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Signs of High Cortisol and What to Do About It

Recently in of my classes at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I had the pleasure to listen to Sarah Gottfried talk about how a critical hormone, cortisol, relates to our physical and mental health.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone secreted by our adrenal glands into our bloodstream where it is delivered all over our body. Cortisol is our main stress hormone and serves various different roles, including initiating stress response, raising blood sugar level and blood pressure, modulating sleep/awake cycles and more. Cortisol is an essential hormone and imbalances can affect several different areas of our health.

What are the signs of high cortisol?

If our bodies are chronically over-producing cortisol, we can experience a series of different symptoms, including:

  • Feeling "tired but wired"

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Sugar Cravings

  • Weight Gain (mainly on face, chest and abdomen)

Symptoms of Chronically Elevated Cortisol

What causes high cortisol?

Frequently, elevated cortisol levels are due to diet and lifestyle factors as listed below. Some times, people with chronic high cortisol levels are diagnosed with Cushing's Disease which is caused by certain tumors, so it is always to check with your doctor all possible root causes.

Possible causes for high cortisol:

  • Chronic Stress

  • High caffeine consumption

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Certain medications (i.e. corticosteroids)

How can I test my cortisol?

In this post, Dr. Sarah Gottfried details the different methods for testing cortisol, including blood/serum, urine, saliva and hair. Her favorite method (and mine as well!) is the 24-hr dried urine analysis which measures cortisol metabolites over the course of the day. This way you have an idea of how your cortisol levels are behaving ( hint: it should be high in the morning and slowly decrease throughout the day) and a more in-depth look into your hormonal pathway behavior - which leads to a more personalized treatment!

What can I do to support a healthy cortisol pattern?

There are many things you can do to start balancing the cortisol in your body, these include:

  • Reduce or avoid caffeine, try switching coffee for less caffeinated beverages like black tea or green tea (my favorite!)

  • Reduce or avoid alcohol, I always have a pack of seltzer water or kombucha in social situations when I crave a drink. Easier said than done, ultimately you need to find the strategy that works for you.

  • Start a mindfulness or meditation practice, I give some practical tips on this post.

  • Practice yoga, or another mind-body balancing exercise like pilates, tai chi or qi gong. Alternate it with more intense exercise that you like.

  • Add a few supplements like Rhodiola, Vitamin B5, Vitamin C and Omega 3s. Dr. Gottfried talks more about dosages in this post.


All content found on this page, including: text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this page.

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I'm Emilie and I am passionate about helping people heal their lives with diet, mindfulness, and lifestyle. My focus is to help those with anxiety and depression heal naturally.

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