6 Signs That Your Cortisol Levels May Be Too High

Allison Bush | May 17, 2013

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Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress-it’s our primary stress hormone and is responsible for activating the body’s “fight or flight” response in stressful situations. When your body is under chronic stress, your cortisol levels remain high, and you can be more susceptible to disease. Here are six signs that your levels may be elevated.

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Your cortisol levels should be lower at nighttime, which is what allows your body to relax and recharge. But if your cortisol levels are consistently too high, you may feel wide awake when it’s time to go to sleep, even if you’ve felt sluggish during the day.

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Belly fat

Cortisol directly affects fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals. High levels of cortisol are associated with overeating, craving high caloric fatty and sugary foods and relocating fat from the circulation and storage depots to the deep internal abdominal area. 

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Frequent colds

The key factor that influences a person’s vulnerability to illness appears to be the immune system’s sensitivity to cortisol, not the cortisol levels per se, according to a recent study. The research team found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response, which can promote the development and progression of disease.

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Low sex drive

In men, elevated cortisol levels signals the body to testosterone levels and blocks the normal response of the testicles to testosterone. In women, cortisol will cause hormonal imbalance during the menstrual cycle, causing irregularity and low libido.

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Ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Ulcers of the stomach and intestine are more common in people who are anxious, depressed or under stress. The most common stress-related gut disease may be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which includes a variety of intestinal disorders, including colitis, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and, occasionally, passing of mucus or blood.

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Cardiovascular disease

When your body is experiencing the “fight or flight” response, your heart responds by increasing its rate and blood pressure. It can also shut down digestion and direct blood to the arms and legs, where it can fuel fighting/fleeing muscles. If you’re constantly stressed, this chronic cycle will eventually take its toll and can contribute to heart disease.