| Food & Diet

What Are the Effects of High Cortisol Levels?

By Christopher Walker

What Are the Effects of High Cortisol Levels?

You’re stressed. She’s stressed. He’s stressed. We’re all stressed! If there’s an unspoken theme song to modern day society, that’s it. Even though we’re all aware that everyone and their brother is stressed out, do we fully know the serious toll this could be taking on our health? Seventy percent of diseases are believed to be stress-related. Specifically for people who have chronically elevated cortisol levels, there’s the chance it can be doing a whole lot of damage.

What Is Cortisol:

What Is Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that’s referred to a stress hormone. Cortisol is made by the two adrenal glands (one is located on each kidney), and it is essential for life. Almost every cell in the body contains a cortisol receptor. As a result, almost every cell can be influenced by the release of cortisol. Blood pressure, digestion, cravings, sleeping patterns, physical activity, stress and blood sugar levels are all governed by cortisol. Translation: Cortisol is BOSS!

The key to staying healthy and keeping your sense of overall well-being is by balancing cortisol and keeping levels from going too low or too high.

Cortisol gets a bad rap. It’s needed for the restoration of energy stores following a bout of stress. Without cortisol, the body wouldn’t be prepared to deal with situations that cause us nervousness or anxiety. Whenever you experience any kind of stress, whether it be physical or emotional, your body sets off a chain of events and ramps up production of cortisol. The key to staying healthy and keeping your sense of overall well-being is by balancing cortisol and keeping levels from going too low or too high.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

When it comes to cortisol, too much of it sends your body into fight-or-flight mode. When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala — an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing — sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee. It’s the psychological and physiological response to stress and prepares the body to react to the danger. This intense doom and gloom response can be triggered due to both real and imaginary threats. Dilated pupils, pale or flushed skin, rapid heart beat, quick breathing and trembling are all physical indications that you’re experiencing a fight-or-flight response. “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself,” this famous quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt says it all.

Not only is the flight-or-fight response terrifying and one of the worst things you can experience, it can temporarily pause bodily functions and cause your metabolism to take a hit.

Terrified of spiders? Not able to take an elevator without panic going through your body? Phobias are a great example of perceiving a threat that jacks up your cortisol levels and sets off the flight-or-fight response.

What Causes High Cortisol Levels?:

What Causes High Cortisol Levels

Sheer panic isn’t the only emotional response that raises cortisol levels; chronic stress also elevates levels. Too much stress is like telling our cortisol to “bring it on!” In this modern-day society where feeling stressed out is like a rite of passage to being a civilized human being, there’s always the lurking possibility of having dangerously elevated cortisol levels.

Poor diet, chronic stress, panic and other strong emotional responses trigger the production of cortisol.

Always on the go and feeling anxious about your never ending to-do list? Constantly experiencing stress from work, relationships, family and every other thing life throws at you? If so, your body could constantly be pumping out cortisol. Learning how to manage stress can lower your cortisol levels and change your health and life for the better.

READ THIS: The Low Cortisol Lifestyle | UMZU's Guide To Fighting Stress

Too much inflammation and poorly managed blood sugar levels can also cause high cortisol levels. It’s no surprise that diet plays a big role in cortisol levels. Consuming too much sugar, processed foods and trans fats can all raise cortisol levels. Eating primarily a clean diet that includes a lot of healthy fats and carbohydrates sourced from fruit and tubers is recommended to help balance cortisol levels. 

Signs and Symptoms of High Cortisol Levels:

Signs And Symptoms Of High Cortisol

Some indications that you have high cortisol levels include insomnia, weight gain, backaches, irregular periods, acne, mood swings and anxiety.

Insomnia, weight gain, irregular periods, mood swings and acne are all potential symptoms of elevated cortisol levels.

Another clue that you have too much cortisol could be found in your bed time … or lack of one. At night, cortisol levels are meant to drop so you can relax and fall asleep. Night owls, take note! If your cortisol levels are too high, you may feel bursts of energy when it’s time to hit the sack. The vicious cycle of tossing and turning and waking up to do it all over again the next night may be caused by high cortisol levels. 

Effects of High Cortisol Levels:

Effects Of High Cortisol

Cortisol imbalance may slowly start to causes problems and over time can do some serious damage to your health. Numerous health problems associated with high cortisol levels include

  • Compromised Immune System
  • Obesity
  • Gastrointestinal Problems
  • Hypertension
  • High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Bone Loss
  • Cushing’s Syndrome

How to Lower Cortisol Levels:

How to Lower Cortisol Levels

Your body takes a serious toll when it’s constantly experiencing a cortisol-induced stress response. Fortunately there are effective tools to counter these stress responses and keep cortisol levels from going through the roof.

START TODAY: 10 Tips To Eliminate Stress Hormones Naturally

Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants when you’re stressed, or when you suspect that your cortisol levels are too high. You don’t have to quit them for the rest of your life, but it’s best to take a break when you’re looking to lower cortisol levels.

  • Deep Abdominal Breathing
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Essential Oils
  • Mindfulness
  • Exercise
  • Cessation of depressants and stimulants like alcohol and caffeine

If stress is one of the main causes of high cortisol levels. Engage in activities that relax you and bring you to a more calm and peaceful state. Taking time to slow down, connecting to your thoughts and recharging your energy so you don’t get frazzled when stressful events occur can be more beneficial than you ever imagined.

Treatment for High Cortisol Levels:

Treatments For High Cortisol Levels

Common sense can go a long way when it comes to managing cortisol levels. Eating a healthy diet low in sugar and trans fat, getting eight hours of sleep and a regular exercise routine can all help mitigate the effects of cortisol.

Common sense can go a long way when it comes to managing cortisol levels.

In Shawn Talbott’s “The Cortisol Connection,” the author suggests a list of supplements based on certain criteria. For many, one of the best solutions to managing an overactive stress response may be the use of certain dietary supplements to help control the body’s excessive exposure to cortisol.

Vitamins and Minerals for Stress Adaptation:

Vitamins And Minerals For High Cortisol

Daily use is recommended for everyone.

  • B Vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium

Supplements for Targeted Cortisol Control:

Supplements For High Cortisol

Daily use is recommended during high periods of stress.

  • Magnolia bark
  • Epimedium
  • Theanine
  • Phytosterols
  • Phophatidylserine
  • Thiamin
  • Ginkgo Biloba

Support Supplements for Use During Heightened Stress:

Supports And Supplements For Cortisol

Occasional use is recommended when you need help for sleeping or relaxing.

  • Ashwagandha
  • Ginseng
  • Schisandra
  • Rhodiola
  • Valerian
  • St. John’s wort

Since you probably can’t do what Henry David Thoreau did and leave society to be alone in the woods, it’s inevitable that you’re going to experience stress. It’s not about avoiding stress as much as it’s about managing it and learning how to handle anxiety; so it doesn’t spike your cortisol levels and wreak havoc on your mind, body and health.


The research and development team here at UMZU has created an all-natural, clinically-proven cortisol reducer that we call Cortigon. Our clients say it helps them become the best version of themselves. But don’t just take our word for it; see for yourself!

Citations and Sources


Lee D, Kim E, Choi M. Technical and clinical aspects of cortisol as a biochemical marker of chronic stress. BMB Rep. 2015;48(4):209-216. [PMC]


Steimer T. The biology of fear- and anxiety-related behaviors. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2002;4(3):231-249. [PMC]


Hakamata Y, Komi S, Moriguchi Y, et al. Amygdala-centred functional connectivity affects daily cortisol concentrations: a putative link with anxiety. Sci Rep. 2017;7:8313. [PMC]


Hannibal K, Bishop M. Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation. Phys Ther. 2014;94(12):1816-1825. [PMC]


Whitworth J, Williamson P, Mangos G, Kelly J. Cardiovascular Consequences of Cortisol Excess. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2005;1(4):291-299. [PMC]