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What are the Effects of High Cortisol?

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  • Written By: Alex Paul
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Cortisol is a substance produced in the adrenal grand that is released in order to help the body deal with stress. The main function of cortisol is to increase the level of sugar in the blood as well as suppress the body’s immune system. In some cases, a person may suffer from high cortisol levels. Some of the effects of high cortisol include an increased risk of stomach ulcers, weight gain and a weak immune system. Cushing’s syndrome may also occur in people with high levels of cortisol.

Although there are many different effects of high cortisol they are usually not immediately noticeable. An increased level of the substance in the body will not make the person feel or behave any differently straight away. If, however, high cortisol is present over a prolonged period of time then this can lead to problems including a weak immune system and decrease in general health. It is thought that high levels of cortisol may even cause issues such as a loss of certain types of memory and Type 2 diabetes.

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Weight gain and an inability to get rid of excess fat around the abdomen is a common effect of high levels of cortisol. By itself it can be difficult to diagnose the condition just from this symptom, but combined with some of the others it can be a sign of chronic stress. Stress doesn’t necessarily just mean mental stress — it can also refer to physical stress such as that which occurs after a serious injury. Treatment for the condition usually focuses on working out what is causing the stress in the first place.

If a person’s bloodstream has a dramatically increased amount of cortisol then Cushing’s syndrome may occur. Symptoms of this condition include an increased blood pressure, stretch marks, diabetes and depression. Women may also find that their menstrual cycles are disrupted and that they have an increased amount of facial hair while men may suffer from a lower sex drive.

In order to diagnose high cortisol a doctor will usually run a test. Managing the problem usually involves managing stress levels. This can be difficult if the person has an inherently stressful job or lifestyle but it is often the most effective way of making long term health gains. Cortisol is released as a reaction to stress and hence if a person remains continuously stressed over a long period of time then health problems are inevitable.

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SarahGen
Post 4

People who exercise a lot often experience high cortisol levels and it becomes a vicious cycle. The more you workout, the higher the cortisol goes causing weight gain and encouraging you to workout even more. The end result is burnt out adrenals and all these terrible symptoms. People don't realize that exercise is also a very stressful thing for the body.

My sister also has the same problem. Her doctor finally had to forbid her from exercising more than three times a week. She has also cut out all junk food and processed food from her life. Her cortisol is slowly going down.

fify
Post 3

@turkay1-- I'm not a doctor but I think that catabolic means that it encourages the body to break down muscles for energy rather than something else like fat. That's probably how high cortisol levels cause weight gain, by causing the body to store more fat and use up muscle.

I know that professional athletes and bodybuilders are always trying to maintain normal cortisol levels because they are worried about losing muscle mass.

The best way to lower cortisol levels is to reduce stress! Do whatever works for you-- exercise, meditation, getting more sleep, changing your job, etc.

candyquilt
Post 2

I read that high cortisol levels have a catabolic effect. What does this mean?

Are there ways to treat high cortisol symptoms without medication?

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