High Cortisol Testing And Diagnoses
Your doctor can order a number of tests to determine if you have abnormally high cortisol levels. Both blood and urine testing help reveal a problem, but a 24-hour urine test is used more often than a cortisol blood test to diagnose Cushings disease or syndrome.
The cortisol values listed below, which can be obtained from a blood test, serve as a reference range for whats considered normal. Cortisol levels above this normal range are considered high and can be risky or problematic.
But keep in mind that values differ depending on time of day, age and the type of cortisol test preformed. Saliva tests are now also recommended and appear to be as reliable as a blood sample. Additionally, an overnight dexamethasone suppression test may also be recommended, and it involves taking a dose of a corticosteroid medicine called dexamethasone to determine how blood cortisol is affected.
Because of this, your doctor will always need to evaluate your results in light of your specific symptoms and medical history.
- Normal cortisol ranges for adults and children in the morning are between five to 23 micrograms per deciliter or 138 to 635 nanomoles per liter
- Normal cortisol ranges for adults and children in the afternoon are between three to 16 mcg/dL or 83 to 441 nmol/L
- Normal cortisol for a newborn baby is between two to 11 mcg/dL or 55 to 304 nmol/L
Final Thoughts on Cortisol Levels
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Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol
If the communication between the brain and the adrenal gland is functioning correctly, the body should be able to increase and reduce cortisol production as necessary.
However, levels of cortisol can sometimes remain high even after the resolution of a stressful situation. This can have a negative impact on health.
The following simple tips may help to moderate cortisol levels:
How To Lower Cortisol
You can lower cortisol levels naturally through a combination of diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. There are even supplements that are scientifically proven to help optimize cortisol levels. You can lower your cortisol levels by:
We bet youre a bit skeptical. Its understandable. We were too. You mean, stuffing my face with dark chocolate, putting on Justin Bieber, and petting my dog can balance cortisol in my bloodstream AND improve my quality of life?
Get this: It works, and science has proven it. Weve been doing it for years and feel GREAT. Personally, our thoughts dont race anymore, we dont lash out at every little minor thing, we wake up feeling refreshed , and we dont feel too shy to speak in social situations.
Heres what science says about these tips:
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New Finding On How Stress Hormones Influence The Brain
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Reference: Mifsud KR, Kennedy CLM, Salatino S, et al. Distinct regulation of hippocampal neuroplasticity and ciliary genes by corticosteroid receptors. Nat Comms. 2021 12:4737. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24967-z.
How To Make Bucatini With Creamy Bacon And Onion Sauce
Do you often find yourself feeling “hangry,” even when you’ve just eaten? As it turns out, hormones could be the culprit!
Kelly LeVeque is a holistic nutritionist, wellness expert and author based in Los Angeles, CA. Her clients include major celebrities like Jessica Alba and Jennifer Garner.
Kelly came on our show to talk about the three most common hormones that could be making you feel hungry. She explains how they function and what you can do to make sure they’re working for you, not against you.
1. The Hunger Hormone, a.k.a. Ghrelin
How It Works
Ghrelin is released when the stomach is empty and stops when the stomach is stretched, Kelly explains.
“Once we put food in our stomach and the lining of the stomach stretches, it stops being produced, so that hunger hormone shuts down,” she says.
Ghrelin is highest before eating and the lowest an hour after eating. However, depending on the type of food you’re eating, the hunger hormone may or may not actually shut off when it should.
In fact, studies show a correlation between altered ghrelin levels and obesity.
What You Can Do
The nutritionist suggests avoiding processed foods, white carbohydrates, sugar and especially liquid sugar , because they don’t actually stretch the stomach lining.
“It’s not going to turn off in the same way that fiber-rich foods do, because fiber-rich foods add weight to your stomach and actually cause that stretch,” Kelly says.
2. The Full Hormone, a.k.a. Glucagon-Like Peptide-1
How It Works
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What To Do About It
Effectively dealing with stress requires an integrative approach that not only addresses the causes of stress but also works to actively reverse the damage that has already been done. For me personally, this is one of my toughest health challenges to address, since even though I know what I should be doing, I dont always have time to fit it all in.
To start, we definitely must address the basics:
- Physical Stress: While some physical stress is good other types can be harmful and dietary causes also create a physical stress. A poor diet, especially one that includes any foods you are intolerant or allergic too can create a stress reaction in your body, even if you minimize other types of stresses. To help reduce physical stress, eat a solid real-food diet, get enough sleep and avoid toxins when you can. See the supplement and sleep info below for some practical tips.
- Emotional Stress: This one can obviously have many causes, but can often be addressed by working through tough relationships, making time for prayer and meditation, keeping a gratitude journal to focus on the positive, and making time to unwind.
- Mental Stress: Similar to emotional stress, this type of stress is often helped my meditation, time management, and organization to only need to focus on one tast at a time.
Since this is one of my biggest struggles personally, Ive been experimenting lately with ways to reduce stress and wanted to share some of the ones that seem to be working for me:
What Happens If I Have Too Much Cortisol
Too much cortisol over a prolonged period of time can lead to a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. This can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as a tumour that produces adrenocorticotropic hormone , or taking certain types of drugs. The symptoms include:
- rapid weight gain mainly in the face, chest and abdomen contrasted with slender arms and legs
- a flushed and round face
- high blood pressure
- skin changes
- muscle weakness
- mood swings, which show as anxiety, depression or irritability
- increased thirst and frequency of urination.
High cortisol levels over a prolonged time can also cause lack of sex drive and, in women, periods can become irregular, less frequent or stop altogether .
In addition, there has been a long-standing association between raised or impaired regulation of cortisol levels and a number of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, the significance of this is not yet clearly understood.
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Reduce Cortisol By Monitoring Your Thoughts
One of the most insidious sources of stress is your own mental chatter.
The negative impact of stress is not due to the events in your life as much as it is due to your thoughts your automatic negative reactions and cognitive distortions about these events.
Positive self-talk and thinking can effectively reduce cortisol.
One of the best ways to gain more control of your thoughts is through meditation.
Even the seemingly innocuous habit of frequently interrupting what you are doing to check emails increases cortisol levels.
So, stop multitasking and start focusing on doing one thing at a time.
Where Does Chronic Stress Come From
To review, youve learned so far that:
- Elevated androgens like testosterone and androstenedione contribute to PCOS symptoms like menstrual dysfunction, unwanted hair growth, weight gain, acne, and mood disorders
- The adrenal glands are responsible for at least 20 to 30 percent of the elevated androgens seen in PCOS
- Chronic stress elevates ACTH, which stimulates androgen secretion, for which there is no negative feedback loop
- Androgen hormones are protective against the long-term effects of chronically elevated stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline
I hope its perfectly clear by now that chronic stress is a major contributor to the development of PCOS symptoms, especially in normal or underweight women with non-cystic ovaries and normal insulin sensitivity.
Elevated androgens, while causing PCOS symptoms, may be the bodys way of protecting the brain from the harmful effects of chronic stress.
And chronic stress is everywhere these days from long work weeks and poor sleep to new babies and aging parents, to constant negative thoughts about our bodies and physical appearance, women are bombarded by stress from every direction.
Combine this with traumatic events, acute illness and infections, gut dysbiosis, and disrupted sleep, and its no wonder that so many women come to me complaining of reproductive dysfunction or amenorrhea, weight loss resistance, blood sugar fluctuations, anxiety and/or depression, acne, chronic fatigue, and hormonal imbalances.
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But Don’t Hit The Gym Too Often
By contrast, that same study from The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation showed that moderate- to high-intensity exercise provokes increases in circulating cortisol levels. In other words, when it comes to exercise, more may not be better. A separate 2012 study confirmed that long-term cortisol exposure was significantly higher in endurance athletes.
As clinical psychologist Candice Seti, PsyDa.k.a. The Weight Loss Therapistput it, “Skipping the second trip to the gym and taking it easy can also be good for reducing cortisol levels. that over-exercising can actually lead to an increase in the hormone. This, in turn, can lead to slower weight loss.”
More Stress Reduction Techniques And Activities That Lower Cortisol
Here are a few more stress reduction techniques and relaxing activities that have been shown to work, at least in part, by reducing cortisol.
A mind-body stress relief technique thats gaining in popularity is the Emotional Freedom Technique, usually referred to as tapping.
It works on the same principles as acupuncture, but no needles are involved.
Acupressure points are simply tapped with the fingertips.
This is a simple technique that anyone can learn to do on their own.
It takes only ten minutes to do a session of tapping.
Amazingly, just a single tapping session can slash cortisol levels and decrease the severity of stress symptoms by 50%.
Numerous studies support what most of us already know that getting a massage is profoundly relaxing.
A review of the current research on the benefits of massage found that a massage significantly reduces cortisol and increases the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine by 28% and 31%, respectively.
I like to call lavender the Swiss army knife of essential oils because it does so many things.
Its relaxing properties are legendary and we now know that one of the ways it works is by reducing cortisol.
Interestingly, inhaling any scent good or bad affects cortisol levels.
Unpleasant smells increase cortisol while smells you find pleasant decrease it.
These synthetic fragrances are made of chemicals that can literally make you sick.
Spending Time in Nature
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Eat A Nutritious Diet
Nutrition can influence cortisol for better or for worse.
While all foods can be enjoyed in moderation, being mindful of the foods you eat may alleviate symptoms of stress and help you better manage your cortisol levels.
Regular high added-sugar intake may result in elevated cortisol levels. Interestingly, a high sugar diet may also suppress cortisol release during stressful events, making it more difficult for your body to handle stressful situations (
For better gut and mental health, opt for a nutrient-dense diet full of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and foods high in prebiotics and probiotics.
One Supplement That Increases Cortisol
When most people are looking for a cortisol supplement, what they really want is an anti-cortisol supplement one that decreases cortisol.
However, there is a cortisol supplement that increases cortisol if thats something you seek to do.
Licorice root is a multipurpose herb used in both traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic healing, most commonly for digestive disorders.
You may be familiar with it as the flavoring used in natural licorice candies.
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But Does Diet Really Impact Hormonal Imbalance
Only 35 percent of respondents in Cabecas survey said they believed so.
However, Oh says it absolutely can. She noted that stress hormones and sex hormones start from the same basic building block: cholesterol.
We have to eat natural sources of cholesterol to make these hormones. Im a big fan of egg yolks, grass-fed butter or ghee, and fatty fish like wild salmon, said Oh.
Then we have to control the sources of stress in our lives like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and flour, for instance. Then our bodies will naturally direct the production of hormones toward the sex hormone pathway instead of the stress hormone pathway.
However, she warns against diets based on the ketogenic diet.
It can exacerbate a hormonal imbalance because it really increases stress hormone. Intermittent fasting also does this. I have seen the disrupt my patients hormones, said Oh.
She believes the most effective way to address hormonal imbalances is to focus on stress balance.
Once we balance our stress, our hormones will naturally balance, Oh said.
Still, both doctors acknowledge that sometimes medication is necessary to help with hormonal imbalances.
Below, the Food and Drug Administration describes the different types of hormone medicines used during and after menopause:
Tips For Controlling Cortisol
To keep cortisol levels healthy and under control, the bodys relaxation response should be activated after the fight or flight response occurs. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place.
The following have been found by many to be very helpful in relaxing the body and mind, aiding the body in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:
Getting more information on stress and resources to help you to manage it can help you to build habits that can help you to cope with stress once your stress response is triggered.
If youre more sensitive to stress, its especially important for you to learn stress management techniques and maintain a low-stress lifestyle. This is a great way to get cortisol secretion under control and maintain a healthy lifestyle at the same time.
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Effects Of Excess Cortisol
Excess cortisol stimulates glucose production. This excess glucose then typically is converted into fat, which gets stored.
A number of research studies show that fat cells can, in the presence of too much adrenaline, become resistant to the effects of adrenaline.
Eventually, the fat cells become unresponsive to adrenal stimulation to release fat, but through the presence of high cortisol, theyre more responsive to fat storage. At the same time, high levels of circulating cortisol increase the risk of obesity and increased fat storage.
Some studies have found a difference in individuals who respond to stress-induced higher cortisol levels by increasing the amount of food they eat. Some are high responders, while others have no such response. However, the results from different studies have found a variety of results.
How To Decrease Cortisol With Supplements
Changing your diet is a long-term strategy for reducing cortisol, but you might want to jump-start your efforts with supplements to get results faster.
Fortunately, theres an entire group of supplements that specifically work to minimize the negative effects of stress.
These unique substances, known as adaptogens, are herbal remedies that increase your resilience to mental, physical, and environmental stress.
They work by reducing the stress hormone cortisol while strengthening function of the adrenal glands.
Adaptogens neither stimulate nor sedate, but instead act like a thermostat, bringing your body into a balanced state known as homeostasis.
Here are the main adaptogens that have been found to effectively reduce cortisol:
Not sure which supplements to start with?
Its always wise to make sure youve got your essential nutrient needs met first.
Confirm that you have adequate intake of vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Next, Id suggest starting with ashwagandha.
This traditional Ayurvedic remedy excels in stress reduction and decreases cortisol significantly more than many other supplements.
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Do The Right Kinds Of Exercises
When our hormones are out of balance, extremely vigorous or prolonged exercise may actually disrupt them even more. Calming exercises that keep the body supple without overtaxing the adrenal glands include walking, swimming, yoga, qi gong and tai chi, among others.
Gentle rebounding is a particularly valuable exercise for balancing hormones, since it improves lymph flow and helps flush out body toxins that may be affecting hormone levels.
Strenuous running is best avoided, but limited sets of weightlifting and muscle toning exercises may provide benefits by gently strengthening overall glandular function. Just do a few reps of these exercises , enough to stimulate your muscles without exhausting them or overstressing your endocrine glands.