Elevated Cortisol Levels

Elevated Cortisol Levels: Overview

Under normal circumstances your body produces more cortisol in the morning than in the evening, giving you the energy that you need to begin your day.  In the evening your cortisol level should drop by approximately 90%.  Evening is generally the time when the stresses of the day are behind you, the time when you can relax and unwind.  Scientific data is showing that elevated cortisol levels are becoming more commonplace.

Causes and Development

As important and necessary as cortisol is, you can have too much of it circulating in your system.  If you are constantly under stress, your cortisol level can remain elevated over long periods of time.

A recent study found that women who work outside the home and have family responsibilities tend to have elevated evening cortisol levels.  Men, on the other hand, have the expected lower cortisol levels in the evening.  This difference may reflect the additional work that many women do after they get home from their jobs.

Interestingly, differences between women and men in relationship to cortisol extend even further.  One study, which examined the effect of harassment on cortisol levels, noted that recovery from stress was significantly different between men and women.  Harassed men actually had the largest increase in cortisol levels, but once the stress was eliminated men returned to normal more quickly than women.

In a scientific investigation of 30,000 women and men in 30 countries, women were shown to be more likely than men to report feeling stress.  In response to issues of family, work and money, whether they are in a relationship or not, a parent or not, women are more stressed than men in the same situation.  Working women with children were found to have the highest stress levels.

Signs and Symptoms

An elevated cortisol level is not something you can immediately feel.  If it is elevated for too long, over a period of months or years for example, you may begin to feel its effects because of the negative impact it has on your overall health.  Besides impacting the immune system, fertility, and bone health, the list of the risks of high cortisol levels grows longer.  New studies demonstrate that elevated cortisol levels can lead to abdominal weight gain, loss of verbal declarative memory (words, names, and numbers), insulin resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Treatment and Prevention

Managing stress is a very important part of your healthcare program.  A blood, urine or saliva hormone test for cortisol can serve as a stress barometer, warning you of continual exposure to stress, and therefore to potential disease.  Testing will let you know if you need to do something about your stress, such as taking action to change your circumstances, or making strides in new areas of relaxation and stress relief.  Once you know your cortisol level you can begin to take stress-reducing measures in your life and protect your long-term health.

Complications

Research now correlates chronically elevated levels of cortisol with blood sugar problems, fat accumulation, compromised immune function, exhaustion, bone loss, and even heart disease.  Memory loss has also been associated with high cortisol levels.  Continual stress can indeed have a negative impact on your health.

An additional problem of long-term elevations of cortisol is that the adrenal gland may wear itself out and no longer be able to produce even normal levels of cortisol.  This is called "adrenal exhaustion" and is associated with many other health problems.

High Cortisol Levels

Information On This Page

Conditions that suggest Elevated Cortisol Levels:

Lab Values

Musculo-Skeletal

Osteoporosis - Osteopenia may suggest Elevated Cortisol LevelsOsteoporosis - Osteopenia
If a woman is not ovulating she may have lower estrogen and progesterone levels.  Low estrogen levels can increase the activity of osteoclasts (bone breakdown cells) while low progesterone has been shown to increase PMS symptoms and slow bone deposition.  Also, to provide the extra calcium needed when faced with intense stress situation, cortisol can directly stimulate bone breakdown cells.  Unchecked over a long period of time, high cortisol levels can cause you to lose bone faster than you can rebuild it.

Reproductive

Female Infertility may suggest Elevated Cortisol LevelsFemale Infertility
Chronically elevated cortisol levels can stop a woman from ovulating and may lead to infertility.

Risk factors for Elevated Cortisol Levels:

Mental

Recommendations for Elevated Cortisol Levels:

Nutrient

Phosphytidalserine often helps with Elevated Cortisol LevelsPhosphytidalserine
Taking 100mg up to three times a day supports and revitalizes nerve cells and has been shown in numerous studies to slow or reverse cognitive losses attributed to aging.  PS is found in every cell in the body, but perhaps most significant is its ability to lower the level of stress hormones such as cortisol which damage brain cells and lead to the accumulation of calcified plaques in the brain.  Plaques of this type have been observed in Alzheimer's patients.  PS also helps brain cells communicate and improves both memory and the ability to concentrate.

KEY

Weak or unproven link: may suggest
Weak or unproven link:
may suggest
Strong or generally accepted link: often increases risk of
Strong or generally accepted link:
often increases risk of
Moderately useful: often helps with
Moderately useful:
often helps with