Cortisol is the hormone responsible for regulating the body's response to stress. It is also essential for several functions, such as regulating blood pressure, blood sugar and metabolism, controlling the sleep-wake cycle and suppressing inflammation.

Do you know that high cortisol can cause severe damage to one's health? The abnormal condition, known as Cushing syndrome, can increase the risk of weight gain, anxiety, depression, headaches, diabetes, heart disease and memory and concentration problems.

Cortisol, also known as stress hormone, is produced by adrenal glands and the production is regulated by the hypothalamus of the brain. The cortisol levels of a person vary throughout the day, and it is normal for a person to have high cortisol levels occasionally. However, when the body consistently shows high levels of cortisol, it can be an indication of an underlying health issue.

What causes high cortisol?

1. Stress: When a body is under stress, the adrenal glands release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, as part of the fight-or-flight response to the situation. The cortisol production should normally reduce after the threat passes. However, when the body is under constant stress, cortisol production does not turn off, increasing the risk of heart disease, lung issues, obesity, anxiety and depression.

2. Malfunctioning of the pituitary gland: When there are issues with the pituitary gland, it can cause under or over-production of hormones. An overactive pituitary gland can result in increased cortisol levels.

3. Tumors: Tumors in the adrenal gland, both benign and malignant, can cause excess production of cortisol. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) produced by tumors in the pituitary gland can also elevate cortisol levels.

4. Side effects of medications: The use of certain medications such as oral contraceptives increases cortisol levels. The prolonged use of corticosteroid medications used for treating asthma, arthritis and certain cancers can also cause high levels of cortisol.

Warning signs of cushing syndrome:

You might need to get you blood tested if you have the following symptoms:

  • Weight gain especially in the face and abdomen
  • Increased anxiety and mood swings
  • Fatigue and muscle aches
  • Frequent urination
  • Irregular periods and infertility in women
  • Frequent infections
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive hair growth in women
  • Changes in libido
  • Frequent fractures
  • Excessive thirst

How to manage high cortisol levels?

Making certain lifestyle changes like getting adequate sleep, exercising and avoiding alcohol and nicotine can help to reduce cortisol levels. Practicing meditation, breathing exercises, limiting stressful thinking and engaging in hobbies and fun activities can also help.