What is the Connection Between Cortisol and Depression?

Meshell Powell

Cortisol is a natural hormone that is released into the body by the adrenal glands. These hormone-secreting glands sit on top of each kidney. The correlation between cortisol and depression is well documented in medical studies, with those suffering from clinical depression often producing too much cortisol. The levels of cortisol in the blood naturally fluctuate in healthy people, but many of those suffering from depression do not experience these natural fluctuations. Medications are often used to combat this depression, and counseling is often suggested to help the patient learn to cope with emotions arising from the depression.

An abundance of cortisol may cause depression.
An abundance of cortisol may cause depression.

The link between cortisol and depression seems to be present in about half of the patients studied. Normally, cortisol levels are at their highest in the morning and early portion of the day, leveling off by night time. In many patients suffering from clinical depression, these levels of cortisol do not lessen throughout the day. This hormone excess can leave the patient feeling sad, lonely, and depressed. The patient may also experience a lack of energy or motivation. Thoughts of suicide are also common in depressed patients.

Individuals suffering from clinical depression often produce too much cortisol.
Individuals suffering from clinical depression often produce too much cortisol.

Another correlation between cortisol and depression can be otherwise unexplained weight gain. Since cortisol helps to control metabolism, a hormone imbalance can cause the patient to gain weight or make weight loss extremely difficult. In the patient suffering from depression because of this imbalance, weight issues often increase the feelings of hopelessness already experienced by the patient.

Stress is a definite enemy relating to cortisol and depression. When a person feels stressed, cortisol production is increased, leading to what is commonly termed the fight or flight response. With this increase in energy levels often comes the desire to eat in order to refuel the body. This can lead to the aforementioned weight issues. This excess cortisol production can also lead to an increase in fat being deposited into the abdominal region of the body.

When a person begins having persistent feelings of depression, it is very important to seek medical advice. Blood tests can be done to check for a link between cortisol and depression. Prescription medications can often help to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, such as insomnia and low energy levels. Mood-elevating medications may also be prescribed. Seeking counseling or joining a local support group can also be beneficial in learning new techniques in dealing with feelings of depression, both for the patient as well as the caregiver.

Physicians can order blood tests to assess if there is link between cortisol levels and mood disorders.
Physicians can order blood tests to assess if there is link between cortisol levels and mood disorders.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


People with high cortisol levels get a double whammy. They often have to deal with some degree of depression and low energy level. Plus, the connection between cortisol, which affects metabolism, and the tendency to gain weight, especially in the stomach, is very frustrating.

Stress leads to depression and anxiety, which leads to craving for food and weight gain. Then your system is slowed down and you can't lose the weight. It's a vicious cycle.


The hormone, cortisol, can surely wreak havoc with your body. It is an important hormone to regulate our metabolism and other functions. But if the levels don't stay balanced or you have chronically high cortisol levels, you can feel depressed, with little motivation or energy.

I know several people who have problems with depression. They have had their cortisol blood level tested and it is high. I didn't know that doctors tested for cortisol levels.

I don't know if medications are able to bring the cortisol level down, or if they just work on other brain chemicals to help you feel better.


@manykitties2 - It sounds a lot like your mother has Cushing's syndrome, which can raise the cortisol levels and has many of the symptoms you describe. It is a good idea if the doctor checks for that.

I was diagnosed with Cushing's syndrome a few years ago and it is a really struggle to deal with all of the symptoms. Besides the cortisol and weight gain issues, the feeling of muscle weakness can be terrible.

I have been taking a wide range of drugs to combat my issues but have not yet opted for surgery to fix things. It is a tough decision.


High cortisol levels can do a lot more than just make you depressed. My mother is overweight and her doctor gave her a cortisol test that showed she had quite high cortisol levels.

If your cortisol levels are high you can get high blood pressure, diabetes and it can wreak havoc with her your sleep and weight.

My mom managed to get treated and got some injections that are supposed to help her out. We're not seeing many results yet but we're hoping that we'll be able to get some of her worse symptoms under control so she can live a better life.

Post your comments
Forgot password?