Hormone Series Cortisol 2 of 2: Elevated Cortisol

Dr. Aaron Hartman

May 3, 2022

Man lying down his head on the table from work

Last week we discussed the importance of cortisol and then talked more specifically about low cortisol. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into excessive cortisol, also known as relative hypercortisolism. You may have also heard this referred to as stage one or stage two adrenal fatigue or adrenal dysfunction. These are the several names we use to describe the condition when cortisol levels rise and then plateau.


Symptoms of Elevated Cortisol

How do you know if you have excessive cortisol? Signs and symptoms include:

  • Binge eating
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Thyroid symptoms (impaired conversion from T4 to T3)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Elevated blood sugar levels
  • Night sweats
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Abnormal cholesterol
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Muscle weakness
  • Compromised immune system

It might surprise you to see fatigue in a list of symptoms of elevated cortisol. But after having chronically elevated cortisol, we often see fatigue develop. Elevated cortisol can also cause rising glucose levels and thyroid dysfunction. This is also the reason why I call cortisol the king of all the hormones, because an excess can affect the other two important hormones in the hormonal hierarchy (insulin and thyroid) and cause a cascade of effects downstream.
Does this list of symptoms above sound like someone you know? They might be used to describe the typical stressed American.
One of my underlying beliefs is that low-grade hypercortisolism is prevalent in our current culture and society, and this is setting us up for a multitude of illnesses and diseases. This is also why I believe that managing stress – whether personal or environmental – needs to be a priority for all of us because it can actually affect the king of all hormones, cortisol, and then proceed to affect all of the hormones downstream.


How Can You Support Your Body in Reducing Excess Cortisol?

As with low cortisol, there are specific nutrients that your body needs to balance cortisol effectively. Some of these nutrients are vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese. There are also many helpful adaptogenic herbs that we discussed last week such as ashwagandha, Panax ginseng, rhodiola rosea, and cordyceps sinensis.
By far, the most important factor in managing elevated cortisol is stress reduction. This can be in the form of managing: physical stress from an inflammatory diet or gut issues; mental stress from toxic relationships, unreasonable expectations, or poor time management; or environmental stress from toxic chemicals, mold, or other toxins in our environment.
You can take various supplements or adaptogenic herbs to support cortisol balance, but the best single thing to do first is just to get tested. That cuts through the confusion of these symptoms, which can often sound alike.
It also helps to see a practitioner who will create a timeline as part of your evaluation to figure out what started first. Was it your sugar issue first, then your thyroid, and then your cortisol? Or did the cortisol imbalance start first? Perhaps it started with nutritional deficiencies and then mold exposure from a building you lived in for 20 years. This is why learning about you and investigating your own health is profoundly important. This is also where functional medicine comes into play because functional medicine doesn’t just look at the symptoms. It also takes your environment and your history into consideration to help figure out the best way to address your issues.
If you’d like to learn more about your hormones, please check out our website. We have many more blog posts on these topics. Also, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We’ve created an entire educational platform to help you on your self-education journey. These are designed to support you as you are learning about yourself and give you resources on how to boost your resilience.
Take care and be well.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.


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