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Cortisol Levels: What To Know To Help Your Hormones

Chronically high cortisol levels may be a main driver of disease. Cortisol is a hormone the body produces in times of stress. When cortisol is chronically elevated in the body, a myriad of issues can arise. Some of the problems that can occur as a result of high cortisol are weight gain, fatigue, elevated estrogen, insomnia, and hot flashes. Below are a few crucial aspects to understand about cortisol.

  • The pituitary gland secretes a message to the adrenal cortex to secrete cortisol. 
  • When under stress, we produce and release short bursts of cortisol into the bloodstream. 
  • However, over time if we have prolonged exposure to stress- this could drain the adrenals and lead to cortisol levels being imbalanced.


1. Cortisol rises with age.

Older people tend to have high cortisol with low levels of DHEA. DHEA is high at a younger age to prevent the detrimental effects of cortisol. For that reason, DHEA administration lowers cortisol levels (Kroboth 2003) and is a common treatment for rising cortisol levels through the aging process. Levels of DHEA peak in your 20’s and slowly fall as you age. By the time you reach 40, your body makes about half as much DHEA as it used to. By 65, levels drop to 10 to 20 percent; by age 80, it plummets to less than 5 percent.

2. High cortisol promotes the development of fatty liver. One study noted, “We have discovered a key mechanism here that plays a crucial role in many pathologic metabolic disorders,” explains Stephan Herzig. “It has been obvious for some time that there is an association between the body’s own cortisol or therapeutically administered cortisone and the development of fatty liver.”

3. Cortisol activates the aromatase enzyme (used for estrogen biosynthesis) and in the absence of progesterone, cortisol becomes more active, increasing aromatase activity. Cortisol activates the aromatase enzyme (used for estrogen biosynthesis) and in the absence of progesterone, cortisol becomes more active, increasing aromatase activity

4. Patients with hair loss often have excess levels of cortisol. “Researchers studied a mouse model of chronic stress and found that hair follicle stem cells stayed in a resting phase for a very long time without regenerating tissues. A major stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, corticosterone, was upregulated by chronic stress; giving mice corticosterone reproduced the stress effect on the stem cells. The equivalent hormone in humans is cortisol, which is also upregulated under stress and is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”

Stress essentially just elevates this preexisting ‘adrenal gland–hair follicle axis,’ making it even more difficult for hair follicle stem cells to enter the growth phase to regenerate new hair follicles,” Hsu said.

5. High levels of cortisol may directly correlate with the appearance of the skin.

A recent study showed:

First, higher levels of serum morning cortisol levels are associated with higher perceived age. Second, although the controls with high cortisol levels looked significantly older than those with lower levels, such a relationship was not seen in the offspring, suggesting these offspring have a more stress-resistant phenotype. Additional rhythmic cortisol studies will provide greater sensitivity for confirming the relationship between cortisol levels, perceived age, and familial longevity in the future.

Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453012000686

7 Causes of High Cortisol:

  1. Emotional stressors and anxiety
  2. Not eating enough
  3. A diet low in protein
  4. Sleep deprivation
  5. High estrogen
  6. Low thyroid
  7. Lack of sunlight

10 Ways to Decrease Cortisol:

  1. Nutrient-dense diet: A nutrient-dense diet is the first step in maintaining healthy cortisol levels. Cortisol and insulin are very strongly positively correlated. So, high cortisol in nails strongly predicts high serum insulin and/or blood glucose. Therefore, eating foods that are known to lower insulin is key to lowering cortisol. Avoid vegetable oils, starchy processed carbs, and refined sugar.
  2. Eat enough calories: Eating enough calories is another way to keep cortisol levels healthy. Starving the body of calories has been shown to increase cortisol. During the first two days of fasting, cortisol levels (“stress hormone”) increase three-fold, followed by a gradual decline to baseline by one week, followed by further fluctuations. This mirrors the experience of “hitting the wall” at day 2-3 of a fast.
  3. Sleep enough: Sleep deprivation stimulates cortisol, resulting in high insulin levels and insulin resistance.
  4. Magnesium: Magnesium has been shown to reduce cortisol. In one study, magnesium supplementation, at 500 mg/d, lowered cortisol and abolished the rise in IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine, during match play in rugby players.
  5. DHEA: Studies show DHEA administration lowers cortisol levels (Kroboth 2003).
  6. Sunlight exposure: Lack of sunlight creates cortisol/melatonin dysregulation and high cortisol at night is very common.
  7. Natural Pregnenolone: Pregnenolone protects the brain from the damage of cortisol and the main mechanism suspected is by elevation of progesterone and allopregnanolone.
  8. Natural Progesterone: Progesterone has a soothing effect on cells.
  9. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a cortisol inhibitor. Interestingly enough, the adrenals have a higher demand for vitamin C than any other organ in the body.
  10. L-Theanine: L-Theanine is an amino acid found naturally in green tea and has been shown to lower the “excitatory” brain chemicals, promote relaxation and help you fall asleep quicker and for longer.

Being human means facing the inevitable ups and downs of life — even when it comes to hormones. We create a customized wellness plan based on your lifestyle and your test results to help achieve your goals. We believe this approach is best because hormones are only one piece of the wellness puzzle. Nutrition, sleep quality, exercise, and mental health are all significant factors for a healthy life.

We’re playing the long game here, easing the pain of aging — like stress and weight gain — and reclaiming a youthfulness you can carry throughout your life. Our team is here for you at any age and any stage.