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The importance of regulating your body’s cortisol levels

Posted on January 3rd, 2022

Cortisol is a hormone produced and released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It plays an important role in regulating many bodily functions, the chief of which is your body’s stress response. 

When your body experiences stress, it releases adrenaline, your “fight or flight” hormone. Then, it releases cortisol so you remain on high alert. And it releases glucose for quick energy. 

Other roles cortisol plays include… 

  • Controlling your metabolism
  • Regulating your blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Suppressing inflammation 

Cortisol also plays a role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Normally, your cortisol levels are highest in the morning when you’re about to wake up. Then, they gradually decline as the day progresses. Your cortisol levels are lower in the evening as you approach bedtime. 

What are the effects of high cortisol levels? 

Your body needs cortisol. But when cortisol levels get too high, they can negatively affect your health. A high level of cortisol is responsible for many of the physical symptoms you experience when you’re stressed. These symptoms include increased heart rate, sweating, and feelings of anxiety. 

Too much cortisol can lead to health problems, such as…

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • A weakened immune system
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 

Elevated cortisol levels can also contribute to sleep issues, including insomnia and sleep apnea. The higher your cortisol levels are, the lower your melatonin levels will be. And melatonin is the hormone that helps you sleep. 

Signs of elevated cortisol levels include the following: 

  • Weight gain, especially in the face and stomach 
  • Fat deposits between the shoulder blades
  • Wide, purple stretch marks on the stomach 
  • High blood sugar 
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive hair growth 
  • Weak bones

How to check your cortisol levels

If you have these symptoms and you’re worried your cortisol levels may be high, your healthcare provider can perform a blood, urine, or saliva test to check. 

What’s considered a normal cortisol level varies from person to person and depends on the time of day. Generally speaking, from 6 AM to 8 AM, your cortisol level should be around 10-20 micrograms per deciliter. And around 4 PM, they should be between 3 and 10 micrograms per deciliter. 

High cortisol levels may be caused by an underlying condition other than stress. If you have high cortisol levels for an extended period, you may have a rare condition called Cushing’s syndrome, which can be caused by…

  • Corticosteroid medications, like prednisone, prednisolone, or dexamethasone
  • Adrenal gland tumors or excessive adrenal gland tissue growth 
  • Tumors that make adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) 

If you think you may have Cushing’s syndrome, contact your healthcare provider right away to get tested. 

How to manage your cortisol levels naturally 

If you’re elevated cortisol level isn’t due to another condition, such as Cushing’s Syndrome, you can keep your cortisol under control by managing your stress. 

You have many different options when it comes to stress management. You can practice yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. For example, inhale through your nose for a count or six. Hold for a count of four. Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. And hold for a count of four. Deep, controlled breathing activates your parasynthetic nervous system and helps you transition from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest.” 

You can also lower cortisol levels by having fun and laughing. Laughter can trigger the release of “feel good” endorphins and suppress cortisol production. 

Additionally, you can make healthy dietary choices that promote a stable blood sugar level. You can prioritize getting enough sleep each night. And you can engage in regular physical activity. All of these things can help keep your stress and cortisol levels under control. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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