10 Warning Signs You Have High Cortisol Level and How to Lower It

Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
10 Warning Signs You Have High Cortisol Level and How to Lower It

Modern day life is stressful. We constantly have important things on our mind. Deadlines, exams, kids, long work days, etc. You know how it is, and you know how you feel when you get stressed, but in case you didn’t already know what’s happening inside your body when you are experiencing a frustrating situation.

This is what’s going on: when you are stressed your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. This causes nerve and hormonal signals to prompt your adrenal glands, located at the top of your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.


What is Cortisol and what does it do?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone, more specifically a glucocorticoid which is secreted by the adrenal glands (a hormone is a chemical which is made in one part of the body, but passes into the bloodstream and has effects on other parts of the body). You have two small adrenal glands which sit above each kidney. We all need cortisol to live, and small doses released into the body can have positive effects such as:

  • Helping the body to balance the effect of insulin to keep blood sugar at the right level and use sugar and fat for energy
  • Helping the body to control and respond to stress
  • Helping to regulate blood pressure
  • Helping to regulate the immune system

However, continuous high level of cortisol in your body has negative effects. The condition where your cortisol level in your body is too high over a long period of time is called Cushing’s syndrome.

Some of the cause of Cushing’s syndrome are:

  • Chronic stress – Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone”.
  • Adrenal problems – There are various rare disorders of the adrenal glands which can cause high levels of cortisol.
  • Steroid medicines – Some people take steroid medicines which are similar to cortisol.
  • Excess alcohol consumption.
  • Severe depression.

What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels (Cushing’s syndrome)?

Mood swings – such as being more irritable, depressed, or anxious than usual

It’s normal to feel moody or down now and again, but if you feel like you are constantly down in the dumps, and/or anxious, then you could be experiencing the consequences of cortisol’s long-term effects on serotonin and dopamine production.

Digestive problems

Rather annoyingly, high levels of cortisol, causes energy to be taken away from the gastrointestinal tract, lowers the production of enzymes needed to digest food, and reduces the absorption of minerals and nutrients. And indeed stress is one of the reasons I’ve mentioned in my previous article about the 5 reasons your digestive system doesn’t function properly.


Heart disease and High Blood Pressure

As we have learned, high levels of cortisol, can be caused by a highly stressful lifestyle. Too much stress can raise blood pressure, which can in turn make you at a higher risk of heart disease.

Sleep problems

Cortisol production is naturally high in the early morning to help you wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed. However, people who chronically stress their adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol alter their cortisol concentrations so that cortisol is low in the morning when they wake up instead of high.

Weight gain

Cortisol stimulates the appetite and cravings for sweet calorie dense foods and foods high in carbs. So if you have high levels of cortisol in your body over a long period of time, the chances are you are going to want to eat fatty and high calorie food.

Skin aging and wrinkling

As if high cortisol levels don’t do enough damage on the inside, well they dehydrate our skin too. Dehydrated skin means premature wrinkling.

Other symptoms are:

  • Aches and pains – particularly backache.
  • Increased susceptibility to infections – cortisol can weaken the efficacy of the immune system
  • Facial hair in women.
  • Purple/pink stretch marks (striae) may appear – similar to those seen on some pregnant women.

In most cases (apart from when steroid medication is the cause), the symptoms develop gradually. The diagnosis is often not clear for quite some time because most of the symptoms can also be caused by other common problems.


It is worth noting, that just because you may be experiencing one or even a few of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you have high cortisol levels. The above symptoms may be associated with other medical conditions. It is always best to visit your doctor if you are concerned about how you are feeling.

If you feel as though you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then it may be time to take a look at your lifestyle and ways in which you change it in order to decrease your cortisol levels. Starting with my top tips!

How to lower your cortisol production

Cut out the caffeine

200 mg of caffeine is said to increase blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour. Try alternative, caffeine-free beverages for two weeks, and see how you feel.

Sleep deeper and longer

A good night’s sleep allows your body to relax and cortisol levels to decrease. If you have trouble sleeping then try taking this natural substance. You can also get more information on how to get better sleep in my post about the best foods for better sleep and in my post about the 12 herbs for insomnia.


Exercise regularly

A good workout is a natural stress buster. If I’m feeling frustrated or angry, then I know that going for a run is sure to clear my head. To put it in science speak, exercise also helps to build muscle mass and increase brain output of serotonin and dopamine, which are brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression.

Keep your blood sugar stable

As much as donuts and cookies are delicious, try to avoid eating too many of them, and devour them for treats instead. Too much refined sugar and simple carbohydrates spike your insulin production. Enjoy eating little and often and food that is balanced in protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds (nuts and seeds have amazing health benefits which I mentioned here). Diets rich in complex carbohydrates keep cortisol levels lower than low carbohydrate diets.

Drink up

Make sure you keep hydrated by gulping down lots of water. Drinking a glass when you first wake up and just before you go to bed will help to keep your cortisol levels down.

Take anti-stress supplements

B vitamins, minerals like calcium, magnesium chromium and zinc, and antioxidants like vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, grape seed extract, and CoQ 10. Link to the article on stress.

There are a number of plants and herbs that can be used to treat stress and anxiety such as St. John Wort, chamomile and oats.

Meditate or listen to relaxation tapes

When it comes to relaxing and lowering your cortisol levels go for calm, soft music or do mediation. Get more information on how to meditate in a previous post about 7 simple and effective meditation techniques to reduce stress.

It’s easy to get caught up in a stressful lifestyle. We can’t always help our circumstances and what we have to face. However, you can take methods, like those above, to help you deal with stress, and thus keep your cortisol levels on the low. But for right now, you don’t have to do anything drastic. Just take a deep breath, light some scented candles and chill out. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff. To get more useful information on how to naturally relieve stress and anxiety read my articles:

Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone


12 Responses to 10 Warning Signs You Have High Cortisol Level and How to Lower It

  1. Bette Chumaceiro says:

    I have had Cushing’s on 3 separate occasions. First time was on my pituitary gland, second time was on my adrenal gland and the third time it was on my pituitary gland again. As a result of this, I have had 2/3 of my pituitary gland removed, my adrenal gland removed (they had to break and remove a rib to take it out) and each time I got it I gained between 60-70 lbs. Blood pressure and cholesterol were extremely high. Now I have the opposite problem, where my cortisol is extremely low and I need to take steroids to keep it at an acceptable level.

  2. Mandeep bhamra says:

    my cortisol is extremely low and I need to take steroids to keep it at an acceptable level.

  3. Pam says:

    Did anyone ever feel cortisol burning your insides when high amounts were released?

    • htempelhagen says:

      Pam. I agree. To me I use the analogy of a car battery overcharging somehow. I can feel the effect trying to manifest thru thinning skin, and can easily be scratched or abraided.Nasty enough to produce blistering lesions that can show up withen hours and either dissappear or take a long time to heal. But most definately feel it cursing through one’s system.

    • Eric says:

      I will sometimes get hot flashes, and skin feels dry and stings.

  4. Dawn says:

    Are there any NON-stress related reasons your cortisol can can be too high? I keep my stress levels low, sleep enough, eat well and exercise regularly (three to five times a week). I take a Cortisol management supplement as well as loads of others such as Rhodiola, L- theanine, ashwaganda, and good quantities of all the important supplements including the B vitamins. I drink two cups of coffee in the morning and have a glass or two of wine most nights, and these seem to be the only remaining things I might be able to do. Given everything I do for my health, I am loath to give up my two favorite “vices,” especially since there is no good reason my cortisol should be elevated. What could be causing it OTHER than stress? Thanks!–Dawn

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      Hi Dawn, long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress are two of the biggest contributors to high cortisol, but there are other medications that can cause it as well as other health conditions. I guess the best solution is to go through a proper medical assessment by your doctor to find out the cause of the elevated levels of cortisol.

    • Brenda says:

      what are your cortisol management supplements?

    • keith kendall says:

      Since I nearly died from hyper-cortisol disorder from chronic stress, I can relate. First thing is cut all processed foods from your diet. Shift to half of your diet being plant based at least. exercise daily. If there is a person in your life using you as I had, cut them from your life. Especially if they have major health problems that tend to asperate their mental problems. Meditate……..and whatever and however you can, SLEEP. Test your cycling cortisol levels. Mine were at the saliva test highs in the morning. Had to take cortisol manager at night to knock it back to reasonable levels. REST………stop being a superwoman or man. Its nto worth it.

  5. keith kendall says:

    No caffeine no alcohol………..both release high amounts of cortisol since one is a trigger to your adrenals to release cortisol (caffeine) and one is a poison which triggers your adrenals to release cortisol. I also went to a counselor to suppress my triggers psychologically due to my childhood traumas. Who knew that something at 5 yrs old trained one’s adrenals to be sensitive all your life.

  6. Carissa Holmes says:

    My cortisol levels were 3 times higher than should be when tested now I have to see a specialist, I have gained easily 50 pounds in its all in my mid section belly. I feel like I gain at least 1 pound everyday. I am a stressed person when I’m not stressing I find something to stress about. I do take Adderall 90 mg a day . sometime more could the Adderall be causing my high levels of cortisol?

    • Jenny Hills, Nutritionist and Medical Writer says:

      I’ve seen that Adderall has a wide range of side effects although I don’t know about cortisol. I would get a second opinion from another specialist as to whether you really need that type of medication or whether there is a better option for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *