High Cortisol Levels: Symptoms, Reasons and the Ways of Reduction

Human health, appearance, and emotional well-being are deeply intertwined with the body’s hormonal balance. Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone,” is particularly significant in this regard. Originating from a group of Corticosteroids, it is produced in the adrenal cortex. While the body is equipped to handle sporadic or mildly elevated releases of Cortisol, prolonged or intense stressors can prove detrimental to one’s health and can even be life-threatening.

Reasons for Elevated Cortisol Levels

There are several factors, both pathological and lifestyle-related, that can lead to high Cortisol levels:

Pathological Causes:

  1. Hyperactive Thyroid: Overproduction of thyroid hormones accelerates metabolism, which can result in chronic stress and increased Cortisol levels.
  2. Suprarenal Capsule Adenoma: This condition disrupts the communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal cortex, causing a surge in Cortisol.
  3. Suprarenal Capsule Carcinoma: Unlike adenoma, carcinoma is malignant and further stimulates Cortisol production.
  4. Adrenal Hyperplasia: This abnormal enlargement of the adrenal gland can lead to excessive Cortisol secretion.
  5. Small-cell Lung Cancer: Primarily affecting smokers, it can trigger ACTH secretion, which in turn stimulates Cortisol production.
  6. Rectal Cancer: Even without any lesions, it can elevate Cortisol levels.

Lifestyle Causes:

  1. Chronic Stress: Whether from physical exertion, emotional strain, or major life events, stress can significantly increase Cortisol levels.
  2. Participation in Complex Coordination Sports.
  3. Consuming High-Glycemic and Carb-Rich Foods.
  4. Certain Medications: Including antifertility agents, spironolactone, and prednisone.
  5. Pregnancy: Although natural, pregnancy stresses the body and nervous system, leading to increased Cortisol.

Symptoms of Elevated Cortisol Levels

An overabundance of Cortisol can wreak havoc on the body’s systems:

  1. Chronic fatigue, even after minimal effort.
  2. Weakened immunity, inhibiting lymphocytes from producing defensive proteins.
  3. High blood pressure.
  4. Reproductive issues and infertility due to decreased hormone secretion.
  5. Increased appetite leading to fat accumulation around the neck, belly, face, and arms.
  6. Digestive issues like gastritis, pancreatitis, heartburn, and ulcers.
  7. Bone tissue production suppression.
  8. Elevated blood sugar levels.
  9. Memory and cognitive decline.
  10. Sleep disturbances.

Given these potential complications, it’s crucial to understand how to manage Cortisol levels effectively.

Diagnosing Cortisol Levels

Generally, a person’s Cortisol level should not exceed 10mg/dL. However, these levels can fluctuate throughout the day, reaching as high as 80-150mg/dL. A level above 180mg/dL indicates extreme stress or significant physical fatigue. To determine these levels, doctors typically recommend two blood tests in a single day.

For a comprehensive diagnosis, additional clinical tests might be needed:

  1. Computerized tomography.
  2. MRI scans of the pituitary gland and adrenal gland.
  3. Chest X-rays.

If high Cortisol levels are detected, it’s vital to consult with a medical professional before seeking treatment. While some individuals resort to testosterone-containing steroids to reduce Cortisol, this can be hazardous. Unsupervised consumption of certain steroids might trigger severe diseases caused by hormonal imbalances. Plus, specific treatments, like the drug Nebido, are not suitable for everyone, underscoring the importance of medical advice.

Reducing Cortisol Levels Naturally

If you suspect elevated Cortisol levels, it’s crucial to consult an endocrinologist or thyroid specialist. These professionals are equipped to pinpoint the underlying causes of hormonal imbalances and provide guidance on how to mitigate high Cortisol. It’s worth noting that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Preference is often given to natural methods for lowering Cortisol, as they tend to align with the body’s inherent processes.

Many of these techniques focus on boosting testosterone, a hormone known to counteract the rise of Cortisol. Here are some tried and tested strategies that even athletes and bodybuilders employ to maintain muscle growth and overall vigor:

  1. Adequate Sleep: Prioritizing 7-8 hours of quality sleep nightly is essential. Chronic sleep deprivation keeps the body in a continuous stress mode, triggering the production of Cortisol.
  2. Limiting Caffeine and Other Stimulants: Minimize consumption of caffeine and other stimulants that can elevate Cortisol levels.
  3. Re-evaluating Stressful Occupations: If your job is consistently emotionally taxing, it may be worth considering a change.
  4. Balanced Diet: Incorporate foods rich in easily digestible proteins such as dairy, cottage cheese, and eggs. Monitor calorie intake, maintain a structured meal plan, and avoid excessive sugar.
  5. Moderate Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity for 40-60 minutes a couple of times a week can help maintain healthy testosterone levels. Intense workouts can stimulate hormone production, but overtraining can actually increase Cortisol.
  6. Positive Outlook: Maintaining a positive attitude can significantly reduce stress, a primary contributor to high Cortisol.
  7. Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation: Many supplements designed to lower Cortisol contain vitamin C, magnesium, and glutamine. Magnesium-rich supplements can bolster the immune system and enhance protein synthesis. Some supplements, like Halodrol and forskolin, target testosterone elevation but should be taken under medical supervision.

Pharmaceutical Interventions for Elevated Cortisol

In cases where Cortisol levels reach pathological heights, medical treatments become necessary. Since there aren’t medications specifically designed to lower Cortisol, doctors often prescribe drugs whose secondary effects influence Cortisol levels:

  1. Growth Hormone Medications.
  2. Thyroid Hormone Medications.
  3. Steroids: Steroids are known to impact testosterone levels, which in turn can regulate Cortisol. An example is drostanolone propionate, which, besides curbing Cortisol production, offers benefits like enhanced muscle definition and fat reduction. It’s essential to adhere to prescribed dosages for safety.

Using anabolic steroids within the recommended dosage can be relatively safe. However, caution should be exercised not to combine them with other drugs that might amplify their effects, like Anastrozole. Remember, these medications influence the body’s hormonal landscape, which has overarching implications for overall health. Always consult a medical professional before starting or changing treatments.

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