Elevated Cortisol Levels

In a natural rhythm, your body produces more cortisol in the morning than in the evening, giving you the energy you need to begin your day. In the evening your cortisol level should drop by approximately 90%. Evening is generally the time when the stresses of the day are behind you, the time when you can relax and unwind. Scientific data is showing that elevated cortisol levels are becoming more commonplace.

As important and necessary as cortisol is, you can have too much of it circulating in your system. If you are constantly under stress, your cortisol level can remain elevated over long periods of time. Research now correlates chronically elevated levels of cortisol with blood sugar problems, fat accumulation, compromised immune function, exhaustion, bone loss, and even heart disease. Memory loss has also been associated with high cortisol levels. Continual stress can indeed have a negative impact on your health.

A recent study found that women who work outside the home and have family responsibilities tend to have elevated evening cortisol levels. Men, on the other hand, have the expected lower cortisol levels in the evening. This difference may reflect the additional work that many women do after they get home from their jobs.

Interestingly, differences between women and men in relationship to cortisol extend even further. One study, that examined the effect of harassment on cortisol levels, noted that recovery from stress was significantly different between men and women. Harassed men actually had the largest increase in cortisol levels, but once the stress was eliminated men returned to normal more quickly than women.

In a scientific investigation of 30,000 women and men in 30 countries, women were shown to be more likely than men to report feeling stress. In response to issues of family, work and money, whether they are in a relationship or not, a parent or not, women are more stressed than men in the same situation. Working women with children were found to have the highest stress levels.

An additional problem of long term elevations of cortisol is that the adrenal gland may wear itself out and no longer be able to produce even normal levels of cortisol. This is called “adrenal exhaustion” and is associated with many other health problems.

An elevated cortisol level is not something you can immediately feel. If it is elevated for too long, over a period of months or years for example, you may begin to feel its effects because of the negative impact it has on your overall health. Besides impacting the immune system, fertility, and bone health, the list of the risks of high cortisol levels grows longer. New studies demonstrate that elevated cortisol levels can lead to abdominal weight gain, loss of verbal declarative memory (words, names, and numbers), insulin resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes.

Managing stress is a very important part of your healthcare program. A blood, urine or saliva hormone test for cortisol can serve as a stress barometer, warning you of continual exposure to stress, and therefore to potential disease. Testing will let you know if you need to do something about your stress, such as taking action to change your circumstances, or making strides in new areas of relaxation and stress relief. Once you know your cortisol level you can begin to take stress-reducing measures in your life and protect your long-term health.


Conditions that suggest Elevated Cortisol Levels

Lab Values  


Osteoporosis / Risk

If a woman is not ovulating she may have lower estrogen and progesterone levels. Low estrogen levels can increase the activity of osteoclasts (bone breakdown cells) while low progesterone has been shown to increase PMS symptoms and slow bone deposition. Also, to provide the extra calcium needed when faced with intense stress situation, cortisol can directly stimulate bone breakdown cells. Unchecked over a long period of time, high cortisol levels can cause you to lose bone faster than you can rebuild it.


Female Infertility

Chronically elevated cortisol levels can stop a woman from ovulating and may lead to infertility.

Risk factors for Elevated Cortisol Levels

Lab Values - Chemistries  

Normal/elevated 24 hr urine cortisol


Elevated AM serum cortisol


Elevated serum pm cortisol or elevated pm serum cortisol

Counter Indicators
Lab Values - Chemistries  

Normal/low pm serum cortisol


Normal/low AM serum cortisol


Low 24 hr urine cortisol


Elevated Cortisol Levels suggests the following may be present



Modest reductions in SHBG levels may be encountered in individuals with Cushing’s syndrome.

Recommendations for Elevated Cortisol Levels



Forty-two healthy volunteers (all males) participated in a double-blind randomized designed study. One single dose of De-Stress hydrolysate was studied. One group received the De-Stress hydrolysate, the other group received the placebo. The products were administered under the supervision of the investigator at the clinical research center, with the actual time of ingestion documented in the individual case report forms.

Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. Because it is a stress indicator, cortisol levels were measured. Blood cortisol remained stable in the control group, while decreasing significantly in the active group during the stress test (cold pressor test). ACTH is a normal product of the anterior pituitary and acts as the controller of the secretion of cortisol. ACTH levels are an indicator of stress. During the stress tests, blood ACTH levels increased in the control group but not the active group.


Plant Sterols / Sterolins (Phytosterols)

Stress can have a significant impact on the body, particularly the immune system. With chronic stress, the adrenal glands secrete excess cortisol. This overproduction of cortisol can lead to the death of cells in our immune system, e.g. lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland.

The link between stress and autoimmune disorders lies with the balance between cortisol and DHEA. An increase in stress leads to an increase in cortisol and a decrease in DHEA. High levels of cortisol cause immune cells to make more factors that lead to the production of autoantibodies. A balance between cortisol and DHEA is essential for optimum immune function.

Research has shown that sterols and sterolins lower cortisol levels in the body and normalize DHEA thus achieving a balance between these two hormones.



Taking 100mg up to three times a day supports and revitalizes nerve cells and has been shown in numerous studies to slow or reverse cognitive losses attributed to aging. PS is found in every cell in the body, but perhaps most significant is its ability to lower the level of stress hormones such as cortisol which damage brain cells and lead to the accumulation of calcified plaques in the brain. Plaques of this type have been observed in Alzheimer’s patients. PS also helps brain cells communicate and improves both memory and the ability to concentrate.



Weak or unproven link
Strong or generally accepted link
Proven definite or direct link
Strongly counter-indicative
Very strongly or absolutely counter-indicative
Likely to help
Highly recommended


Adrenal Insufficiency

Also known as Adrenal Exhaustion or Low Adrenal Function, this is a condition where the adrenal gland is compromised in its production of epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, corticosterone or aldosterone. Symptoms include primarily fatigue, weakness, decreased appetite with ensuing weight loss, as well as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, or increased pigmentation of the skin. Cortical insufficiency (low or no corticosteroids) produces a more serious condition called Addison’s Disease, characterized by extreme weakness, low blood pressure, pigmentation of the skin, shock or even death.

Immune System

A complex that protects the body from disease organisms and other foreign bodies. The system includes the humoral immune response and the cell-mediated response. The immune system also protects the body from invasion by making local barriers and inflammation.


A hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to elevated blood glucose levels. Insulin stimulates the liver, muscles, and fat cells to remove glucose from the blood for use or storage.

Diabetes Mellitus

A disease with increased blood glucose levels due to lack or ineffectiveness of insulin. Diabetes is found in two forms; insulin-dependent diabetes (juvenile-onset) and non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset). Symptoms include increased thirst; increased urination; weight loss in spite of increased appetite; fatigue; nausea; vomiting; frequent infections including bladder, vaginal, and skin; blurred vision; impotence in men; bad breath; cessation of menses; diminished skin fullness. Other symptoms include bleeding gums; ear noise/buzzing; diarrhea; depression; confusion.


Chemical substances secreted by a variety of body organs that are carried by the bloodstream and usually influence cells some distance from the source of production. Hormones signal certain enzymes to perform their functions and, in this way, regulate such body functions as blood sugar levels, insulin levels, the menstrual cycle, and growth. These can be prescription, over-the-counter, synthetic or natural agents. Examples include adrenal hormones such as corticosteroids and aldosterone; glucagon, growth hormone, insulin, testosterone, estrogens, progestins, progesterone, DHEA, melatonin, and thyroid hormones such as thyroxine and calcitonin.


One of the female sex hormones produced by the ovaries.

Premenstrual Syndrome

PMS consists of various physical and/or emotional symptoms that occur in the second half of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation. The symptoms begin about midcycle, are generally the most intense during the last seven days before menstruation and include: acne; backache; bloating; fatigue; headache; sore breasts; changes in sexual desire; depression; difficulty concentrating; difficulty handling stress; irritability; tearfulness.


The body's most abundant mineral. Its primary function is to help build and maintain bones and teeth. Calcium is also important to heart health, nerves, muscles and skin. Calcium helps control blood acid-alkaline balance, plays a role in cell division, muscle growth and iron utilization, activates certain enzymes, and helps transport nutrients through cell membranes. Calcium also forms a cellular cement called ground substance that helps hold cells and tissues together.

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