6 Signs of High Cortisol Levels in Your Body

January 19, 2020
Reducing your coffee intake and burning more energy through physical exercise is essential for keeping your cortisol levels under control.

Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal gland. And, high cortisol levels can affect your health. After all, cortisol serves to increase our blood sugar levels but can also reduce bone formation and cause diseases such as obesity.

If you have high cortisol levels, it is known as hypercortisolism or Cushing’s syndrome. This disease leads to the build-up of fat, high blood pressure, and great bodily stress.

Possible signs of high cortisol

Although these symptoms aren’t present in all cases, there are some signs that something isn’t right and that you may have high cortisol levels.

1. Sudden weight gain

Weight gain is one of the first symptoms of high cortisol. More so, it is especially noticeable in the upper part of the body since fat begins to accumulate in places like the shoulders, chest, and back. The strangest thing about this is that the arms and legs of this person will continue to be thin.

2. Skin symptoms

Worried woman looking at her skin and how it's affected by high cortisol levels

The skin is also affected by hypercortisolism. It can cause the development of:

  • Acne
  • Purple lesions on the breasts, abdomen, and thighs
  • Bruising
  • Increased facial and body hair

3. Musculoskeletal symptoms

High cortisol can also affect the muscles and bones. The bone structure becomes weak and the leads to an increased risk of fractures, especially in the ribs and spine.

Also a great read: Treatment to Strengthen Bones and Joints

4. Immune system deficiencies

Blood test

The thymus gland, which regulates the human immune system, is also affected by high cortisol. High cortisol can cause the death of cells and cause the immune system to attack the tissues of the body instead of the virus.

  • The most common symptoms of an immune system failure are asthma and allergies.
  • However, the problem may become even more serious: it may cause lupus, Crohn’s disease, or fibromyalgia.

5. Depression and mood swings

Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms that usually appear when someone is under a lot of stress. This is accompanied by continuous and sudden mood swings throughout the day, and in some cases, signs of serious depression can be seen.

There are studies that demonstrate that high cortisol levels reduce blood flow and the supply of glucose to the brain. This interferes with the ability of our brain cells to absorb glucose and can cause some cells to die.

See also: Diet for Depression: Foods that Cheer you Up

6. Fatigue and insomnia

Woman experiencing fatigue because of insomnia

The energy provided by cortisol can be counterproductive for the body. In this case, the body is excessively active during the day, and doesn’t rest. Overnight, the excess hormones don’t allow the person to relax and they struggle to sleep.

Under normal conditions, cortisol levels in the body rise at about 8 am in order to provide energy. But in the case of hypercortisolism, the situation is reversed, and the hormone is active at night and in the morning is depleted.

How to balance the cortisol levels in the body?

Here we will introduce some tips for decreasing cortisol levels in the body so that you can lead a healthier life.

Say goodbye to coffee

Caffeine tends to increase the level of cortisol in the blood by at least 30% within an hour. However, in some cases, the effects can last for 18 hours.

If your intention is to lower your catabolic metabolism and increase your anabolic metabolism, don’t drink any more coffee.

Try to sleep more

A woman sleeping peacefully in a bed

Improve your sleep cycle by drinking infusions like chamomile or valerian tea before sleeping. Furthermore, this will make your body fall asleep quicker and for longer.

Apart from lowering the levels of cortisol in your body, you will look younger and healthier, and it will minimize the impact left by the passing years.


The known benefits of having a regular exercise routine, like gaining muscle mass and increasing the production of serotonin and dopamine, will lower the risk of developing anxiety or depression.

Not only that, but you will burn more of that excess energy which accumulates in the body and avoid an imbalance in your cortisol levels.

Keep your sugar levels stable

Lastly, keep a balanced diet, rich in nutritious food, and avoid fizzy and sugary drinks, and processed and frozen foods. Eat fruit daily, and prepare meals full of carbohydrates, protein and fiber, in order to control sugar levels. It’s also recommended that you take supplements like vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, chromium, zinc, vitamin C and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).

In summary

If you think you have any of the above symptoms, consult with your doctor and, if necessary, they will carry out tests to see if you have high cortisol levels.

  • Abraham, S. B., Rubino, D., Sinaii, N., Ramsey, S., & Nieman, L. K. (2013). Cortisol, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome: A cross-sectional study of obese subjects and review of the literature. Obesity. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.20083
  • Brown, E. S., Varghese, F. P., & McEwen, B. S. (2004). Association of depression with medical illness: Does cortisol play a role? Biological Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3223(03)00473-6
  • Björntorp, P., & Rosmond, R. (2000). Obesity and cortisol. In Nutrition. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0899-9007(00)00422-6