase the likelihood of a tumor becoming cancerous.
Treatments for functioning tumors almost always involve surgery. Treatments include:
- Adrenalectomy : Your healthcare provider may remove your adrenal gland via laparoscopy if the tumor is benign and small. During a laparoscopy, they make tiny cuts into your abdomen and perform the surgery through the incisions. For a larger tumor or one that may be cancerous, your healthcare provider may perform surgery by making a larger incision in your back. In some instances, your remaining adrenal gland may make enough hormones to keep you healthy. In others, you may need hormone therapy to supplement the lack of hormones.
- Medications: If youre not a candidate for surgery, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines that prevent the adenoma from making excessive amounts of hormones. You may also receive medications for several weeks to help stabilize your hormone levels following an adrenalectomy.
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How Does Cortisol Affect Female Hormones
Aside from affecting the menstrual cycle, abnormal levels of CRH in reproductive tissue have been associated with negative pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth. .
Cortisol actually increases the cravings for sweets.
High cortisol lowers oestrogen levels, which can result in the deposition of fat, often in the middle section of the body. When oestrogen is lowered from continuous stress and cortisol production, all the female hormone imbalance symptoms such as night sweats, sleep problems, and mood swings can get worse.
If not managed, high cortisol can cause many other important hormones to become out of balance.
Other Effects Of Cortisol
Some physical effects of cortisol unrelated to fight or flight include:
Controlling salt and water balance.
Acting as an anti-inflammatory.
Helping you wake up in the morning.
Regulating immune system function.
Cortisol release is controlled by a feedback system between your brains hypothalamus gland, the , and the adrenal gland, which together constitute the HPA axis . The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are responsible for ensuring that your blood contains the correct level of cortisol. If its too low or too high, the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands to make more or less.
Once a perceived threat has passed, your cortisol levels should return to normal, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to regulate and your digestion and other body systems to restart. However, in our stress-laden, fast-paced culture, cortisol can remain chronically high. This can cause a variety of health problems, as we discuss below.
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Beware Of Unsupported Claims
In recent years, the diet industry has tried to capitalize on findings from studies about cortisol and weight gain. Perhaps youve come across advertisements promoting dietary supplements claiming to lower cortisol and enhance weight loss. Most medical professionals advise patients to avoid these products as no independent studies published in respected, peer-reviewed medical journals have shown that these supplements have any value in cortisol reduction or weight loss.
Overall, its important to remember that theres no miracle cure for elevated cortisol. Exercise, eating right and relaxation are the best methods for lowering these harmful hormone levels that have risen in response to stress.
What Happens When You Produce Too Much Or Little Cortisol
Symptoms of too much cortisol include:
- weight gain, particularly around the abdomen and face
- thin and fragile skin that is slow to heal
- for women, facial hair and irregular menstrual periods
Symptoms of not enough cortisol include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, your doctor may suggest you have a blood test to measure your cortisol levels.
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What Are The Common Conditions And Disorders That Affect The Cardiovascular System
Many of the problems with the components of the cardiovascular system have to do with slowdowns or blockages in the blood vessels. Since your blood vessels supply your entire body with oxygen, a blockage in any of the blood vessels makes it harder to deliver that oxygen.
Common cardiovascular problems include these heart problems:
How Are Cortisol Levels Tested
If you have symptoms that could point to a cortisol problem, your healthcare provider can order a blood test to look at your levels.
Typically, youll have blood drawn for testing twice in one day. The first test is done in the morning, when cortisol is at its peak. The second one is often done around 4 p.m., when levels are expected to be much lower.
If youre a shift worker or have a non-standard schedule for any reason, let your healthcare provider know. The timing of the tests may need to be adjusted.
Your cortisol may also be tested in saliva or urine. For a saliva test, youll be given a kit to collect a sample at night, when levels should be low.
For a urine test, youll be asked to collect your urine for 24 hours. Youll get a container and instructions for this.
Be certain to follow the directions carefully and to promptly return your tests to the lab for analysis.
Abnormal cortisol levels may mean Addisons, Cushings, another medical condition, or a temporary change due to:
- Higher-than-normal stress levels
- Birth control pills
- Other medications
Your healthcare provider can explain to you what your results mean and what, if any, treatments you may need. You may require more testing before they can make a diagnosis.
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Treatment For High Cortisol
For those with regularly high stress levels, there are multiple ways to decrease stress and lower cortisol levels. Sometimes this may just involve lifestyle changes such as getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Meditation and relaxation exercises are highly effective in reducing short-term stress and helping an individual get back to feeling like their normal selves sooner.
For others with more significant stress-causing concerns, they may need to make bigger changes such as changing jobs, removing themselves from an unhealthy relationship, or seeking professional help to assist them in overcoming some of the stressful factors present in their lives. A person can also help to lower their stress levels by indulging in self-care, taking time to help others, caring for their pets, or taking herbal supplements such as fish oil or ashwagandha, for example.
In severe cases such as Cushing syndrome and Addison’s disease, medical treatment and intervention will be necessary to return the body to a healthier state.
How Are Adrenal Tumors Diagnosed
Many people dont realize they have an adrenal adenoma until their healthcare provider discovers an adrenal gland tumor during an imaging procedure for an unrelated medical condition. These tumors are sometimes called incidentalomas because theyre found incidentally, or by chance.
Your healthcare provider will first determine whether a tumor is cancerous or benign . If its an adrenal adenoma, theyll perform tests to determine whether its secreting excess hormones.
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What Are Normal Cortisol Levels
The level of cortisol in your blood, urine and saliva normally peaks in the early morning and declines throughout the day, reaching its lowest level around midnight. This pattern can change if you work a night shift and sleep at different times of the day.
For most tests that measure cortisol levels in your blood, the normal ranges are:
- 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.: 10 to 20 micrograms per deciliter .
- Around 4 p.m.: 3 to 10 mcg/dL.
Normal ranges can vary from lab to lab, time to time and person to person. If you need to get a cortisol level test, your healthcare provider will interpret your results and let you know if you need to get further testing.