High Cortisol Levels: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Table of Contents

You may experience symptoms like fatigue, stress, and anxiety when you have high cortisol levels. Find out if you’re dealing with high cortisol levels right now!

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands that help to regulate blood pressure, metabolism, immune function, and other bodily functions. Cortisol levels are typically highest in the morning and lower throughout the day until night, when they rise again to help you sleep. When cortisol levels are higher than normal or too often, this could lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, or even diabetes!

What Are Cortisol Levels, and Why Do They Matter?

Cortisol is a hormone that’s secreted by the adrenal glands. Cortisol levels are measured in nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml).

In order to understand the importance of cortisol, it helps to know what it does:

  • Helps your body respond to stress by releasing energy stores, such as glycogen and fatty acids. This gives you more immediate energy for things like running away from an attacker or fighting back against someone trying to hurt you.
  • Regulates blood sugar levels; when there aren’t enough carbohydrates available for energy use, cortisol steps in with gluconeogenesis–the process of creating new glucose from non-carbohydrate sources like protein and fat–to keep blood sugar stable when we need it most (like during exercise).

Normal Cortisol Levels

  • Normal cortisol levels: Normal cortisol levels are between 5 and 20 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dl), or 0.5 to 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L).
  • High cortisol levels: High cortisol levels are defined as being above 30 mcg/dL, or 3 mg/L.
  • Low cortisol levels: Low cortisol is less than 10 mcg/dL, which equates to 0.1 mg/L in most cases but may be slightly lower for some individuals who have been taking corticosteroids for long periods or those with adrenal insufficiency due to disease or injury.

High Cortisol Levels Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability (extreme moodiness)
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or waking up too early in the morning and having trouble falling back asleep
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Muscle weakness or muscle aches, especially in your shoulders, upper back, and neck area

High cortisol levels can also be associated with high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure you may notice that it increases when you are under stress.

Causes of High Cortisol Levels

The causes of high cortisol levels can be grouped into two main categories: physical and emotional.

Physical stress includes:

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Overexercise or intense exercise for long periods, especially if you have been sedentary for a while
  • Sleep deprivation – not getting enough sleep at night can cause your cortisol to spike as well as make it difficult to fall asleep at night when your body needs rest to recover from the day’s activities

Emotional stress includes:

Poor diet; eating unhealthy foods such as fast food or junk food will increase your chances of having high cortisol levels because these types of foods are loaded with sugar which raises insulin levels in the body, causing an increase in the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands

Hormonal imbalances – women who are going through menopause may experience high levels of this hormone because they’re entering into perimenopause, when hormone production begins decreasing rapidly due to aging

High Cortisol Levels: Symptoms

  • Weight gain: Cortisol is a stress hormone, so it’s no surprise that high cortisol levels can cause you to gain weight. This happens because the body uses cortisol as a source of energy when stressed. When this happens frequently, and for long periods, it can lead to weight gain and other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Hair loss: Another symptom of high cortisol levels is hair loss due to increased testosterone levels in men or estrogen in women. In both cases, this leads to weakened hair follicles that become damaged over time until they eventually fall out.
  • Muscle loss: Studies show that people suffering from Cushing’s syndrome often lose muscle mass without exercising regularly.
  • High blood pressure: Many studies have shown an association between high blood pressure and Cushing’s syndrome. It’s thought that this may be due to an increase in adrenaline production caused by excessive cortisol production during chronic stress.
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High Cortisol Levels: Causes

Stress causes high cortisol levels

Several factors can contribute to high cortisol levels. Some of the most common include:

  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor nutrition and low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia)
  • Physical activity, particularly intense or prolonged physical exertion that exceeds your body’s ability to recover from it

Sleep Privacy

Sleep privacy is a key component of your ability to get a good night’s sleep. As you can imagine, not getting enough sleep can lead to many problems, such as a lack of energy and focus during the day.

To improve your sleep privacy: remove any distractions from around you (e.g., computers and televisions) before going to bed; if necessary, use an eye mask or earplugs to block out external noises; make sure that there aren’t any lights coming through windows into the room where you sleep

Nutrition Privacy

To help your cortisol levels, eating a balanced diet is important. This means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources like fish and chicken, whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, nuts and seeds (like almonds and walnuts), healthy fats such as avocados or coconut oil–and avoiding sugar-laden foods that can cause blood sugar spikes which contribute to high cortisol levels.

Avoiding refined carbs is also important because they’re digested quickly by the body, causing spikes in blood sugar which cause your adrenal glands to produce more cortisol than normal.

To reduce stress on your adrenal glands: avoid caffeine; limit alcohol consumption (if you’re going out drinking at all); take time each day just for yourself without any distractions from technology or other people; get plenty of sleep each night; exercise regularly–exercise releases endorphins which make us feel good!

Physical Activity Privacy

Physical activity can help reduce cortisol levels.

  • Exercise is an important part of managing stress, anxiety, and depression. Exercise has been shown to increase endorphins in the brain, making you feel happier and less stressed.
  • When you’re physically active, your muscles need more oxygen to work properly, which means that they send signals to your brain telling it to breathe deeper so that the cells get enough oxygen. This helps lower cortisol levels because when we are under physical stress (such as when exercising), our bodies produce more cortisol than normal, which causes all sorts of problems like weight gain or muscle aches.

Stress Relief Privacy

Stress relief is important. You can get it from exercise, meditation, and other activities that bring you joy. It’s important to find the right type of stress relief for you–that’s why it’s helpful to talk with people who have been through similar experiences and get their advice on how they managed their stress levels.

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If you don’t have time for regular exercise or meditation classes, try finding another way to relax your body and mind during this stressful time. Maybe take up knitting or craft projects that require concentration; these will help keep your hands busy while also distracting them from thinking about everything weighing on your mind!

Diagnosis of High Cortisol Levels

If you’re wondering what to do about your high cortisol levels, the first step is to ask your doctor for a blood test. This is the most common way of diagnosing high cortisol levels and will likely be all that is needed for an accurate diagnosis. If this test comes back positive for elevated cortisol concentrations, other tests may be done as well:

  • Saliva Test – This test measures the amount of cortisol in your saliva at different times throughout the day. It’s not as accurate as a blood test but can still provide useful information about how much stress you’re experiencing on any given day or week (as opposed to just measuring overall lifetime stress).
  • Urine Test – The urine test measures how much free-floating cortisone has been excreted by your body into the urine during one specific period (usually 24 hours). This method only provides very general information about whether or not someone has been experiencing chronic stress over an extended period; it doesn’t give details about when exactly these stressful events occurred or how long they lasted for each patient

Treatment of Excess Cortisol Levels in the Bloodstream

Treatment of Excess Cortisol Levels in the Bloodstream

The treatment of excess cortisol levels in the bloodstream depends on the cause. Cortisol-lowering medications are commonly prescribed for Cushing’s syndrome, but these can have side effects and may not be effective for everyone.

The best way to treat high cortisol is through lifestyle changes that lower stress levels and help you sleep better:

  • Meditate or practice yoga regularly
  • Get enough sleep every night (7-9 hours)
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources like chicken breast or legumes

High cortisol levels are only dangerous if they become chronic.

High cortisol levels are only dangerous if they become chronic. Cortisol is highest in the morning and gradually drops off as the day progresses, but it rises again in the evening. When excess cortisol is present over an extended period, it can lead to serious health problems such as obesity and depression.

Cortisol can be measured using a blood test called a salivary cortisol test, which measures how much cortisol is present in your saliva over 24 hours by collecting samples and analyzing them for their hormone levels.

Having high cortisol levels can cause problems, but there are things you can do to reduce it.

Having high cortisol levels can cause problems, but there are things you can do to reduce it.

If you have high cortisol levels, there are things you can do to reduce them. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body deal with stress and is usually highest in the morning and drops throughout the day. It’s not uncommon for people with high cortisol levels to also experience:

  • Weight gain (especially around their midsection) because of increased appetite and cravings for carbohydrates or sugar
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mood problems are caused by low dopamine production due to low serotonin levels (low serotonin causes depression)

High cortisol levels can significantly impact both physical and mental health. According to Health Line, symptoms can vary, but general signs of high cortisol levels include mood swings, weight gain, high blood pressure, digestive problems, and fatigue. Elevated cortisol levels can be caused by stress, adrenal gland problems, or medication.

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Supercharge Your Metabolism: Understanding BMR and TDEE

It’s important to remember that normal cortisol levels can change based on the time of day, the amount of stress, and underlying conditions like anxiety and depression. So, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional to find out what’s causing high cortisol levels and make a plan for how to deal with them.

Treatments for high cortisol levels

Cortisol is a hormone that’s produced by the adrenal glands. It’s released in response to stress and triggers the fight-or-flight response—yyour body’s way of trying to protect itself.

Most people have higher cortisol levels when they wake up, which helps them get going. But if yours are too high, it can cause problems such as weight gain and an inability to sleep well. Your doctor may prescribe medication or recommend lifestyle changes to help lower your cortisol levels.

Medication

If your doctor thinks medication is right for you, he or she may prescribe hydrocortisone (Cortef), prednisone (Deltasone) or methylprednisolone (Medrol). These drugs block the effects of cortisol in your body. They can be taken as pills or shots by mouth or injection into muscle tissue, but they have serious side effects such as bone loss and immune system suppression. While they’re often used on a short-term basis during acute stress, they should not be used long term without medical supervision because of their potential side effects.

Eat a healthy diet

Eat healthy foods that help reduce stress levels and improve moods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources (such as fish). Avoid highly processed foods high in sugar and fat since these foods can cause blood sugar spikes, leading to increased cortisol production over time. Drink plenty of water daily (at least 8-10 glasses) since dehydration can also increase cortisol production.

Exercise regularly

Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can help lower high cortisol levels by helping you relax and sleep better at night. You should also try to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night if possible. To help further reduce stress, consider adding yoga or tai chi classes into your schedule.

Conclusion

We hope you understand cortisol levels better and how they affect your health. We also want to remind you that it’s important not to panic if your doctor tells you that your cortisol levels are too high. The first step is always getting tested to determine the cause of this issue, then work together on treatment plans that will help bring those numbers back down into range!

References

Mayo Clinic: “Cortisol: The Stress Hormone” by https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/cortisol/art-20046095

“Cortisol: What It Does and How to Regulate It” by Dr. Axe https://draxe.com/cortisol/

Dr. Mercola: “Cortisol: The Hormone That Can Make You Fat and Sick” https://www.mercola.com/article/cortisol.htm

Healthline: “Cortisol Imbalance: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment” https://www.healthline.com/health/cortisol-imbalance

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Hypercortisolism (Cushing’s Syndrome)” https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/cushings-syndrome

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