If you have high levels of cortisol, here is what you should know

high levels of cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your body naturally. Cortisol or stress hormone helps to regulate blood sugar, inflammation, memory formulation, and metabolism. It would seem like high levels of cortisol is quite good for your system. However, having high cortisol for a prolonged duration is quite harmful.

Symptoms of high levels of cortisol

High levels of cortisol lead to an increase in weight, especially around your face and back. Other common symptoms are thin skin, acne, slowed healing, flushed face, weak muscles, irritability, high blood pressure, and difficulty in concentration.

Cushing syndrome – high levels of cortisol

When you have high levels of cortisol, it is Cushing syndrome. Several medications can increase cortisol levels. However, Cushing syndrome is when your body makes too much cortisol. Here are the top reasons why.

Stress can increase cortisol

Stress triggers several hormone secretions in our bodies. These hormones could alter your body’s physical and mental health. When you are under stress, your body increases its secretion of cortisol and adrenaline as a defense mechanism. It thereby increases your body’s fight-or-flight response. In the past, when humans were dwelling in caves, this fight-or-flight was a good defense mechanism. Today, unless you are on an adventure, it is just work or family induced stress, which might not need such a defense.


Fight-or-flight response would increase energy and heart rate. Moreover, it would limit energy to any function that does not involve in a fight-or-flight situation. So, when you are climbing a cliff, and you suddenly lose balance, your fight-or-flight reaction kicks in, and you would instantaneously grab something, push your muscles, and get back to safety. Once you are back to safety, the stress level drops down.

Unfortunately, today’s stress is from 9 to 5, in front of a computer, or wrecking family life. Either way, the stress level is always high, which means our body has high levels of cortisol throughout the day. Thus, cortisol would restrict energy being spent on any other function not required in the fight-or-flight response. Thus, it would increase anxiety, depression, disturbed sleep cycle, obesity, and heart disease risks.

Medical issues related to pituitary gland

It is not always the fault of a stressful job. Sometimes, hidden medical problems could increase the cortisol level. The most common reason for high levels of cortisol is the issues in the pituitary gland. It could cause over-production or decrease of hormone secretion. One such hormone secreted by the pituitary gland is the adrenocorticotropic hormone, which triggers the adrenal glands for cortisol secretion. Top medical conditions that could lead to malfunctioning of the pituitary gland are benign pituitary tumors, cancerous pituitary tumors, and hyperpituitarism.

Medical issues related to adrenal gland

The adrenal gland secretes cortisol. Any malfunctioning or disorder in the adrenal gland can lead to a decrease or increase in cortisol level. Adrenal gland tumors (both cancerous and noncancerous) can lead to Cushing syndrome.

Estrogen treatment leads to high levels of cortisol

High levels of estrogen can lead to an increase in the cortisol level. Such high estrogen levels are common in women who are pregnant or undergoing estrogen therapy. If you reduce the estrogen level in your body, the intensity of the Cushing syndrome will reduce.

Side effects of medications

Several medications could increase cortisol levels. The best example is oral contraceptives, which increase cortisol levels in the blood. Other medications that can cause high cortisol levels are asthma medication, cancer medication, and arthritis pills. Many steroid medications would increase the level. However, it is best not to stop these medicines abruptly as it could lead to dangerously low levels of cortisol, which decreases sugar level and blood pressure. Such low levels would lead to death or coma.

When to see a doctor for high levels of cortisol?

If a short outburst of stress due to a slight variation in your work schedule increases cortisol level, it is not a thing to worry about, immediately. On the other hand, prolonged high levels would be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Thus, if you are experiencing the symptoms of Cushing syndrome, it is time to get a medical opinion.


The doctor would recommend a urine and blood test to check the hormone level. In some cases, a saliva test is also standard for Cushing syndrome. If your test results show high levels of cortisol, then the doctor would recommend MRI or CT scan to check your glands.

If you leave Cushing syndrome untreated, it will lead to psychiatric disorders, osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and others.

How to reduce cortisol level naturally?

There are several medicines to keep your hormones in balance. However, hormone regulation medicines have a long list of side effects. Thus, it is best to choose natural methods of treatment. The top steps to reduce your stress hormone are a healthy sleep cycle, exercise, and a healthy diet.


Most importantly, you should keep your stress level down. If you have a stressful job, try to have a hobby, games, or take up some activities during your free time. You can keep your stress down with simple activities like hanging out with friends, playing with a pet, yoga, spiritual activities, and more.

Supplements that you can try

Cortisol blocker is a supplement that can help to reduce the stress hormone level in your body. FDA does not have a proof for its claims to reduce the hormone level. However, FDA has approved the sales of these supplements as health products. Some prefer to use this supplement for weight loss and stress management, along with a balanced approach. A balanced approach includes a balanced diet, exercise, treatment for underlying issues, and counseling.

However, if you want to try these supplements, talk to your doctor. There are several brands of this supplement, and not every brand is reliable. Check with your doctor regarding the side effects, dosage, and efficiency of each brand.