Cortisol is something that we all need but when our cortisol is elevated, it can dramatically impact our body and overall health. The average person probably isn’t sure exactly what cortisol is or what role it plays in our health which is why, even when we have common symptoms of increased cortisol, we may not realize what the root problem of the symptoms is. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenals and is your body’s main stress hormone.
The majority of cells in your body have cortisol receptors which means that when your cortisol is elevated, your entire body feels it. It sounds all bad, but cortisol is responsible for important functions like metabolism regulation, reducing inflammation, improves memory function, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and much more. We need cortisol, but for optimal health, we need it to be in the right amount. When it is elevated, the negative effects on your health can be significant.
Symptoms of elevated cortisol include rapid weight gain, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, bruising, skin changes, mood swings, muscle weakness, acne, slow healing, difficulty concentrating, irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, feeling “tired but wired,” heart palpitations, loss of muscle mass, thinning hair, and more. Stress is one of the most common reasons a person experiences elevated cortisol. Additionally, certain medications as well as pituitary and adrenal conditions may elevate cortisol. When your cortisol is elevated, your body easily experiences a “flight or fight” response, even when unnecessary, and is naturally under constant stress because it will typically increase your heart rate.
There are various ways to test your cortisol levels so it is important to consult your physician to discuss your options and what test may be best. Additionally, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to regulating your cortisol – how you lower your cortisol levels will depend on what is causing your increased cortisol. The first things you should focus on are lifestyle changes. One thing that makes a huge impact is getting better and more consistent sleep and ideally going to bed and waking at the same time. Consistent sleep is so important and plays a vital role in cortisol regulation. Additionally, doing things to naturally decrease your stress by enjoying yourself, enjoying a hobby, exercising, spending time with friends and family, and eating a well-balanced diet will help you manage your cortisol levels. Finally, there are supplements and medications that are available to treat cortisol, depending on your unique health. If you, like so many people, suffer from high cortisol, or you suspect you might consult your physician to discuss how you can take back control of your health by regulating your cortisol levels.